The calories in calories out diet.
That’s just conventional wisdom, right?
That’s when you hear common phrases like, “Just eat less and move more!” “All you need is to be in a calorie deficit. It’s all about the calories!”
“It’s calories in calories out. If you’re not losing weight then you’re eating too much. It’s all your fault. You need to be on a calorie deficit.”
This is my favourite, “It’s all about the First Law of Thermodynamics, bro.” Yeah, we’re gonna talk about that today.
It’s almost become a religion for some people.
But then you also have the other side of the equation where people say calories don’t matter. It’s all about the composition of the food that you’re eating. Never eat sugar again. Just eat intuitively.
As with a lot of things, the truth is usually somewhere in between. that’s what I’m gonna talk about in this video.
Let’s talk about some real numbers.
Numbers don’t lie. According to data from 2014, more than 2 in 3 adults are considered to be overweight or have obesity in the United States.
According to more recent data, it’s now 3 out of 4. As much as 88% of American adults have insulin resistance or some form of metabolic dysfunction. That’s almost 9 out of every 10. Mind blowing stuff.
The start of this problem, this obesity epidemic, can easily be traced all the way back to the 80’s. Around the same time that the USDA released the first dietary guidelines for Americans.
You know, the infamous food pyramid?
We were told to eat a high carb, low fat diet. We were also told that if we want to lose weight, just cut the fat. It’s the most calorically dense. Duh.
The rest of the western hemisphere followed suit and now we have an obesity epidemic.
And what has every nutritionist, dietician, “health expert”, or even your doctor. You know, your overweight doctor? What have they recommended these last four decades to combat this epidemic?
That’s right. It’s the calories in calories out diet.
You’ve probably tried it. It’s built around this over simplistic idea that if you just cut the fat, eat a little less and move a little bit more, do that over time, and you’ll lose weight.
It’s so simple. And almost everyone I know including their dog has tried this method of weight loss in some way, shape, or form.
The problem is, calories in calories out has about a 99% failure rate.
Yes, you read that right.
Meaning, it’ll work at the beginning depending on how strictly you follow your diet. Anybody who cuts calories will lose weight at the beginning. I’m with you on that.
The keyword here is at the beginning. But then, it stops working. You hit the dreaded weight loss plateau.
So you cut even more calories. Then, you get stuck again.
But you can only cut so many calories until you just get frustrated, you blame yourself, and then you quit. Sound familiar? And that’s where a lot of people find themselves.
I’m gonna tell you now that it’s not entirely your fault. You’ve simply been given the wrong information. Or at least, it’s incomplete.
Calories in vs calories out: Explained
Let’s get into the nitty gritty.
The calories in calories out model, while technically true from a Physics standpoint, is almost entirely dependent on the ‘calories out’ part of the equation. The ‘calories in’ makes very little difference.
But nobody talks about that part. And this is the calories in calories out model’s biggest flaw.
Because reducing the ‘calories in’ by eating less, by just cutting calories and going on a deficit, often reduces the ‘calories out’ part of the equation.
But the believers of this model just make this false assumption that the ‘calories out’ stays stable. It doesn’t.
Your ‘calories out’, also known as your basal metabolic rate (BMR) can actually go up or down by as much as 40%.
I’m going to give you contrasting examples of this to prove my point.
Why counting calories doesn’t work long term
Let’s talk about studies done on the biggest loser contestants.
If you’ve ever seen the show, they just get put on these massive calorie deficits. They’re barely eating anything and they do these crazy exercise programs.
It works at the beginning. They lose a ton of weight and everyone’s happy.
The problem is, it’s simply not sustainable.
Over time, after they’re done the show, they’re still on this massive calorie deficit. Their metabolic rate just goes down the drain and they stop losing weight even though they’re eating less than they ever did before.
Why do you think there’s never any Biggest Loser reunion? Because most of them have gained back the weight they’ve lost while they were on the show.
Some of them actually weigh more now than they did before they entered the show. You can’t just blindly cut calories. Your body will respond to it by lowering your metabolism.
The 5,794 calorie diet
Here’s another example to just blow this over simplistic model out of the water. I love it because it just ruins everything for the calories in calories out believers.
