IMPORTANT: This blog represents just PART of a WHOLE journey. You'll get the most out of it if you start from the beginning.
Back in 2013, when I owned a gym, half of my job was giving nutrition advice; Practically everyone got the same guidance because their goals were ALWAYS, 1) get thinner, 2) get healthier, or 3) all of the above.
I didn’t push a specific diet or advocate eating particular foods, instead, my advice was based on the current Western scientific view that energy balance and eating a wide range of foods in moderation are the keys to eating ‘right’.
Keep in mind that this was my advice in 2013. If you want to know what I think now, you’ve got to stick with the blog and keep reading. Yes, I am going to be THAT person. Remember, this is a JOURNEY that needs to be taken in the right order if you want the next part of it to make sense, and this first part is to set the scene about the current state of the Fitness Industry.
OK, back to the story…
Western culture is a science-first society. We believe that everything operates according to the Laws of Physics – that includes our bodies. Physics explains the phenomenon of food and energy in a way that makes the most logical sense to us. And just as we talk about Watts being a unit of electricity energy, or Horsepower being a unit of power, we talk about Calories when we talk about the energy contained in food.
Science uses a particular law of physics called the First Law of Thermodynamics (energy cannot be created from nothingness or destroyed so that it disappears) to explain food and how our body uses it. This irrefutable law tells us that the energy in the calories of the food we eat has to GO somewhere, and this explains how and why we get thinner or fatter…
When we eat, the body uses the calorie energy from our food to power our movement and internal biological mechanics. However, if we eat more calories than our body needs, the Law of Thermodynamics says that we can’t just make this excess disappear. Any extra calories are turned into body fat and stored within our body in case we need it later. This used to be a vital survival tool back in the Stone Age when food was scarce. We could draw on this extra body fat energy if we couldn’t find any food. Nowadays, we have the opposite problem… there is too much food for most of us.
This bit of science gives us the equation that the whole Fitness Industry is built on, and gives us the phrase “weight loss is managing calories in, calories out”.
Here’s how our culture tells us this model works in a real-life body…
Calories in, Calories Out
60% of what you eat powers your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR): around 1200 calories per day.
BMR = the amount of energy your body uses every day just to power what you’d need to stay alive even if you were in a coma or asleep (organs, tissues, heartbeat, brain function, nervous system, etc).
30% of what you eat ipowers your Non-Exercise Energy Thermogenesis (NEAT): around 600 calories per day.
NEAT = Any movement you do that you wouldn’t class as planned exercise (e.g. walking to grab your phone from your bedroom or to the photocopier at work, gesticulating, blinking, scratching, patting your dog, picking up a glass…)
10% of what you eat powers the Thermic Effect of Eating (TEE): around 200 calories per day.
TEE = The systems you need to power the act of eating itself need energy (e.g. chewing, swallowing, digesting, pooping).
EA = This extra category is our Exercise Activity and differs from person to person, obviously depending on how much or what type of it you do, if any. At best it adds a couple of hundred extra calories to the amount of energy your body uses up each day.
When you add up those three (or four) amounts of calories from each section, it forms our Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) and is what we mean when we talk about our “metabolism” or the CALORIES OUT portion of the physics equation.
In 2013, my advice to clients was to use an online TDEE calculator to figure out how many calories this CALORIES OUT bit of the equation added up to. This basically gave them a number of calories to ‘beat’ each day i.e. EAT FEWER than each day in order to lose weight.
The next step was to use a calorie tracker of some description to work out the CALORIES IN part – how many calories they actually ate.
Does the Model Work?
We are all subject to the Laws of Physics.
But there are some reasons why in a REAL world, this equation isn’t as cut and dry as Big Fitness and the Diet Industry make us believe…
Firstly, eating fewer calories than your body needs is AKA starvation. As far as your body is concerned, you are on the pathway to death – how the f*ck does it know that you’re doing this on purpose to look good in a bikini?
So in an attempt to save us from death, our biology might…
- make us feel too tired or too unmotivated to move.
- reduce our NEAT (e.g. less blinking, gesticulating, dog patting).
- make us feel hungrier than normal, normally with a particular craving for high-sugar, high-fat, calorie-filled food to get us back to an energy surplus quickly (like choosing a bucket to fill a leaky pool rather than a teaspoon).
- reduce non-vital biological mechanisms like periods, sex drive, hair growth, illness recovery, maintaining body temperature, etc.
- breaks down your muscles into usable energy calories instead of using your precious stored fat for energy.
All of these are what we mean when we say that our metabolism has lowered.
So, yes, our body MIGHT choose to use fat to make up for the lack of food energy that we’re eating, but the Fitness and Diet industries often overlook that there are other energy-saving or energy-getting options for our body to choose from too.
There are constant scientific debates about how big a part these factors play in our ability to consciously control our body weight. But it’s a pretty standard belief across the Weight Loss and Fitness Industries that everyone CAN and SHOULD be able to use motivation, willpower, discipline, hacks, and other conscious types of force to control these sub-conscious processes.
Some parts of the industry tell its clients that they can best this biology by f*cking around with how much protein they eat, or by changing when or how often they eat, or adding supplements or specific types of workout to their day.
The CICO model frames weight loss as a simple maths problem and in 2013, I agreed. Back then I never advocated special diets, supplements, or workouts to help with this metabolism ‘hacking’ dance. Instead, I suggested implementing healthy, repeatable, nutrition habits to follow, all of which are also good for our health too.
And that’s where the next part of my blog journey takes us… how to eat to hack your brain and your health.