You must balance

Posted on April 2, 2011. Filed under: Misc | Tags: , , , , , |

“So when do I start taking fat burners?”

It’s funny how the idea for a blog comes to you from a conversation.

I have a fairly new client who I am working with on adjusting eating habits.  This is one of the keys of results.  Not the only, just one.  There are multiple things to consider when the goal is not only fat loss, but also health.

You often hear people say nutrition is 80% of results, or 90% of results.  Usually these statements are made by someone trying to sell you a supplement or a diet.  It is actually much more practical or complicated than that depending on how you look at it.

Think of it this way.   Say you want to lose weight, reduce body fat.  In order to do this on a basic level we need to create a caloric deficit.  Which means you need to eat fewer calories or fuel, than you burn in your regular daily activities.

Now those who claim it’s mostly diet, tend to overlook a few things.  One is homeostasis.  Think of it as a metabolic equilibrium.  Your body likes balance, and has multiple functions to maintain it.  Which is beneficial and is literally what allows you to survive the day.  This provides a challenge for those looking to lose weight.  When you have been heavy for a period of time your body gets used to that, and is, for lack of a better term, hesitant to change.

So when a person uses diet only, on the path to lose weight they run into a problem.  Their body responds to this just like it would respond to any stress.  It adapts for survival.

Lets say your daily metabolic rate is about 1800.  So you start eating 1500 calories to lose weight.  And this works.  But here’s the catch.  Your body does not like feeling starved so it does something to alleviate that stress.  It slows down your metabolism.  So now a couple of things happens.  You accomplish your goal, but now you must stick to 1500 calories from now on, because otherwise your now slower metabolism will bring back your original weight (with friends).

Or you don’t accomplish your goal and now have to cut calories even further to get to your goal.  And now must maintain that or otherwise the whole gaining the weight back plus extra happens.

This is what usually happens with “crash dieters.”  They try to force the body into a state, using means way to extreme and not maintainable.  Eventually they gain the weight back.  Which causes them to go another crash diet, which doesn’t work as effectively as it did before, so they push harder to get their goal.  Eventually they gain the weight back and the roller coaster continues.

Many diet salesman call this metabolic damage, and use it to sell their miracle product.  Truth is, if a person’s metabolism is really damaged it could take months, years to recover fully.  Some may never recover.  And no product out there is going to change that.  It is going to be a process.  Though chances are the metabolism isn’t so much damaged, as  adjusted for survival.

Another thing to consider, just to be above board about this, is technically yes; a slowed metabolism, damaged metabolism, or not, on a reduced caloric intake long enough, you will lose weight.  Chances are there will be quite a bit of muscle with that fat loss.  And your quality of health and life will suffer but hey, at least you fit into those jeans again 😉

Forgive my sarcasm at the end.  I just had a flash of a colleague who works with a “celeb diet office.”  And was told they had one client on an insane 500 calorie diet.  And when she called complaining about hunger pangs, her “counselor” told her  to “think supermodel.”  *sigh* 😦

Any way, as you can see diet alone can work.  It’s just not the healthiest approach to advise for everyone.

You must control your caloric intake though, there are only so many calories you can burn in a workout.  For most people it’s about 2-300.

Yep that’s it.  And I don’t care what the treadmill, or elliptical tells you.  It’s lying.  Same thing with any Zumba class, P9000 extreme, or Super insanity workout.  At best 3-500 calories burned in a 1 hr workout.  And in my experience most people do not have the strength or conditioning to push hard enough to burn 500 calories every workout without injuring themselves.  The reason is the same as with the diet, homeostasis.

As you stress your body through exercise, your body adapts.  This in very basic broad strokes is what allows athletes to improve, bodybuilder to gain muscle, and Power or Olympic lifters to increase the amount of weight they lift.  This can be a problem for those trying to lose fat.

