In my last post, weight loss vs fat loss, I showed you why the term “weight loss” is misleading to say the least. Hopefully, you now know the difference between what fat loss is and what weight loss is. I’d like to note that this article is mainly aimed at those who have no clue how to start losing fat, thus the article will have very basic information to put people on the right path. Also, I am strictly talking about WEIGHT loss here, NOT fat loss or body composition. The latter two need their own guides sine they are more complicated to explain.
As you may or may not know, I’ve been working in the fitness industry for quite some time now. As a result, I deal with people with different aesthetic and performance goals on almost a daily basis. Additionally, I have my own base of clients whom I train, and I keep coming to the same conclusion; people are constantly being fed lies and bullshit to keep them in the dark. The fitness industry and food industry want you to stay clueless because it makes them more profit, thus, I am not surprised with the amount of misinformation people are being taught every day in fitness magazines and websites. Weight or fat loss is not rocket science, and it shouldn’t be very complex to understand. I am not trying to point at some sort of conspiracy theory here, but it’s just what I have noticed through observing people at my workplace and when dealing with clients and customers.
For us to understand how weight loss works, we must first understand how we gain and NOT gain weight in general. So, I’ll start off
Myths of gaining weight
Eating too much dietary fat
I don’t know when this myth started, however, I understand the logic. Realistically, you do not gain weight by eating dietary fat. Dietary fat is just one of the macronutrients and it is essential to bodily functions and survival. Contrary to popular belief, the fat that you consume on a daily basis will not be stored as body fat. In fact, if you decrease your intake of dietary fat significantly, your hormones will plummet which will hinder your weight loss and muscle gain progress. People who claim they have lose weight by decreasing their dietary fat intake only experienced that due to eating less calories unknowingly.
Every gram of fat has 9 calories. Fat is the most energy dense macronutrient. Thus, if someone decides to eat 50 grams less of fat than he usually does, he will be eating 9*50=450 calories less without knowing. Depending on that person’s maintenance calories, eating 450 calories less could put him in a caloric deficit which will inevitably cause weight loss. Thus, eating less fat causes weight loss sometimes only because the person usually consumes less energy than his body needs without knowing. But dietary fat in and itself doesn’t cause weight gain.
In 2007, a research paper was published in “Topics in Clinical Nutrition” reported surveying the average American diet and they found that the average American eats about 79 grams of dietary fat per day! So, if you do the math that adds up to 711 calories just from fat! Keeping that in mind, you can expect an individual to lose weight if decreases his dietary fat intake significantly. Additionally, the survey found that adults consume 2 more grams for a total of 81 grams and teen boys eat up to 91 grams of fat per day.
Eating before going to bed
I can’t think of any other myth that is more crappy than this one. The common belief is that eating before going to bed causes weight gain because your body is getting ready to sleep and thus your metabolism slows down accordingly which makes your body store whatever you eat as weight/fat. Well, I’m here to tell you that this is bullshit. Only eating more calories than your body needs causes weight gain. The reason why refraining from eating before bed works for certain individuals is because many people like to snack at night, especially while watching TV and trust me when I say that snacking causes calories to rack up faster than you think, so when one stops eating at night, they are merely creating a caloric deficit unknowingly. I’ve even cited some studies indicating that the timing of food intake has no effect on weight gain, yet it’s the overall amount of energy consumed that causes weight gain. Note: Nutrient timing does influence body composition; muscle mass and fat mass.
I’m not sure what everyone has against carbohydrates nowadays, but carbs are not the enemy. Carbohydrates are vital for optimum thyroid and hormonal functions as well as mental function. I’m sure you recall feeling like crap when you decreased your carb intake by too much, especially if you’re a carbohydrate sensitive person like myself. Carbs deserve their own article, but for the sake of this subject, eating too much carbohydrates will not cause weight if you’re consuming less calories than your body requires. Same rule applies if you’re eating at maintenance. According to the Department of Health, the average American eats about 2031 calories, and carbs make up 1184 calories of that which is 58% of his daily energy intake. Logically, when an individual goes on a low carb diet, he will be eating much less than what he usually eats per day (1184 calories) and guess what that will indirectly cause? Yes, a caloric deficit that will cause weight loss! Then the person will go around praising his low carbohydrates diet not knowing that his weight loss was a mere cause of an indirect caloric deficit.
