WARNING: I geek out a little in this post. If you like knowing how things work and don't mind big words, read on. If you don't...I'm not sure what to tell you. Try everything once?
In some of my previous posts I’ve outlined the truth about weight loss and why popular diets work. In this post we will examine in closer detail the Energy balance concept and how it translates to you getting less fat.
This is the easy half of the equation. Energy intake consists of every Calorie-containing food or beverage that you put in your mouth.
The tricky thing is learning which foods are high in Calories and which foods and lower in Calories, and of the lower Calorie foods, which are filling enough to make you not be hungry all the time.
Example High Calorie foods that are not filling:
Example Low Calorie foods that are filling (not an exhaustive list):
This side of the equation is a little more difficult. Energy out consists of 3 things: metabolism, NEAT, and physical activity.
Metabolism: This is the energy you burn just by being alive; your body is very complicated with lots of things going on a once. All these processes take energy. Your metabolism makes up the majority of your ‘energy out’.
Short for Non-exercise activity thermogenesis. NEAT is the second most important part of the energy out side of the equation. Neat encompasses all the moving you do that is not working out/exercise. Walking up and down stairs is NEAT, checking the mail is NEAT, walking around the grocery store is NEAT.
There are 168 hours in a week. Let’s say you sleep for 8 hours per night, that leaves 112 waking hours. If you workout for 3 hours per week, that leaves 119 hours where you could be sitting, standing or moving. If you spend less time sitting and more standing and moving your Energy Out will be MUCH larger. This is why tracking your steps can be a huge factor in losing weight.
While physical activity/working out/cardio seems like a huge deal with fat loss the reality is that it plays a much smaller role than is typically thought of. The problem is when we burn a bunch of Calories through exercise our appetite changes (in most people) resulting in us eating more than we normally would. On average this results in an individual eating back around half the Calories that were burned off through exercise.
This is the exact reason why I’m not a big fan of trying to ‘exercise off’ the weight, it’s just plain hard to do. I believe a much better approach is to spend your workout time becoming strong, improving your muscle mass/tone, moving better, and becoming healthier. Most of the weight loss happens in the kitchen and on the sidewalk, not inside the gym.
Take home message
Increasing your physical activity is great, and beneficial. However, you can't out-exercise a bad diet. If you want to see changes in your waistline, start changing what you put in your mouth and get off your butt more often.