Your body will only burn so many calories within a span of time.  And as you exercise more often, your body will adapt so you burn fewer calories to do the same job.  Which is great if you are trying to survive a famine, not great for losing weight.  This is why I advocate resistance routines over steady state cardio for losing fat.  You can always adjust the routine to avoid adaptions and slowing of weight loss.  With running, there is only so much you can do.

Exercise, aerobic or resistance does have a plus in its favor that diet doesn’t have.  It maintains your metabolism.  As long as your exercising in a balanced but intense way, your body will keep those fat burning furnaces fully functioning.  Please note, I said balanced but intense.  Not insane.  Not work out till you throw up nonsense.  Not beat yourself in to the ground.  Intense, challenging, but survivable.

This is why exercise is equally important.  And why the best way to lose fat and get in the best shape is to adjust eating habits. and add in a balance routine.  Doing both consistently is the key.  Now a few of you may wonder. what about that Time magazine article?

For those who don’t know there was a an article where the author stated based on his experience and the experts e consulted, exercise was useless for weight loss.  My response is two-pronged.

One, I just explained why exercise, without change of eating habits, is not going to work.  You can only burn so many calories.

And two, this article was sensationalized nonsense.  I say this because one of the experts quoted in this article.  Was also involved in another study:

Redman LM, Heilbronn LK, Martin CK, de Jonge L, Williamson DA, Delany JP, Ravussin E; Pennington CALERIE Team. Metabolic and behavioral compensations in response to caloric restriction: implications for the maintenance of weight loss. PLoS One. 2009;4(2):e4377. Epub 2009 Feb 9.


Over a period of six months they monitored and studied 4 groups:


1. Control – healthy weight maintenance based on the American Heart Association (AHA) step 1 diet (more on that later)

2. Calorie restricted (CR) – caloric restriction that was 25% fewer calories than baseline requirements

3. Calorie restricted + exercise (CR+EX) – caloric restriction that was 12.5% fewer calories than baseline requirements AND 12.5% increase in energy expenditure from structured aerobic exercise.

4. Low calorie diet (LCD) – a 890 kcal/day diet until 15% reduction in body mass was achieved, then the participants followed a weight maintenance diet.


Now as you might have guessed the group with the biggest caloric deficit lost the most weight. And the CR and the CR-EX group lost similar amounts of weight. Although I must state that the form of exercise that the group did was cardio. And I would love to see a study comparing with a circuit of resistance training. Not to mention the AHA diet is not as friendly toward fat intake I would be. But I digress.


Although the weight loss was the same, the effect on the TDEE (total energy expenditure) or metabolism was not.


With diet alone, after 3 months on average Total Determined Energy Expenditure (TDEE) went down by 209 cal/day on the 25% calorie restricted diet (CR) and 275 cal/day on the low calorie restricted diet (LCD). Meanwhile, if exercise was added to a 12.5% calorie restricted diet (CR+EX), TDEE went up by 129 cal/day. Note: the values listed in the abstract are nowhere to be found in the results section… weird huh?


At the 6 month point things were worse for the diet groups, with TDEE being down by 371 cal/day for the CR group and 496 cal/day for the LCD group. That’s a meal. For the CR+EX group they did have slightly lower TDEE, 2 cal/day on average.


This is the benefit of exercise + nutrition.


Take our 1800 metabolic rate. Now we eat at 1500 and exercise. Our metabolism does not slow down, in fact if done properly it goes up. We burn the body fat, and with our new body and highly functioning metabolism, we enjoy our healthy lives with the occasional splurge when we feel like it. Be it for a day, a weekend, a week it doesn’t matter. Once we have accomplished our goal and maintained our new size, homeostasis starts working in our favor. Now when we cheat our body adapts and keeps us lean.


It doesn’t happen overnight but it does happen. But only when things are done in balance.


This is what I explain to my client. No fat burner can take the place of consistency. If she took one now she might get a boost, but it will not last until she has adjusted and maintained good eating habits.


If I just wanted her to pay up front, lose weight, take before and after photos, than ditch her before the rebound sets in. That would be fine. But that’s not my path. So we’re going to keep things balanced.




Best Health,

Coach W


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