So, one of my clients the other day sent me an article (she shall remain nameless, but you know who you are!). The article was written by a group of doctors, who despite their obvious intelligence in developing sound dietary equations to determine realistic weight loss have an inability to properly communicate it to the general public. When my client sent me the article, I noticed this short-coming of their description of how losing weight really works. We then swapped e-mails and what resulted was a better way of understanding a proper diet, specifically calorie levels, to lose fat.
Summary of the article...
The article which was published on MedPage.com was titled "Calorie-Cutting Rule May Result In Less-Than-Expected Weight Loss." The general synopsis of the article was that most people hear that if they cut 500 calories a day from their diet, they will lose weight and that that notion is incorrect. The doctor's statements are true; cutting calories is not a rock-solid way to lose weight. They bring up ideals about lessening muscle mass with age, and slowing metabolism as reasons why the 500 calorie reduction does not work for everyone. The problems is that they don't develop the thought completely, nor do they give people struggling with weight loss anything other than an excuse of why they aren't losing as much weight as they want (i.e. "I must have a slow metabolism.")
The real deal...
(E-mail response #1)
"The 500 calories reduction rule only applies if you are currently in caloric balance (i.e. you expend exactly what you take in). Rarely are people on a calorically balanced diet when they begin the 500 calorie reduction. Usually they are over-consuming; sometimes by 300 or more calories, which means a 500 calorie reduction is only a 200 calorie deficit relative to your actual metabolism. A 200 calorie deficit would equate to 1 pound of fat loss every 2-3 weeks.
What people need to take away, that sadly the article did not clearly state is that you need to operate on a 500 calorie deficit not merely a 500 calorie reduction in the diet."
The real deal fully explained...
(E-mail response #2)
My client then asked me if the metabolism concept was a myth. It most certainly is not a myth, but is the basis for how any sound diet should be designed.
"Metabolism, also referred to as your resting metabolic rate (RMR), should be the basis for setting your unique caloric daily intake. RMR represents the number of calories your body burns just by carrying out bodily processes. For most women, this number is right around 1000, give or take 100 depending on height and muscle mass. To that we add your caloric load of daily activities, which if you don’t work-out is a surprisingly low number. Sedentary, low muscle people probably only burn an additional 300-400 calories a day. These two inputs are where a “slow” metabolism is factored in. If you truly have a depressed metabolism, your RMR is probably 100-200 calories lower which can be the affect of hormonal issues or minimal muscle mass. This combined total of RMR and basic daily living is what I refer to as the Living Metabolic Rate (a term I completely made up, but fits the definition), the combination of your RMR and the calories burned during daily activities excluding fitness/workout activities. We can also add the thermic affect of food/digestion, which typically fluctuates around 8% - 10% of calories consumed (so that 1200 calorie piece of cheesecake really only costs you 1080 calories...oh wait that is still awful). These are just a couple of components to determining metabolism. Medications, hormones, stress, and various lifestyle choices can swing your LMR in different directions, sometimes fluctuating day to day.
Now that you see the inputs, it is easy to see why there is so much confusion about the 500 calories reduction rule. It isn’t that we really care about reducing the diet by 500 calories, it is that we want to live at a 500 calories deficit. If I (as in me, JT) am trying to lose fat, I can still consume well over 2200 calories a day because my total daily expenditure pushes 2800-3000 calories. You on the other hand, being female, having less muscle mass, and being less active (remember I run speed and agility sessions almost daily), can only get away with 1500 calories consumed a day (1000+400=1400 (LMR) + 500 (workout) = 1900 – 400 = 1500). Two very different numbers. Even if you consumed 500 calories less than my restricted diet, you would still not lose weight quickly. It is all relative to an individual’s metabolism which is why I feel the word “deficit” needs to used not “reduction.” A slower metabolism can be accounted for in the process, and people with slow metabolisms can lose weight as long as they operate at a deficit.
In the article, they referenced that Americans only overeat by about 10 calories a day. That is crap. I don’t know where they got that statistic. Maybe when we average out everyone, even the people who eat right at their caloric balance, and those who are successfully losing weight we average only 10 calories of over-consumption. I bet overweight people (and those gaining weight...the people that need to change their diets) typically over consume by 50-100 calories day. If it were only 10 calories, weight gain would be limited to only 1 pound gained per year, and lord knows what really happens over the summer. I know many people who pack on 5-10 pounds in 60 days. That is an over-consumption (again, relative to metabolism) of 250-500 calories per day.
So to answer your question directly, the metabolism issue is not a myth, but needs to be addressed directly and precisely (which can be done, albeit at an expense) if someone is to have true success in efficient weight loss. Sure you can lose weight by guessing your metabolism, but if you are incorrect, you will either a) not lose weight as quickly as you could, or b) will unintentionally waste muscle. The muscle wasting causes a decrease in metabolism and is the result of your body thinking it is starving. Then if the body assumes starvation, it will sacrifice what it deems as unnecessary living tissue first which is your muscle. It does this because it can’t sacrifice other living tissues such as organs."
----- End of E-mail----
The key thing we need to take away from all of this is that weight loss and gain is a matter of numbers. People have tried to debate this as false for a decade now. They have tried to show that various foods are metabolic, and that differing digestion rates of protein/carbs/fat affect the number of calories you can eat. Although some of those ideas may be partially true, the fact of the matter is that no single study or collection of studies can fully deny that the number of calories you eat in the course of the day combined with how you eat those calories is what equates to changes in body mass. So, in the simplest of terms, if you want to lose weight, you need to be at a 500 calorie deficit
on a daily basis through the combination of diet and exercise. If you
want to gain weight (specifically muscle mass), you need to lift heavy
and have a 500 calorie surplus daily. If you don't lift heavy, and just over-consume, you will gain fat.
So are you asking yourself why I typed the bold/underlined statement of "how you eat those calories?"
In an effort to keep this entry and topic from getting any longer, I am going to cover that in one of my next posts, but just know this... the idea of eating 5-6 smaller meals a day is correct and the standard American three square meals a day is wrong. It does not have to do with carbs versus proteins versus fats. It has to do with timing and how many calories your body can actually tolerate before fat retention kicks in. As a teaser to this article, the same client who motivated my response here once sent me another article showing how a guy ate nothing but snack cakes (twinkies, cupcakes, etc...) and one Muscle Milk per day, and lost 10 pounds in a month. No lie, but please do not try this at home...yet.