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Myth Busting: Don't Count on Calories to Lose Weight

Updated: Jan 23, 2020

There are various enzymes and hormones that increase fat storage, increase hunger, release fat from fat cells for energy, and even send us messages that let us know what we want to eat. The biochemistry of weight gain, weight loss, and appetite goes way deeper than calories! There is a dynamic relationship between the food we eat and the hormones and enzymes at work. Counting calories as the sole means to weight loss is misguided.

Hard boiled eggs, cherry tomatoes, and avocado with hot sauce drizzled on top. Slice of Arnold's Whole Grain Double Protein bread toasted on the side.

We can’t disregard how the calories we consume affect our hormones and, therefore, our metabolism. We have assumed calories-in and calories-out are variables that are independent of one another; this simply isn’t true.

When we have less input (i.e. we eat less), there is less output (i.e. a reduction in energy or slowed metabolism).

In the short term, it works. But science has shown, over and over, that in the long term it just doesn’t work. We’ve even proven it to ourselves: have you ever lost weight? And regained? Blamed yourself for being too “weak” or “undisciplined” to maintain the weight loss?

The Real Deal and the truth is: when you lose weight, more ghrelin (a hormone that signals hunger) is produced from the lining of the gut. This hormone increases your appetite, so you eat more! Hasn’t it felt like you're more hungry when you’ve lost weight? You walk around ravenous? Add to that, the hormone that signals fullness or satiety (leptin) decreases when weight has been lost! Therefore, more food is required for fullness. Wait, there’s more! Under balanced circumstances, leptin signals Neuropeptide Y (NPY) to down-regulate (meaning there’s less NPY, or it’s not as effective). NPY is the most potent stimulator of appetite: it increases food intake and fat storage. When leptin is low, NPY is high. As was just mentioned, when weight has been lost, leptin levels are lower to encourage increased food consumption. NPY is high, increasing food intake and fat storage. Now you know why weight is regained when you have lost weight, and you can stop blaming yourself.

You may be thinking, "Great, now what? If it’s a losing battle, what am I expected to do about it?"

First of all, STOP slashing calories! STOP the low fat madness. First we’re told "no fat." Then, we’re told "no carbs." What are we supposed to eat?

The issue with fat gain is that the fat regulating hormones have become out of balance, most likely due to the fake, processed, and inflammatory foods sold at supermarkets, convenience stores, and restaurant chains. We have to rebalance our fat-regulating hormones with diet and lifestyle modifications.

Tips for Hormonal Balance:

  • Revise the amount of carbohydrates you are eating; start by avoiding simple and refined carbohydrates.

  • Limit fruit intake; berries, grapes, apples, plums, and cherries are best to keep in your diet. If you’re trying to lose weight, have no more than 2 servings of fruit per day.

  • Move your body intentionally for 20-30 minutes a day.

  • Get at least 6 hours of quality sleep each night (but that’s really the minimum you need).

The above tips are the BEST place to start to get your hormones balanced so you feel your best! Stay tuned for more information on how to optimize your health with nutrition and fitness.

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