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Why Weight Loss Isn’t As Simple As Being in a Calorie Deficit

We get energy from food and we expend energy to move and stay alive. This fundamental biochemical relationship between energy in and energy out is known as energy balance and it is one of the most important concepts in nutrition coaching.

Put simply –

  • If we take in more energy than we use, we gain weight.

  • If we take in less energy than we use, we lose weight.

  • If we take in the same amount of energy then we use, our weight stays the same.

Im sure you have heard it before… “Be in a calorie deficit and you will lose weight” – But unless you have an in depth knowledge on hormonal, cognitive and metabolic processes in the human body, you would be missing out on some of the reasons why “be in a calorie deficit” can be difficult.

Energy balance can be influenced by biopsychosocial factors on both ends of the energy balance equation.

Let's start with energy in.

  • Variations in food and nutritionist – this includes cooked versus raw foods, processed versus unprocessed foods, inaccurate labelling and inaccurate reporting.

  • Digestion, absorption and use – this includes the energy list due to digestion, nutrient partitioning and the microbiome in our gut.

  • Eating behaviours – this includes things like genetics and biology as well as our desire to eat which is impacted by stress, the quality and quantity of sleep, the food that is near us as well as our hormonal status.

Let's look at energy out.

  • Basal and resting metabolic rate – includes both basal metabolic rate and resting metabolic rate.

  • Thermogenesis – which includes the thermic effect of food.

  • Exercise and Purposeful movement

  • Non-exercise activity thermogenesis

  • Excretion

Energy balance doesn't just affect our body weight and composition. It effects other physiological processes too including –

  • Reproductive functions such as fertility

  • Cognitive functions such as fogginess and forgetfulness

  • Metabolic functions such as slow metabolism

  • Repair and restoration

  • Vitamin and mineral deficiencies

So, if you are wanting to lose weight or create an energy deficit, these would be the things I would recommend implementing –

  • Eat more slowly and mindfully – This will help you be more aware of your intake and generally you will eat less as a result. It also gives the GI tract time to catch up with food coming in and calms the nervous system.

  • Notice physical hunger and fullness cues.

  • Eat to 80% full or “just satisfied”.

  • Use hand size portion templates – For example 1 palm of protein, one thumb of fat and 1 fist of veggies at every meal.

  • Use environmental controls for portion sizing and meal completion – for example using a particular sized plate or eating only when sitting at the table.

  • Record your food intake – this builds our self awareness which improves consistency and food choices.

  • Eat mostly whole, less processed foods – these improve our satiety or “fullness”.

  • Eat lean protein at every meal – again this enhances satiety.

  • Drink mostly non-caloric beverages – liquid calories are typically less satiating.

  • Practise good sleep hygiene – this will help regular appetite, hunger and fullness cues as well as being able to make more cognitive wiser choices.

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