Calories in VS Calories out: the not so simple equation

The fitness industry; an industry based on the common goal to increase overall health and longevity for individuals. Yet we see countless quick fixes and fad diets being sold everywhere we look. One common similarity of these diets is calorie restriction. We’re told to exercise more and eat less for quick weight loss results. You take your before photo, eat minimal calories and train your butt off, then 6-8 weeks later a somewhat smaller and exhausted you takes an after photo. But what does this after photo look like in 3, 6 or even 12 months time? 

The not-so-simple weight loss equation
Despite what we’ve been told, ‘calories in vs calories out’ is a pretty basic way to look at the human body’s energy expenditure process. If it were truly that simple, I doubt the first world population would be as sick and overweight as we are. We are complex organisms, that possess a multitude of factors that influence our overall health. These factors include genetic make up, quality of food intake to ensure we digest an array of macro/micronutrients, hydration levels, digestive/gut health which determines if we actually absorb these nutrients and then there’s stress, which will impact how our hormones are regulated … which determines how likely our body is to stay at a healthy body fat percentage. 

Active vs. Dormant Mode
Your metabolism is a machine. It’s fuelled by hundreds of thousands of involuntary encryptions directed from your brain to your body every single second. It’s a pretty intelligent mechanism that has evolved over the course of many MANY years.

The way we like to break it down to our clients is pretty simple. Your metabolism can exist in one of two states; 1 – “Dormant Mode” or 2 – “Active Mode” 

Before I dive into the details of each of them, it’s important to note a few important things. Firstly, each of us have a specific number of calories that our unique body needs to survive. When I say “survive” I’m not talking about doing your daily activities (eating, drinking, working, etc) I am talking just bare bones survival, i.e: pump the lungs, beat the heart, circulate the blood. This number is referred to as your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) and is essentially the quantity of calories (energy) your body would need if it was in a coma. Lucky for us, we aren’t in coma’s, so anything additional (blinking, walking, exercising, standing, sitting, etc) requires MORE energy for the body to survive. The health of your body is dependant on it receiving (through food) sufficient energy sources throughout the day.

If that doesn’t happen, the body goes into what we referred to above as “Dormant Mode”. Think just like a bear would hibernate for the Winter months, this is just what your body is doing - except all year round. Dormant Mode occurs when the energy supply to the body is scarce (below it’s required amount) or extremely unpredictable. Even if you don’t supply the body with enough energy through food, it still needs to find ways to make up that energy requirement somehow. So what does it do? It will slow down your metabolism (the rate at which you burn energy) and it will alter your hormone production – predominantly in your thyroid and reproductive system – so it can conserve energy. This may mean that over time you lose your period as your body does not deem itself physically capable to carry a child. It also starts to eat away at your muscle. Muscle is the most ‘expensive’ tissue in the human body – it requires a lot of energy and effort to build and a lot of energy to maintain it. If the brain doesn’t feel it can afford to keep it, that is the first energy store it will hit (NOT your fat). In fact, as far as energy consumption goes, fat is quite cheap for the body to maintain. It doesn’t cost the body anything to store it, and is a useful energy source to the body during months of extreme famine and starvation which it thinks it’s preparing for (think back to hibernating bear here).

Needless to say, Dormant Mode is not where you want to be. It wrecks havoc on your metabolic & hormonal systems and will only leave you weaker and “fatter” than when you began. Which is why we see so many people “Yo-Yo-ing” on and off of these diets. They come off diets and start eating normally again only to put all the weight back on because their body is in “storage mode”, so they need to drastically cut calories to lose it all again, and the viscous cycle continues on and on and on…

So what about Active Mode? 
Essentially, Active Mode is the state in which your body trusts your energy intake of food. If you are providing it with what it needs, it will work properly. It’s really that simple. Once the body trusts it is getting enough energy in via your diet, it can rev-up your metabolism and hormones. It starts to build and maintain your muscle mass and it begins to burn through its fat stores because it trusts that you’ll continue to feed it! Sounds pretty straight forward, doesn’t it? The truth is, losing weight is HARD. You need to be eating a good amount of food for your body to lose the right kind of weight (aka body fat). It takes consistency and patience. Taking the quick n’ easy way out via a 6-12 week rapid weight loss program will only harm you. Play the long game, the body will reward you if you are patient enough to work with it – instead of against it. 

This is why we’re sick and tired of seeing gym after gym chase that before and after selfie. These “challenges” or diets are plastered all over social media. Selling 6-8 weeks of low calories (we’ve seen some where women are on 1300 calories and men 1900) promising to have you shedding fat in no time. Every person is put on the same meal plan, despite clear genetic differences. You’re told you will feel hungry, irritable, have disrupted sleep, and suffer from brain fog within the first few weeks, but don’t worry that’s normal! Believe me, it’s not. These diets create a culture that has us striving so hard for weight loss that we end up losing so much of ourselves in the process.  

So how/where do I start? Or make sure I’m eating enough?
Firstly, we suggest finding out where you’re at now. So (without any judgement) for 3 days, write down or input all the foods you’re consuming. This can be in the notes section of your phone to begin with, or on an app such as MyFitnessPal (MFP). MFP will help estimate how many calories you’re consuming. This is where you’ll figure out your starting point. How much you are actually eating. If your gym has a body scanner that calculates your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), fat %, muscle mass and more, use it. This will help you determine exactly what your body needs and the minimum quantity you should be consuming. What we commonly find during this process is a large percentage of the women we see at the gym are not eating anywhere near what their bodies demand for basic bodily functions and for fat loss to occur. So if you’ve been eating “healthy” for a while and haven’t seen any changes … maybe quantity (not quality) is your issue! 

Protein, Fat + Carbohydrates
MFP will show you your macronutrient “split” (the amount of Protein, Fat and Carbohydrates you’re consuming). Most of us will have different macronutrient demands, but a good guide is 1.5-2g of protein per kg bodyweight, then either a higher fat ratio or a higher carbohydrate ratio depending on factors like genetics, body shape and personal goals. Your body will have a fuel preference (Carbs or Fats). I personally can eat higher carbohydrates and will feel sluggish and unwell when my fats get too high. This is where having knowledge under your belt and a solid connection to your body comes in handy. Take some time to LISTEN to the vessel that is carrying you through life. From feeling any gurgles or gases after meals to focusing on what your brain power is like an hour or so after eating. Our body gives us so many little cues that, when listened to, hold the secrets to how well it’s running. 

Still with me? It’s a lot to take in. This is why most gyms won’t go here. It takes dedication and open discussion to get to a healthy space with our eating habits. So when you’re told by a health professional, to simply “exercise more and eat less”, you have my permission to politely challenge that mis-guided information with your new and improved knowledge base! KAPOW! 

Stay consistent. Keep it simple and attack the lowest hanging fruit first. Do you sleep like crap so you make bad food choices? Prepare some of your meals. Once you’ve maintained better food choices throughout your day you’ll be surprised how your sleep will improve. Educate yourself on what protein does for your body. ASK QUESTIONS. Surround yourself with people who can help you understand your body better. Join a gym that will support you with lifestyle advice. Learn from your own experiences and learn from your coaches. That’s what we’re here for and that’s what keeps us getting up at the crack of dawn to coach you. And above all else don’t hate on yourself too much, your body can achieve some pretty amazing things if you empower yourself with some knowledge and quit getting in its way (#truthtalk … we ain’t sorry). 



Melanie Corlett