Quick reminder; this article strictly discusses weight loss, NOT fat loss or body composition. Thus, read this information within the intended context because these rules differ when talking about body composition, gaining muscle mass and losing fat.
Now that we got some of the major myths that surround weight gain, let’s discuss how weight gain really occurs.
So, how do we gain weight?
Energy surplus: We gain weight by consuming more energy than we expend, PERIOD! OMG I am sick and tired of repeating this stupidly simple fact. If you eat more calories (energy) than your body needs, your body stores the extra energy as fat, or muscle tissue if you are stimulating your muscles through strength training. There are no such thing as fattening foods, the term in and itself was made up by fitness “gurus” and supposedly qualified nutritionists to feed people some crap. Remember the last time you read one of those “5 foods that make you fat” articles? How many of those articles recommended a product or an alternative “slimming foods guide” at the end of them? Yes, exactly. It is just a marketing technique used by certain people to promote lies and benefit from them. Excuse my mini rant.
As I have explained in my guide to count calories, the first law of thermodynamics about energy conservation applies to human physiology as well. That law states that when we consume more energy than our bodies can burn, that extra amount of energy must go somewhere. Depending on your lifestyle, eating habits and if you are training or not, that extra energy will be stored as either fat tissue, muscle tissue or both.
For instance; if I have a bucket with a volume capacity of 10 liters, what will happen if I pour 11 liters of water into that bucket? The answer is that the bucket will contain 10 liters and that extra one liter of water will overspill since it must go somewhere and it is not just going to vanish. Same concept applies to calories, the excess must go somewhere.
Physical activity: physical activity refers to how active you are on a daily basis. You may eat more energy than your body needs, but if you are moving around enough or exercising to use up that extra amount of energy (calories) you consumed, you will not gain weight. The reason you don’t gain weight when you burn the extra amount of energy you consumed is because the energy did in fact “go somewhere”. Remember that the first law of thermodynamics states energy cannot be destroyed ONLY TRANSFERRED. In this case, the extra calories were “transferred” to fuel your extra activity output. Thus, when you usually eat the same amount of energy your body needs and decrease your activity level due to illness or lifestyle changes, you will notice some weight gain, though probably insignificant.
So, how do you start losing weight?
Simple, you can do so by either consuming less food than your body requires or by eating the same amount of food your body needs but performing more physical activity. It’s not that shiny bottle called “the lipotrator” or those 5 slimming foods that will make you lose weight. It’s all a bunch of crap.
Counting your calories is going to be the most accurate way of losing weight. Counting calories allows you to manipulate things in a way that makes you achieve specific goals. Calorie counting provides physical data that you can rely on such as how many less calories are you consuming. Find out what your maintenance calories are and eat less than that number by 500-1000 less calories and you will lose weight.
Can I lose weight eating “dirty food”?
This is a tricky question, but the answer is yes. If you eat “dirty” foods and you are still in a caloric deficit state, you will still lose weight, however, this is not ideal or recommended because you might lose weight but most of that weight will be lean body mass and not fat mass.
Unless you plan on competing for a bodybuilding show, getting ready for a photo shoot, have a personal goal of achieving a certain percentage of body fat or losing a specific amount of weight, there is no need to count calories. This leads me to…
Ad libitum dieting
Ad libitum dieting refers to eating at will/pleasure which is not always as accurate as counting calories because you are generally eating whatever you like whenever you want, however, it will still yield weight loss. For most people, ad libitum dieting is better because it allows them to enjoy a variety of foods, eating when they want and thus it is more sustainable. One of the major downsides of counting calories and losing weight is that it puts too many restrictions on people which can cause issues such as not being able to eat out with friends, eating the same as your family members and having to turn down dinner invitations just because you are dieting. Ad libitum dieting takes away these unnecessary restrictions which results in long term sustainability for most people. Ad libitum dieting can be a powerful tool if implemented properly and can make you lose more weight faster due to lower stress levels associated with not counting calories and eating out freely with friends and family. The basics of an ad libitum diet is simply to eat raw whole foods, no processed foods, no junk food, vegetables, fruits and lots of protein since it is the most satiating macronutrient which can curb your hunger and cravings. Additionally, protein is the most thermogenic macronutrient. But this is not the subject of this post.
