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February 4, 2024 | Max Jenkinson

How To Lose Weight (And Keep It Off)

One of the most, if not the most, misunderstood subjects when it comes to health is weight loss (& weight gain). If I were to ask strangers on the street how to lose weight what do you think they would answer? I’m guessing most of them would answer something along the lines of “Well, you’d probably want to exercise and eat less.” This is the general conception of weight loss. The only way to lose weight is by moving more and eating less. And, it makes sense.

We’ve been taught that weight gain is a surplus of calories. We’ve also been taught that you can burn calories while exercising. The logical conclusion is that if we want to lose weight we need to move more and eat less. Move more and eat less! This is exactly what we’ve been told for the better part of 50 years. Has it worked? No. It has been a complete and utter failure.

So, am I telling you that the calories in calories out equation is a myth? Not at all. It’s just not the entire story. Move more and eat less is terrible advice. You’ve probably tried the strategy because it’s the only one you know exists. Did you succeed or did you gain it all back? Maintaining a healthy (and sexy) body weight is not supposed to be hard. It is literally what your body wants.

So, today we are going to explore where the move more, eat less mantra came from. Not only that, we’ll dive into how a faulty assumption has kept weight loss so hard, for so many, for so long.

By the end, you will understand what weight loss entails and how to achieve it (should you want to). It is easier than you could imagine once you understand what levers exist and when to pull which one.

 

Calories in, Calories Out (CICO): The Foundation of Weight Loss?

Let’s start this off with a quote:

“Two half-truths always lead to a full lie.”

I love this quote, especially when it comes to something as complex as a biological system. Keep this in mind and we’ll come back to it later on.

A calorie is a measure of energy. 1 calorie is the amount of energy required to heat 1 gram of water at 1 degree Celsius. We usually measure food in kilo calories (kcal). Kcal can also be written as Calories (capital C).

The Energy Equation

By looking at the graph you can easily see that taking in more energy than you burn leads to weight gain. The opposite is also obviously true. If you burn more energy than you take in you will lose weight.

In more scientific terms, the prior is called a caloric surplus and the latter a caloric deficit. To gain weight we need to be in a caloric surplus, and to lose weight we need to be in a caloric deficit. So far, so good.

The use of calories as a measure of the energy in food was first popularized in 1887 by chemist Wilbur Atwater. It’s from his work the 9 Calories per gram of fat and 4 Calories per gram of carbs and protein come from.

It wasn’t until the 1920s that calorie counting was used in the context of weight loss. As I’ve written about in the past we tend to view the human body as a machine.

The most logical step to achieve weight loss is to eat less (decrease energy coming in) and move more (increase energy burnt). Here’s where the quote comes into fruition. The calorie in, calorie out equation is indeed a scientific fact. But, it is not true that the human body works like a machine.

Energy vs. Fuel

First, we need to distinguish between energy and fuel. Our body works similar to a car engine. A car engine burns petrol to create energy. That energy is then used to create motion.

We also burn fuel but instead of petrol, we use carbs, fats and protein. But, we don’t just burn these so-called macronutrients. We use them as building blocks for everything that makes up the human body. Not only that. We can also store fuel to be burnt later. It is only once the fuel is burnt that it becomes energy. Quite a magnificent system if you ask me.

What we worry about when it comes to weight gain is a gain in fat tissue. No one walks around worrying about an increase in muscle tissue, or bone tissue, or even brain tissue. We just don’t want more fat. Because the body can do so much with the fuel (calories) we eat, we need to understand what controls where the fuel goes.

The Regulation Is OUT of Contol!

If we view the body like a car, all we have to do is increase the fuel burnt or decrease the fuel coming in. Move more, eat less! As you now know it’s not that simple.

The levers that control where “energy” (fuel) flows are so intricate that it would take multiple books to even scratch the surface. Fortunately for us, we only need to appreciate the complexity to gain some practical information.

The good thing is that the body is a self-regulating system. It’s not as if you have to plug yourself into a computer every day and manually adjust everything. It’s automatic, thank God.

The body regulates the energy balance to maximize survival. Evolution and all that… In an environment it understands, it does this well. Case in point, no hunter-gatherer is fat. But, it can get confusing. And, there only needs to be a tiny confusion for the body to become fat over long periods.

To keep it simple we’re going to assume a simplistic view of the body:

  • 1 kg of fat is 9000 Calories (9kcalx1000g)

  • An apple has 100 Calories

This means we need to eat an apple a day too much to gain 1kg of fat in 90 days. That’s 12kg of pure fat in 3 years. So, what confusion am I talking about?

