Regarding Calories In/Calories Out . . . There’s One More Thing You Need to Know

If the wind will not serve, take to the oars. –Latin Proverb

Today’s wellness message is about empowering yourself to sift through the diet & exercise clutter we encounter regularly in the media. In fact, I am currently working on an entire book dedicated to this cause because I just can’t stand it when people try to make healthy choices, but are misled by the piece-meal, half-truths we see on the news, in magazines, etc. We need to recognize that the media’s first priority is to get your attention. TV networks and magazines fight each other for viewers & corresponding advertising dollars. To do this, they come up with catchy titles, and often portray one diet extreme or another because let’s face it – that’s more interesting than a vanilla story with caveats. For example, I just saw the other day a segment on the morning news that salt is good for you! Of course they went to the extreme to grab our attention, but in doing so, failed to mention that we Americans consume far more salt than we need . . .  and there was zero mention of associated risks of too much salt. An uninformed, unassuming consumer could have easily taken away the message not to hesitate to add salt to their food in the name of health.


Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /


As I mentioned, I’m working on an entire book to help de-clutter the diet & weight-loss space. My goal in today’s article is to convince you that:

  1. The calories in/calories out approach to weight-loss is the best approach. That is, to lose weight, you must burn more calories than you consume (no magic pills, powders, or other concoctions), and
  2. “Calories in” has a significant impact on “calories out.” You must go a level deeper and understand this relationship to achieve long-term weight management success. In other words, it’s not quite as black & white as one might think.

Here’s one (of many) examples to show you what I mean. A colleague of mine, Katy, was working to lose weight as so many of us do. She knew that she needed to burn more calories than she ate, and so in an attempt to lose a lot of weight quickly, she cut her calories to under 1000 per day. Now, as an oversimplified rule of thumb, the average person needs 10 calories for every pound of body weight, just for the very basic functions like breathing, or having your heart deliver blood throughout your body (we’ll call this resting metabolism). Katy weighed about 160 lbs, and so she needed 1600 calories at rest. This does not include ANY additional calorie needs for things like walking, talking, showering, exercising, or generally moving at all. What happened? After a few weeks, Katy lost about 15lbs (she also had literally no energy). A few months later, she gained it back and then some. Why? A couple of things:

  1. Our bodies are wonderfully amazing, and are built for survival. If we consume fewer calories than what we need at rest, our body gets the message that we are starving it. It then slows our resting metabolism way down (so Katy began to burn far fewer calories at rest vs. before she severely restricted her calories). As soon as Katy stopped restricting her calories, she put the weight back on quickly because her metabolism was shot & her body was desperately trying to store the fat it had been deprived of.
  2. As part of the panic mode we send our body into with severe calorie restriction, our body holds onto every bit of fat it can. Again, it is all about survival, and our bodies need fat for critical functions like protecting our vital organs, enabling the absorption of important nutrients, and many others. The bulk of the weight Katy lost was water & her muscle (not what anyone is looking for).
  3. Finally, all diets, including Katy’s, have one thing in common: they stop working when you stop dieting. That’s why so many people talk about pursuing a lifestyle change vs. a diet & the concept behind yo-yo dieting. No one can (or should) restrict calories as Katy was doing for an extended period of time. As soon as the diet stops, so do any kind of results. And we just may have done more harm than good.

As I said, this is only one of many, many ways that “calories in” impacts “calories out.” The type of calories we eat also has great impact, but that’s for another post so stay tuned! For now, feel great about knowing that the next time you hear of some crazy calorie-restrictive diet in the media, you have the knowledge to understand some of the consequences that the tv segment or magazine article conveniently omitted.

Articles often shared at: A life in balance

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