A guy by the name of Sam Feltham wanted to prove the calories in calories out model wrong. So he decided that he would eat 5,794 calories every day and document his weight gain.
That’s almost 3 times the amount of daily recommended calories for the average man.
But he didn’t just follow any random diet to come up with 5,794 calories. He decided to follow a low carb, high fat diet of natural foods for 21 days.
You know, the diet that I always talk about that best moderates your insulin levels? Because he believed that refined carbs, not total calories caused weight gain.
If we use standard calculations using the calories in calories out model, he should’ve gained about 16 lbs or 7.3 kgs of fat.
Actual weight gain? 2.8 lbs pounds or 1.3 kilos. Not even 3 lbs. Even though he was eating almost 6,000 calories every day for 21 days.
What’s even more interesting is he dropped more than an inch off his waist. So he gained weight, but it was lean mass.
You’re probably wondering, how did this happen? His metabolism, the ‘calories out’ part of the equation, increased to accommodate the excess calories.
Again, your metabolism can go up or down by 40%.
But the calories in calories out diet zealots just makes an erroneous assumption that it always stays stable. It does not stay stable. Your body is a little bit smarter than that.
It gets better.
In another experiment, Feltham again ate 5,794 calories per day. But this time, he ate the standard American diet (SAD) which is high carb a low fat diet.
He ate a lot of highly processed fake foods which are extremely insulinogenic. A lot of the fat storing hormone insulin were produced, and the results were predictable.
He gained 15.6 lbs or 7.1 kilo’s in 21 days and his waistline went up by 3.6 inches.
So how could he eat the same excessive amount of calories but have his body react completely different between the two diets? It’s clearly a little bit more than just calories.
Your diet composition, specifically how your body reacts to it physiologically, and your body does this through the secretion of certain hormones, plays a huge role when it comes to your body weight.
Calories in vs calories out myth debunked
Let’s talk about how the human body actually works.
There’s really only two places that you can get energy from. And this is the thing that a lot of “calories in calories out experts” out there don’t talk about. Your body actually functions as a two compartment system.
The calories in vs calories out weight loss model needs your body to function as a single compartment system for it to be true.
That’s where people just throw first law of thermodynamics nonsense.
But again, it doesn’t work that way. It’s a two compartment system. Let me explain.
The two compartment system
If you look at the energy that your body wants to expend just to keep you alive like keeping your brain active, heart pumping, organs functioning, etc. Important stuff like that. Again, that is your basal metabolic rate (BMR).
Let’s say your BMR is 2000 calories. Well, there’s two different places where you can get those 2000 calories. You can get it from the foods that you eat. Or, you can get it from your fat stores.
It’s an either/or scenario.
The assumption is that if you go on a calorie deficit by eating less. By cutting fats from your diet because it’s calorie dense. Let’s use 1500 calories as example.
A 500 calorie deficit is a pretty common recommendation by a lot of “experts”. So, you eat 1500 calories worth of food.
The convenient theory is that you’ll make up the 500 calorie deficit from your fat stores, and your 2000 calorie BMR will stay stable.
One pound of fat is about 3500 calories. If you do some simple math, with a daily 500 calorie deficit, that equates to 3500 calories.
Therefore, you’re gonna lose a pound a week, you’re gonna lose 52 pounds in one year, and you’re gonna weigh zero pounds in a few of years.
That is purely bro science. If that was even somewhat accurate, we’d all be walking around with a six pack. And 3 out of 4 people in the US wouldn’t be overweight.
And this is the weight loss model, the calories in calories out model, that we’ve been led to believe for decades. It’s still considered conventional wisdom today.
Almost everyone I know has done a calorie deficit diet and it’s almost never worked for anybody for a sustainable amount of time.
You cannot just go on a calorie deficit and not expect your body to adjust to it. Your body is a little bit smarter than that.
Not all calories are created equal
The other major flaw of the calories in calories out diet is that it assumes that your body treats all calories equal.
But in order for that to be true, then 300 calories of eggs would have the same fattening effects as a 300 calorie donut.