Well, how much you eat is largely controlled by your internal appetite regulation. If the regulation is off by 100 Calories per day you will be fat in no time. And, 100 Calories is nothing.

Why fight against the body to maintain a calorie deficit when your body could do it for you?

Sustainable weight loss is all about fixing our internal appetite regulation. Which has almost nothing to do with Calories. Starting to sense why the move more, eat less advice is terrible?

Being in a calorie deficit is a stress on the body. In times of stress, especially food scarcity, the body tries to retain as much fuel as possible. And guess how it does that… It lowers fuel being burnt and increases both appetite and the fuel being stored. Does that sound like a good strategy to lose extra fuel stored (fat)? 

If we could signal to the body that it’s worth losing the extra tissue (fat) it would do it automatically. Wouldn’t that be nice?

On Becoming a Fuel-Burning Machine

Step 1 – Removing the confusion

This is of course complex as well but I won’t bore you with the details. I wouldn’t do that, now would I?

There are two main aspects of diet that increase appetite. It seems to be a lack of protein and a surplus of polyunsaturated fatty acids (basically a fancy word for ultra-processed foods and seed oils).

So, here is how you begin to fix your appetite regulation:

  1. Prioritize protein – aim for 2g/kg of ideal body weight.

  2. Avoid seed oils & bullshit – stop eating foods only kids should be able to be tricked to eat.

Perfect. We have now sorted out the calories in part of the equation. Now we can move on to some interesting things we can do about the calories out part.

Step 2 – Revving the Engine

Taken on the footplate of steam train during a ‘real ale train’ excursion.

Photo by Colin Avery on Unsplash

You have thousands of small steam engines in every single one of your cells. Remember, fuel is potential energy. The body cannot use the energy stored in the fuel until it is burnt.

Almost everything in the body requires energy. Without it, we die. With sufficient amounts, we survive. With a surplus we thrive.

We want to have engines that are extremely efficient at burning fuel. The easiest way to do this is to eat real food, prioritize protein and eat until satisfied.

But that’s boring. Here are some hacks you can try:

  1. Increase fruit, fruit juice and honey in your diet

  2. Eat a tablespoon of coconut oil per day

  3. Supplement with Niacinamide

From Storage to Fire

Food comes into our bodies as fuel. It can be stored or burnt. The regulation of where fuel goes is intricate and complex. But, we can shift it toward burning instead of storage.

The way we do this is obviously to live a healthy lifestyle. But, it all comes down to stress. Stress is a signal for bad times and bad times are a signal for anticipated starvation.

All mammals seem to have some sort of adaptation to the phenomena of prolonged starvation. Once a mammal anticipates starvation is looming their entire metabolism changes.

The metabolic system shifts toward increased appetite, increased fuel storage and decreased energy production. If you look at the previous sentence can you derive what happens to the energy balance?

  • Increased appetite (Calories in )

  • Increased fuel storage (Fat )

  • Decreased energy production (Calories out )

No wonder reducing stress is wonderful. Spend more time in nature, meditate, journal, read books, and have conversations. All the good stuff we all do too little of. Most importantly sleep more. I mean it! Sleep more.

I’m sure you think you’re fine because you’ve spent 7 hours in bed every night for years. (Btw that means you get around 6 hours of sleep). But, if you seem to hold on to more weight than you’d want try spending 9 hours in bed every night and see what happens. It might force your body to accept that it is in good times so that it has no reason to keep the extra weight.

While we’re on the topic of making you burn (internally in your mitochondria that is), let’s talk about muscle.

Muscle tissue is hot. And I don’t mean the way it looks on people. I mean it by the fact that muscle tissue burns fuel like nothing else. Muscle tissue burns a lot of fuel at rest and especially at work. The more muscle we have the easier time the body has remaining lean and sexy. Unfair how that works really.

So, get rid of your excuses and start lifting some heavy shit a couple of times a week. Your body will thank you and you will thank your body later.

Chugging Water

Photo by henri meilhac on Unsplash

There you have it. The main idea of everything I write about is that your body wants to be healthy. You just have to give it what it needs and get out of the way. Treating it as if it were a machine will leave you hopeless. Embrace the complexity.

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Shatter Your Entire View Of Health

Join others getting their entire idea of what health is shattered every Sunday while reading Health Decoded.