Have a fat loss goal?
You know what you have to do, eat less…right?
While it is necessary to create a caloric deficit to lose weight (fat) it is not necessary to eat less than you are currently already eating. The equation to create a caloric deficit has two variables, caloric intake and caloric expenditure. Both of these can be manipulated, yet most people tend to manipulate the caloric intake portion of the equation.
Why Caloric Restriction Is Not The Answer
There are a number of problems with minimizing caloric intake.
For one, there is a lower limit to the amount of calories you can eat. I have seen a number of people say they are eating 1000 calories or less trying to lose weight. This just isn’t maintainable or healthy. If you are already eating 1500 calories a day and decide you want to try and lose weight, you don’t have much room to go before you are trying to eat 1000 calories or less a day and you have only just begun on your weight loss journey.
Another downside to lowering caloric intake is that you will subconsciously begin to expend less energy in order to put yourself back in caloric balance. Many people think that lowering caloric intake for too long will cause your metabolism to slow down and that is what causes weight loss stalls or even weight regain while eating the same amount of calories. Studies show that it is not the slowing of your metabolism that is the problem, it is the fact that you subconsciously move less.
Another often overlooked problem with lowering calories has to do with nutrient deficiencies. The lower we push our calories the more limited we need to be in our food selection. In general, the less variety we have in our diet the less nutrients we will take in. To get a good idea of whether you might be deficient in certain nutrients you can put your food intake into an app like Cronometer. If you get to the end of the day and you are below most vitamin and mineral recommendations while at the same time hitting your caloric goal, that can be cause for concern.
In addition when you begin to lower your food selection in order to limit your caloric intake you will subconsciously start to crave the foods you “can’t have”, and I am not talking about cakes and cookies. When calories get real low you start limiting your intake of whole food sources, cutting out things like potatoes, rice, beans, dairy, certain non-starchy vegetables, meats, fish, etc. When you start cutting out healthy (for you) foods your body is going to do everything it can to get you to eat more of these foods. You will start craving all kinds of foods and eventually those cravings will overcome your willpower and you will cave.
Move More, Eat More
So if eating less is not a good long term solution, the only other option is to manipulate the caloric expenditure side of the equation. When we look at what makes up our total caloric expenditure this is the approximate breakdown.
That is a lot of abbreviations so let me break them down
TDEE = Today Daily Energy Expenditure, this is all the calories you burn in a day
BMR = Basal Metabolic Rate
REE = Resting Energy Expenditure, this is how many calories you burn if you laid completely still for a whole day
NREE = Non-resting Energy Expenditure, these are all the calories you burn on top of your BMR
TEF = Thermic Effect Of Food, these are the calories you burn digesting your food
EAT = Exercise Activity Thermogenisis, these are all the calories you burn from exercise
NEAT = Non-exercise Activity Thermogenisis, these are all the calories you burn unconsciously moving around throughout the day
If we want to manipulate the caloric expenditure side of the energy balance equation our only option is to try and manipulate the NREE portion above. Our BMR does not really change and is pretty much out of our control for the most part. When we look at what makes up NREE, we have TEF, EAT, and NEAT. All three of these components are affected when we manipulate calories. Eat less and we get less TEF (we are digesting less food), and we have less drive to exercise and will subconsciously move less throughout the day. Eat more and TEF goes up (we are digesting more food), and we have more energy to exercise and move around.
“Wait if I eat more won’t I gain weight?”
All things equal, yes you will, but we are not going to keep things equal 😉.
The key to being able to eat more and still lose or maintain weight is to make sure you are keeping up with the movement portion of the caloric expenditure part of the equation.
Far too many people are eating more and not moving, this is why we have such a high prevalence of obesity in the first place. In today’s world this can be an uphill battle because we are required to move very little throughout the day to survive.
To solve this problem we need to intentionally inject movement into our lives.
I am not talking about exercise either.
The biggesting component to our NREE is NEAT, the movement we do subconsciously throughout the day. The problem is that we are so used to not moving that you are likely going to have to make a conscious effort to move more, at least at first.
Intentionally sandwiching your day with two 30 minutes walks for example is not subconscious movement. The goal is to make these walks habits, something you just do, but in the beginning it will likely be something you have to schedule. This is just one example, it can be any kind of low level, non-exercise movement. Silly things like parking farther away from the store, taking the stairs rather than the elevator, walking to a place close by rather than driving, add up throughout the day and contribute a lot to your overall energy expenditure.
This concept of eating more while moving more is what is referred to as metabolic flux. In fact studies have show those that have high metabolic flux, meaning they eat more and move more, are able to maintain weight loss better than those that have low metabolic flux (eat less move less) .
As you can see in the graph above the high flux group was eating 3279 calories per day and burning 2821 calories per day and they were able to decrease their body fat percentage over the course of 3 years. The low flux group was eating 1795 calories per day and burning 2232 calories per day and still gained body fat!
The interesting part about the data above is that the low flux group was expending just 600 calories less than the high flux group while eating nearly 1500 calories less! Imagine working out just as much as someone else but eating 1500 calories less and gaining body fat while they lost body fat!!!!
This diagram nicely illustrates what can happen when you lose fat and then switch to a high flux state vs a low flux state.
The Winning Formula
The winning formula to achieving a weight loss goal revolves around a high flux state. Before you begin a weight loss phase you should be in a high flux state, eating and moving as much as you can while being weight stable. This gives you more flexibility in cutting out calories and buffer the inevitable reduction in movement that will come with decreasing calories.
As you approach your weight loss goal, you will likely begin approaching a low flux state where you are not eating much and your movement has decreased quite a bit.
You might think that all is good now, you reach your goal, the work is done. Unfortunately you are only part way there.
If you want to successfully maintain your weight loss, you need to put yourself back in a high flux state. This means increasing your calories AND movement. An increase in movement should happen naturally as your calories increase but you want to make sure you don’t get caught in the trap of eating more but not moving, which is easy to do. It is probably best to consciously increase movement with things like scheduled walks and slowly increase your calories month over month. During this process monitor your weight in order to make sure you are maintaining your weight. If done properly you will eventually be eating just as much as you were before you lost the weight.
No matter your goal, weight loss, muscle gain, sports performance, or just being a kick ass human, being in a high flux state is going to help you achieve your goals. To help you achieve your goals I provide free, actionable information each week via my newsletter. You can sign up using the form below, just enter your email address.
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- (2016, May 11). Low energy intake plus low energy expenditure … – NCBI – NIH. Retrieved December 12, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4880998/ ↑