Belly fat and calories
Did that headline make you click? Good, because it’s clickbait, just like any other post you see on social media that talks about fat burning foods or fat burning exercises. Let me give you a quick biology lesson to back up my point here…
Every process in your body requires energy, that’s according to the laws of physics – you can’t f*** with science b*tch*s!
Energy is measured in calories; a calorie is the amount of energy needed to heat 1ml of water by 1 degree Celsius. 1,000 calories, or Calories (uppercase C) is the amount of energy, or heat, needed to raise the temp of 1L of water by 1°C.
A Calorie is a measurement of a unit of energy, nothing more nothing less. Therefore, anyone who says that no two Calories are the same is talking out of their Paleo posterior!
Calories do matter, a lot, and using Calories to measure your 24-hour energy balance is really important.
You see, energy balance (Calories in, Calories out) is measured over an entire 24-hour period, including the time you are asleep. An 80kg person is likely to burn over 600kcals during 8-hours of sleep each night.
What is metabolism?
Metabolism is not the magical concept that you probably think it is and it can’t be irreparably damaged, it’s literally the energy usage based on your body mass and activity, plus a couple of other factors.
Adapted from Trexler et al (2014)
- BMR: as you can see from the graphic the main components of metabolism are your Basal Metabolic Rate, which is all the energy you use just existing.
- NEAT: add to this Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, which is all the movement you do that isn’t exercise, including fidgeting, walking, cleaning, etc.
- TEF: this is the Thermic Effect of Food. Protein foods have the highest thermic effect, followed by fibre, carbohydrates and fatty acids in that order. The more highly refined and processed your foods, the less of a thermic effect you get during digestion. Ever had the meat sweats after a large steak? That’s TEF!
- EAT: this is Exercise Adaptive Thermogenesis. This is the smallest component, so all those memes talking about sweat being your fat melting are b*llocks. Exercise is the LEAST important element of metabolism and when you do more exercise, you do less NEAT, so things balance out.
To be clear, I am not saying don’t exercise, far from it. Exercise is REALLY important for your physical, metabolic and mental health but it’s important to understand that exercise isn’t a great tool (if you aren’t already eating in an energy deficit) for fat loss.
So, you don’t have to do hours of punishing cardio workouts to burn off the pizza you had last night. Make the pizza fit your Calories for the day and exercise to be fitter, stronger, happier and more pain free.
What all diets have in common
All diets have one thing in common. They all create a set of rules designed to restrict Calorie intake and create an energy deficit. It’s just that some diets are honest about this and others aren’t.
Look at the graphic below to illustrate this point.
Let’s look at each one in a bit more detail.
This is a calorie control diet where you calculate your Calories targets and the number of each macronutrient you are going to eat. Basically, you split your Calories between protein, fats and carbs. This works great, but it’s an advanced method and, of course, we don’t eat calories or nutrients, we eat food and a lot of people struggle with this concept.
Ketogenic diets restrict Calories by cutting out carbohydrates and placing a focus on healthy fats and protein. To be clear, it’s not that carbs are making you fat, it’s that carbs are easy to overconsume and therefore, a Keto diet might work for you if you don’t especially enjoy carbs. Most people love bread, rice, fruit, cake, etc. So Keto is hard to stick to.
The concept is that you eat like a caveman, before processed grains or refined sugars were a thing. But the evolutionary discord theory has been well combusted by science. It appears that humans have been processing grains for more than 30,000 years, which is more than enough time to evolve adaptations to those changes in habitual diet. What Paleo does is, again, limits carbs and sugar, while placing an emphasis on satiating foods that are high in protein and fibre. This means that you eat less and therefore, create an energy deficit.
Diets like vegetarian and vegan can also create an energy deficit by removing meats and fish and sometimes eggs and dairy. This means that the diet is generally very low fat, low protein but high carbohydrate. So, whereas the other diets limit carbs to illicit weight loss, plant-based diets tend to do the opposite with the same outcome.
Unfortunately, because there is a theoretical argument that carbohydrates aren’t essential for human survival some crazy fascists have decided that plants are bad for you and that we should only eat meat, because there’s nothing like being an extremist if you want to lose all your friends. Obviously if you cut out ALL food except meat, it’s going to be really difficult to consume enough Calories to gain fat. It’s also going to be really easy to develop harmful nutrient deficiencies. Yes, I’m aware that Jordan Peterson is a carnivore advocate, but he’s a somewhat overrated psychologist and not a nutritionist.
Much like the macro diet, flexible dieting has you counting Calories but allows you to eat a little of all foods so that you never feel restricted. If you have the discipline to stop at just one biscuit, this could work really well for you and is a lot less restrictive than the other diets.
The take home message here, is to eat the diet that makes sense to you, that suits your goals, your personal taste preferences and that won’t interfere with your health.
Adherence is important and dieting is hard enough as it is, so why choose to follow a diet that makes it even harder by either being overly restrictive or overly complicated?
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- Trexler, E., Smith-Ryan, A. and Norton, L. (2014). Metabolic adaptation to weight loss: implications for the athlete. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 11(1), p.7.
- Christopher E. Pitt. Cutting through the Paleo hype: The evidence for the Palaeolithic diet. The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners 2016. Global Health. Volume 45, No.1, January/February 2016 Pages 35-38.
- Aragon, A. (2013). The Paleo Diet: Claims Versus Evidence. eBook 1st ed. Personal Trainers Conference. NSCA.com, pp.1-53.