Calories In, Calories Out Debate: RIP

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Okay, here I’m going to link you to a couple of scientific studies.  It’s up to you to read them, but they all encompass one thing: the debate on Calories In, Calories Out is going to be laid to rest. May it rest in peace.

Article One, published in Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior. You can read a further in-depth (albeit protein-biased) article looking at a similar study in layman’s terms here.

Article Two, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Article Three, published in Nutrition Research.

Article One is the Big Kahuna.  Here is what is showing that no matter how many calories you eat, the composition of those calories plays a big role in whether your weight loss efforts are going to be successful.  Other studies have attempted to show this in regards to protein intake versus carbohydrate intake, but that’s not the path I want to take you down.  We can debate high-carb vs. low-carb until we’re blue in the face; what I’m trying to point out to you here is that two people, let’s say they’re identical twins who exercise the same amount every day, who are put on the same calorie diet with differences in nutrient composition will have two very different results as to their weight loss efforts.

The results of the first study, which in a nutshell compared mice on a diet of high fructose corn syrup to a diet of mouse chow, should let you know that calories in vs. calories out does not play the full role in how well you are going to lose weight.

So what to do?

First things first: initially, reducing total calorie intake is going to be beneficial.  You will lose weight for the first 2-4 weeks after substantially reducing your calories.  That’s great.  The next step needs to happen before you go on that all-night calorie binge: substantially increase your intake of fruits and vegetables (let’s put vegetables higher on the priority scale than fruits) and decrease your intake of all other carbohydrates (including that high-fiber bran cereal you’re eating).

When you do that, you’ll suddenly find it much easier to stay on the lower-calorie diet.  When you add a large, healthy amount of protein and the good fats to that, your body will suddenly start to glide toward your goal weight.

Why? Because what your body is truly questing for is not calories, but nutrients.  A vegetable has a lot of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, antioxidants, enzymes, and possibly a lot more that science has yet to discover.  Your body LOVES these nutrients.  It is craving them, and that vegetable provides the utmost amount of nutrition in the perfect proportions for your body without a lot of calories.  There’s also the small fact that you can eat a TON of vegetables for the cost of practically nothing, calorically speaking.

It may be that blood sugar, leptin, insulin, the thyroid, exercise habits, your past lives, and random acts of God play a role in your weight loss efforts, but the big thing that mostly everyone seems to missing is the nutrient idea.  The more nutrients you get into your body, the happier it is. Your appetite is satiated, you crave random things far less (paint chips, anyone?), and your body will shed its fat stores because it no longer needs them.

One caveat: those nutrients should be taken in the most natural way possible.  This does not include multivitamins, fish oil pills, or anything like that.  That sort of thinking can lead to overdoses of certain nutrients, which you don’t want. For example, water-soluble vitamins (B vitamins, C vitamins, many minerals, etc) are eliminated through the kidneys. That’s right, you pee them out.  But fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) can only be used in the presence of fat, which means that taking in too much can build up to toxic levels in your body.  The body is smart, and is able to regulate that when you get those nutrients in food (amazingly, it turns this little switch in your brain that makes you full, or causes you to avoid foods with those nutrients!), but it can’t regulate it when those nutrients all come at once (i.e. taking a megadose of your favorite multi-vitamin).  Hence another reason to eat your vegetables.

A diet that focuses solely on calories may cause initial weight loss, but there are several thousand more studies out there that show it doesn’t make a difference in the long run.  It’s time to start looking at nutrient-intake instead of calorie-intake.  Are you eating enough vitamins?