Counting calories is a hot topic and we wanted to spend some time talking about it. In our diet culture there is a popular weight loss equation. It states that the fewer calories you eat + the more calories you burn, will equal weight loss. But why is this such a common belief? Where does it come from? And is it a myth? Let’s talk about it:
First, let’s bring some clarity. Typically when you ingest fewer calories than you expend, this can lead to short-term weight loss. But it does not equate to longer-term weight loss. In fact, the opposite happens when we are calorie-restrictive; most of the time, we will gain the weight we lost back and then some.
Is the calories in vs. calories out equation a myth?
As stated before, this only works short-term. What is not accounted for in this equation is two of the most significant factors in weight management, stress, and hormones! How many of us are “doing everything right?”. We are eating all-natural foods, exercising daily, doing our yoga, and drinking our water. Yet, we don’t see the scale move. Instead, the scale goes up?…. The perception of stress creates imbalances in our system through our hormones. These hormones dictate how we process our foods, what foods get used as energy right away, what foods get stored as fat, how we process our blood sugar, and so on. The calories in vs. calories out equation is entirely misleading because it neglects our hormonal state, body composition and lifestyle.
So, where does this belief come from?
The diet industry is a multibillion-dollar industry based on instilling food fears and speaking to insecurities around body image. They convince us to buy into what they’re saying by telling us that we aren’t attractive enough because we aren’t “lean” enough, and that the only way to lose weight is to follow a diet plan. And it works. We spend money, we join their programs, we lose weight, and then as time goes on, we get diet fatigue, and we coin terms like “fall off,” “break my diet,” “sabotage my diet,” etc. This is where the shame cycle begins, which turns into guilt, which turns into more money to lose the weight we put on again. And the cycle continues. It isn’t uncommon to start and stop a diet for years.
Why do we believe that fewer calories in and more calories out works?
Because we all have been marketed to in this way for so many years, it’s hard not to believe what we see on a daily basis for decades. Even if it is just commercials and a ploy to get us to spend money.
How do we stop the scale from going up when we are doing “everything right?”
Stress management is key here. Stress is one of the primary causes of weight gain. In particular, midsection weight. When we notice weight gain around the midsection, this is predominantly caused by high cortisol levels, one of our stress hormones. When our bodies are under constant stress, our blood flows away from our stomachs and to our extremities. If blood isn’t flowing to our digestive tract, then we aren’t digesting our food properly. During these times, our bodies enter self-preservation mode. This built-in defense mechanism causes our bodies to gain fat because our body thinks it’s under attack and has to store fat in case of an emergency like a famine. This is a primal instinct that we have not evolved past.
Another mechanism that gets interrupted during stressful times is our body’s ability to process blood sugar. When we eat, sugar enters our blood from our food. And then insulin, a hormone secreted from our pancreas, drives the sugar from our blood into our cells. When we are stressed and have high cortisol levels, the cortisol inhibits insulin’s ability to drive the sugar in our blood into our cells. When this process is disrupted, it results in high blood sugar levels/weight management issues.
If we can disrupt this stress response, we can get our bodies to digest our food correctly. This means moving the blood back to our gut so all our food can be processed and sorted correctly and not just stored as fat.
So, how then do we manage our stress:
We have attached links within these recommendations to our blog posts so you can learn more about stress management.
- Daily exercise
- Build healthy routines to manage our stress response.
- Create healthy habits. Start small, and grow from there.
- Adequate sleep
- Eating a diet rich in many colors and whole foods.
- Proper hydration – take your weight, divide it in half, swap pounds for ounces, and that’s how much water you should be drinking. For example, let’s say you weigh 150lbs. 150lbs/2 = 75. You should be drinking 75 ounces of water.
We hope this article brought you some clarity and some resources to help you achieve internal balance!
Dr. Erika Horowitz and Team