Eat Your Way to Health

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For years, nutrition advice has been based on the “calories in, calories out” model. Basically, we look at the amount of calories that an individual consumes (calories in) versus the amount of calories that he burns (calories out) to predict weight gain or weight loss. If the result of the equation is a negative number, weight loss occurs. In contrast, if it’s a positive number, then weight gain occurs. So, if one BURNS 2000 calories every day, less than 2000 calories would have to be consumed to lose weight, while more than 2000 calories would have to be consumed to gain weight (yes, there are people who need and want to gain weight). And so, the guessing game begins.

Through different formulas that consider gender, weight, body fat %, and activity level, we can make an educated estimate of the caloric needs for an individual, and therefore make nutritional recommendations based on that number, for that person to reach the desired results. However, often times it doesn’t quite pan out that way. Say weight loss is the main goal, and there have been no positive results at a set caloric intake. Protocol would dictate that intake be reduced by around 200 calories a day. If that doesn’t work, then cut calories again. If it does work for a few weeks, but a plateau is reached, then you cut calories yet again at that point.

To the less experienced individual, it all seems extremely simple. If you want to lose weight, all you have to do is eat less. For this person, there’s not even a reasonable starting point, but the train of thought is the same. Eat a little less for a few days, if it’s not working, then eat even less and re assess until weight begins to drop. This raises the following questions: Where does it stop? Is it really all that simple that it comes down to a mathematical equation? Does it even matter WHAT we eat, as long as we don’t eat a lot of it?

I’ll start by saying that the main flaw in this system is that it doesn’t take into consideration food quality, timing, digestion/ gut health, food intolerances, and lifestyle. All of this added to the fact that for decades we’ve been completely misinformed as to what macro nutrient profiles should really look like with low fat campaigns that have lead to sugar addicts and the alarming rise of chronic disease. There’s plenty to discuss in all of those areas, but for now, Im only going to focus on basic caloric needs of the human body, and why hypo caloric diets could not only hinder weight loss, but actually lead to sickness.

First, we need to understand that the body needs a certain amount of calories (energy) to be able to carry out it’s basic metabolic functions. Even when we feel like we’re not doing anything, the body is still working. The heart is beating, the lungs are breathing, the liver is detoxifying the system, the digestive tract is breaking down food, etc. The entire time, the brain is controlling all of this in the background. None of it is “free”, the body needs fuel to carry all of this out.

It completely blows my mind when I’m working with a client and look at food logs, only to see that these basic energy requirements are barely being met. In a lot of cases, particularly in females, caloric consumption is UNDER what could be considered the minimum for the body to function. The tables below break down the energy expenditure of each of the major organs in a male and female avatar. For the purpose of this research, I considered a 180 lb male at 15% body fat, and a 130 lb female at 20% body fat. I’ve also provided all reference links to the studies that calculated average organ size and expenditure of each, per organ weight.

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