Consuming less energy than your body needs is the cornerstone of weight loss, however, that shouldn’t prevent you from exercising. In fact, in a clinical study conducted to compare the effects of calorie restriction and physical activity on weight loss, the researcher put three groups of overweight women on a caloric restriction program only, exercise program only and a program that combines both a calorie deficit and physical activity. The researchers concluded that highest rate of weight loss was in the combined group which achieved 10% loss of total beginning weight. Thus, create a caloric deficit and exercise more to lose the most amount of weight faster. If you insist on just creating a caloric deficit through exercising, you can do by eating quality foods, staying away from processed and junk foods and increasing your activity level substantially by training 4-6 days a week for optimal results. Although, I repeat, the combination of exercise and calorie restriction will always beat just exercising.
This is not an actual way to lose weight since it’s something you have little to now control over. However, get a blood test done to see if you have any thyroid dysfunction. If your metabolism is slow it might be so due to an underlying medical issue. Thus, get a checkup and address any issues if found.
Consume less garbage and more quality foods
In the U.S., at least 1 in 4 people eat a fast food meal every day! By now you should know that junk food is nothing but garbage in disguise. Junk food has an excessive number of calories, trans fats and sugar which are all bad for your health and body composition. In fact, many studies have concluded that fast food is a major contributor of obesity, though, it is the not the only factor. Eating more quality food will improve your health, energy levels, optimize your bodily functions and fill you up more thank junk food ever will for significantly less calories. Focus on quality food, I cannot emphasize this enough!
Dietary fat, carbs and “fattening foods” do not make you fat, only an excess consumption of calories causes weight gain. Do not fall for the hype. Also, the only safe and realistic way to lose weight is to follow a diet plan and exercise program, those two together will always yield the best results. Before you spend your money on a fitness magazine or a supplement that promises you the world, think about what the supplement companies and magazine owners only care about, then you will have your answer. Though, some supplements do work but they will never replace a good diet and an exercise program.
KE Foster-Schubert, 1. C. (2011, April 11). Effect of diet and exercise, alone or combined, on weight and body composition in overweight-to-obese post-menopausal women. Retrieved from US National Library of Medicine : https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3406229/
Sacks FM1, B. G. (2009, February 26). Comparison of weight-loss diets with different compositions of fat, protein, and carbohydrates. Retrieved from US National Library of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19246357
Willett WC, L. R. (2002, Dec 30). Dietary fat is not a major determinant of body fat. Retrieved from US National Library of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12566139
Vreeman, Rachel C., and Aaron E. Carroll. “Festive medical myths.” BMJ 337 (2008): a2769.
Andersson, I., and S. Rössner. “Meal patterns in obese and normal weight men: the ‘Gustaf’ study.” European journal of clinical nutrition 50, no. 10 (1996): 639-646.
Howarth, N. C., T. TK Huang, S. B. Roberts, B. H. Lin, and M. A. McCrory. “Eating patterns and dietary composition in relation to BMI in younger and older adults.” International Journal of Obesity 31, no. 4 (2007): 675-684.
Consoli, A., F. Capani, A. Del Ponte, T. Guagnano, M. Iezzi, G. Ditano, and S. Sensi. “[Effect of scheduling of meal times on the circadian rhythm of energy expenditure].” Bollettino della Societa italiana di biologia sperimentale 57, no. 23 (1981): 2322-2324.
“Does Eating Late at Night Make You Fat?” Medical Myth. Accessed May 24, 2015. http://www.uamshealth.com/latenighteating.