For every smart ass who’s ever said, “put your fork down,” thanks for being so insightful…
Yes, while eating less is sometimes necessary in order to lose weight or, better put, decrease body fat, there are many other things that factor in. Not to mention there is definitely a right way to eat less and a wrong way to eat less, and many people are doing it wrong.
Now, before we go any further, let’s take a moment to go into a little more detail on energy balance, which we touched on in my last post on 4 Reasons Why Counting Calories is Worthless.
What is Energy Balance?
Energy balance is simply the relationship between our body’s energy intake and energy expenditure. Or, in other words, it’s the well-known concept of calories in versus calories out.
We provide our body with energy in the form of calories through the food and drink we consume. Since we know energy cannot be created nor destroyed, the body must either use these calories or store them. The calories we consume through food and drink are used to perform exercise or physical activity, as well as the numerous complex tasks that occur within our bodies down to the cellular level.
So where does the balance part come in?
If you consume more calories than you expend, then you have created what is referred to as a positive energy balance. A positive energy balance will result in weight gain, which may not be a positive thing for some of you.
Conversely, if you expend more calories than you consume, then you have created a negative energy balance. As you may have guessed, a negative energy balance will lead to weight loss.
Finally, if energy consumption and expenditure are equal, it will result in weight maintenance.
Now, I’m sure this is not new information to many of you. After all, this is pretty much the focal point behind almost any weight loss program, or weight gain program for that matter, that you’ve ever been exposed to.
However, once again, you cannot merely take this at face value. There is most definitely a right way and many wrong ways to go about creating a negative or positive energy balance.
Creating a Negative Energy Balance (Weight Loss)
Knowing the premise of energy balance, on the surface level, we are left with three possible ways of creating a negative energy balance:
- Eat less
- Exercise more (or better put, expend more energy)
- Eat less and exercise more
On a bit deeper and more practical level, we can accomplish this objective in many ways, including:
- Building muscle through weight training and nutrition
- Using high-intensity exercise to increase post-exercise energy expenditure
- Making changes in your training program to stimulate new adaptation or changes
- Increase non-exercise physical activity
- Developing proper dietary habits
- Not engaging in extreme dieting methods
- Increasing sleep quality
- Sleeping 7-9 hours per night
- Managing stress levels
For a number of reasons, I highly recommend you begin to work on these before beginning to make any significant cuts to your caloric intake. If you need help with any of the above, you may benefit from working with a quality coach.
That said, lets take a look at where to go once nutrient deficiencies are accounted for, and sleep and stress management are on-point.
The Next Steps:
- Increase the Exercise Volume
The next step for you, ideally, is to increase your exercise volume to 5-7 hours per week.
If possible we want to begin with an increase in energy expenditure. This will allow you to begin to create a negative energy balance, while maintaining a fairly high or relatively normal energy intake, full of health-promoting nutrients, minimizing concern for nutrient deficiencies.
- Decrease Calorie Intake
If your results stagnate once again, the next step is to decrease your caloric intake.
Now, it is very important that this be done conservatively. If calories are cut too drastically and a severe negative energy balance is created, it will cause a decline in metabolism, reduction in bone mass, thyroid hormones, and testosterone, and impair concentration and physical performance.
This is why “crash diets” and, when administered poorly, very low-calorie diets are not only ineffective, but also counterproductive.
Instead, when creating a conservative or moderate negative energy balance, our body senses this small shortage in energy and uses our fat reserves to cover the difference.
When attempting to decrease your caloric intake, start small.
One place to start is eliminating your intake of caloric beverages.
I know you love that grande caffè mocha you pick up at the Starbucks drive-thru every morning. However, that creamy-caffeinated goodness is packing over 300 calories, which by itself can make a significant difference in creating a negative energy balance.
So instead, try to keep your beverage choices to black coffee, water, and unsweetened tea.
Another way to decrease your caloric intake is through eliminating your use of condiments.
Again, this is another simple strategy that can be hugely impactful. Just take a look at these stats:
1 tbsp ketchup = 19 calories
1 tbsp light mayo = 35 calories
1 tbsp BBQ sauce = 29 calories
1 tbsp ranch dressing = 73 calories
Now, a couple of these numbers may seem small and insignificant, but once you take into account serving size, things really add up, especially if you’re someone who likes a little hamburger with their ketchup… like me.
One last tip on moderately cutting your caloric intake is to simply cut your meal size down by roughly 10%. This may be ideal for some, requiring little or no change to the types of food you are consuming; however, it does take a concerted effort to make sure the appropriate decrease in intake is applied at every meal.
If that’s too complicated, try simply leaving 1-3 bites of your meal left on your plate.
You may not prefer to throw a couple bites of food away, but like very quotable grandfather told me when I was a chubby, little kid, “It’s better to go to waste than to your waist.”
- Increase Exercise Volume… Again
If results stagnate once again, your third step is to once again, moderately increase exercise volume. Generally, a 1-2-hour increase is appropriate.
- Decease Calorie Intake… Again
If your progress becomes stagnate yet again, make another small reduction in your calorie intake.
Hopefully you are beginning to see a pattern emerge. Simply alternate small increases in exercise volume and small reduction in caloric intake, as long as is necessary.
Make sure, however, you cap your weekly exercise total at around 10-12 hours. Once you have reached this point, if your progress stagnates, all further measures taken should consist of small, periodic reductions in calorie intake.
As we close, it is worth noting that weight loss is a complex topic. The exact answer to the question, “what is my next step?” really depends on where you are as an individual. Some of you may need to simply follow the steps contained within this article, others may need to consider seeking the help of a coach.
That said, remember that first step in regards to nutrition is eating more nutrient-dense, whole foods. Along with this, improving sleep habits, reducing stress, and increasing activity will all contribute to a negative energy balance.
Finally, to all of those who are want to hop aboard the gains train and pack on some pounds, and who for some reason made it all the end of this article, I haven’t forgotten about you. I’ll be back soon with my next post on eating for weight gain.