The calories in calories out theory (CICO) is hotly debated. There are many studies that disprove the statement and other pieces of evidence that will be used to counter those proclamations. Current dogma states: ‘you gain weight because you eat more calories than you expend.’
It’s confusing and disheartening when you’ve been counting calories for months and are stuck feeling hungry, miserable and have plateaued with your weight loss.
We are probably asking the wrong question and should maybe be focussing on asking Does the type of food we consume affects how we then burn calories?
How we partition fuel in the body depends on what we eat, not just the calorie content.
YES, a calorie deficit enables us lose weight. Does that calorie deficit result in sustained weight loss for the rest of your life? The science suggests that this is unlikely. That is why we all personally have stories of cyclical weight loss and weight gain.
The calories we eat and the calories we burn are linked to each other.
How we eat our calories has an impact on how we burn our calories.
In time the reduction in calorie intake will be countered by a decrease in calorie expenditure resulting in minimal weight loss.
It is postulated that the body has a set weight – like a thermostat in your home. Imagine you’re in the house and it’s too cold. You buy a heater and the house warms up but as soon as it reaches a certain level, the air conditioning comes on and the house gets cold again. The house temperature is set by the thermostat. If the thermostat is set too low, it doesn’t matter how many heaters you put on to warm it up the air conditioning will always kick in to lower the temperature.
Is the key is to change the thermostat setting?
Can we only reset this thermostat to a different level by understanding that the type of food we eat and our hormonal responses have an impact? Yes, It’s likely that is the case – by understanding how we burn energy, what prevents us burning fat stores, we’ll find answers. Obesity is combination of number of factors. It is not as simple as calories in / calories out.
The sooner we come to understand that obesity is caused by a number of problems all coming together, the sooner we can understand how to help people with weight loss and start preventing chronic disease caused by obesity.
Obesity depends on:
- Calorie intake
- What those calories are made up of – the macros
- The sugar content.
- Hormonal responses to those calories i.e the FOOD. The responses occur in the periphery – in the pancreas, fat cells, liver, muscles And in the brain e.g the reward centres – dopamine is released in response to some foods- these foods tend to be high in carbohydrate AND fat. The dopamine response makes as feel good, encouraging further consumption of similar foods. They are, unsurprisingly most of processed and junk foods we eat. *Remembering not all processed foods are classed as junk foods but they may still not be optimal for your health.
- How much protein we are consuming.
Ted Naiman, a family physician with a deep interest in this stuff who treats lots of people, possets the ‘protein leverage hypothesis’ and postulates that all of these things matter and that of us getting much less protein than we think we are. That the body has a natural desire to meet a protein need. It then keeps us hungry until that need is met. The problem is how much extra fuel are we taking in to meet this need?
Unless we take protein in its purest form – meat, plants, we take it in processed food, tiny amounts at a time, with that tiny amount of protein comes the additional carbohydrate and fat – our energy sources. This then links in with too much energy, nowhere to to put it and the emergence of insulin resistance. Insulin isn’t the only issue here, but it is a major player. We need insulin to survive but we need it in the right amounts and we need it to be as effective as possible in the smallest amounts as possible.
Those refined carbohydrates, are stimulating insulin levels more than fat consumption is, though overfilled fat cells keep our insulin level constantly high. That insulin has knock on effects on other hormones, some of which feedback to make us hungry even though we have just eaten, the more overfilled fat cells we have, the more likely this feedback loop occurs. The high carb and high fat composition of processed food, which is hyper palatable lights up reward centres in our brains making us feel good — stimulating us to eat more to get more of that effect.
Obesity isn’t as simple as calories in calories out. Calories do matter but they are part of the issue not all of it.
The energy content of food is important but not as important as the metabolic effects of that food.
We need to find a way of eating that is nutrient dense, protein led and satiating, without setting off a persistent pro inflammatory cascade that can over years cause chronic health problems. It’s very possible and not too hard to achieve regardless of budget.
This is a great article to start thinking differently about calories and food.