Why calories in doesn’t always equal calories out…

Ever gone for a walk or run to “burn off the calories”? It was probably a waste of time.

fat-versus-carbohydratesFor years the idea that our body ‘burns off’ the calories we eat through exercise has been promoted and used to justify selling exercise equipment and VHS aerobics videos. There are whole business models based around dieting, and reducing calories consumed.

Its hard work, and how many of those people regain the weight once they stop their calorie restriction [3]? However, it may be more effective and sustainable to manage our weight by exploiting how the body processes different types of food. One of my favourite Vinnie Tortorich quotes goes like this; “… exercise is a lousy way to lose weight.” [1].

How the body responds after consuming a calorie of carbohydrate (bread, pasta, grapes, oatmeal or soda) is markedly different to the way it processes a calorie of fat.

The body basically views starch or carbohydrates as sugar. When digested, carbohydrate becomes sugar molecules and these enter the blood stream. The body recognizes sugar and the pancreas squirts out the hormone insulin to help transport it into cells. bowl-of-cerealAfter topping off our sugar reserves, a couple of spoonfuls, the body has to deal with the leftover sugar (a bagel contains an average 7g of sugar and a can of carbonated soda about 36g ) [4]. Insulin plays a role in converting this remaining sugar into body fat [1]. Constantly varying levels of insulin can also lead to feelings of hunger, leading us to want to eat again.

Eating a calorie is fat is different. The body uses fat as a fuel, its why we store it in first place. However there isn’t quite the same hormone response. That doesn’t mean you can eat unlimited quantities of fat, (the excess will have to go somewhere) but by avoiding insulin spikes and the repeated instruction to store sugar as fat, I believe it’s easier to maintain a steady weight. I avoid processed fats and oils like canola or margarine as I don’t believe they’re particularly good for you.

Veggies, fats, proteins and carbs

I look for minimally processed, clean ‘healthy’ options such as you’d find from avocados, butter, olive oil, coconut oil and good meat. Personally I’m still eating about the same number of calories each day as I did when the majority of my food was carbohydrate.  Check out the book ‘The wild diet’ by Abel James for ideas on how source calories from fats and vegetables rather than carbohydrates.

There’s always a place for exercise. Its great maintain cardiovascular fitness, develop muscle strength and bone density. I’ve talked before about the benefits of lower intensity of ‘zone two training‘. However, I no longer think of exercise as creating a bank of calories from which I can withdraw by eating whatever I want.

My thoughts, observations and conclusions may inspire you to change or adjust your life, or perhaps impose them on the unsuspecting. Please remember I do not pretend these are absolute medical facts. Rather, they are a snapshot of my growing wisdom. I’m not a doctor nor a nutritionist. I don’t claim to possess medical insights into the workings of the human body. What I share is based upon the easily available facts, and information I’ve gleaned during a few unfortunate accidents.

Before you begin any physical or nutritional lifestyle change, please consult with a registered medical practitioner and make sure you are healthy and fit to begin. Remember, the goal is to enjoy the journey and avoid the road to disaster, which is littered with pitfalls and paved with good intentions. 

[1] Vinnie Tortorich interviewed on “Becoming superhuman” Ep; 12. 2017

[2] Gary Taubes “Why we get fat, and what to do about it”  Alfred A. Knopf, United States of America 2011

[3] Daily Beast “Most effective diets

[4] Mail Online “Sugar Detox Diet


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