But they’re not the same. Not even close. Anybody with common sense should know that.
Because the minute you put those foods in your mouth, the body’s physiologic response is completely different between the two.
With the donut, because it’s made out of refined carbs and sugar, your insulin goes up. All you have to remember is that if your insulin goes up, you turn off fat burning. You’re in fat storage mode.
With the eggs, because it’s mostly fat and protein, your insulin levels stay relatively stable. What that means is that if you take equal calorie portions of food, certain foods are more fattening than others.
Donuts are more fattening than eggs. That’s just common sense, right?
But this always drives me up the wall when you get to a concept like calories. We abandon all common sense and we make up ridiculous rules to justify it which usually leads to overconsumption.
We start eating low calorie ice cream. Because it conveniently fits your macros, you start eating it every day.
People start drinking diet coke instead of regular coke. We think that because it has zero calories, then it must be better for you.
If we’re strictly just talking about calories, then you should just drink diet coke all day. Good luck with that.
But if you look at actual studies, drinking diet soda is directly linked to weight gain instead of weight loss.
Why? Because your body still has a physiological response to diet soda and artificial sweeteners even though it’s zero calories. Do you still think that it’s just about the calories?
The ugly truth about CICO
Here’s some breaking news for you.
Your body actually doesn’t count calories. You have no calorie counter in your stomach.
But then this is when you hear people say, “I burned 300 calories on the StairMaster! I can eat a cookie afterwards! I’ll just burn it off.” No, you can’t. You can’t just burn it off.
You can exercise your muscles but you can’t exercise your liver which carries the burden when you eat a lot of sugar.
This is also when you hear people say, “I have 300 calories left for my macros, I’m just gonna eat these 4 Oreo cookies and I’m gonna chase it with this diet soda.” That makes absolutely no sense.
The calories in vs calories out weight loss model is just a flawed system and it simply doesn’t work.
It’s too big of a blanket statement and just an over simplistic way of looking at your body as just a simple mathematical equation. Your body is a little bit more complex than that.
The real enemy of CICO
Another big problem with the calories in vs calories out weight loss model is that it doesn’t tackle hunger.
Why? Because being hungry sucks.
Here’s the thing. Weight loss in its very essence isn’t about counting calories, it’s about controlling hunger.
Anybody that just follows cutting calories blindly will tell you that they’re hungry.
Why? Because when you just cut calories, when you just treat all calories equal, fat is the first thing to go. Because fat is the most calorically dense.
That’s why people still think that fat makes you fat. But if you look at it from a satiety standpoint, fat is extremely satiating.
When you eat fat, it activates Cholecystokinin (CCK) which is one of your satiety hormones.
But if you just take it out of your diet and you just start eating rice crackers, or low fat versions of food (ie. skim milk). That’s really when the problem starts. When we get into what I like to call “Frankenfoods.”
Why? Because they’re not satiating at all. You’re gonna be hungry.
And you can really only hold off hunger for so long. You are literally going against your hormones. You’re going against your physiology and your physiology will always win.
Which then leads to grazing on food all day.
We start eating 6 small meals a day. We start eating a lot of protein bars or highly processed low calorie and low fat versions of foods. All of which are extremely insulinogenic which makes them extremely fattening.
Which brings us back to my original point. The truth is somewhere in between.
Yes, it’s calories in vs calories out. You need to be at a deficit. But, I cannot emphasize this enough, it will only work long term if you also optimize your hormones.
It will only work if you’re metabolically flexible which can only be achieved through your diet. You need to eat in a way that turns off your hunger hormones and activate satiety hormones.
You need to eat a diet that moderates your insulin levels by eating single ingredient, mostly unprocessed, nutrient dense foods.
That is the only time that your body can access your fat stores and burn it for energy when you’re on a calorie deficit.
Like I said, the truth is somewhere in between. Hope that clears it up.
As always, if this was helpful, share it with a friend who could benefit from it as well!
Need More Help?
Use this simple 4-step process to melt ALL the fat around your stomach and look good shirtless WITHOUT going on a crazy diet or wasting hours at the gym. Get the Lean Body Blueprint here for free!