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Calories in Calories out! The Lie you have been told for too long!

There is the perpetual belief that for someone to lose weight, they need to be in a calorie deficit.

We have all heard this. I have been in the fitness industry for over 12-years now and can vouch for the 99% of people who believe this, as I’ve had this conversation with them a million times (the 99% stat mentioned above is obviously a made-up number, but you get my point!) To be honest it does kind of make sense.

If my daily energy requirement is 3,000 calories – and taking into consideration my age, weight, lean mass, height, activity level and job – then technically all I need to do is eat 2,800 calories and my weight loss journey will begin. 


However, with the Australian population getting fatter and sicker, and over 65% of us overweight or obese, if it was this simple, those stats would be reducing not growing. Something doesn’t quite add up. 

Now, at this point, I also want to stress there is nothing wrong with being wrong because very early on in my career you would have heard me say “Exercise is the most important factor for weight loss”.

You’ll now hear me say “nutrition is the most important factor for weight loss” because you’ll never out-train a bad diet. There just isn’t enough hours in the day to outrun poor nutrition or hormone imbalance.

Before we go any further, I’d also like to add a disclaimer; I am not a qualified Nutritionist or Dietitian, so that makes this post a little controversial. If you chose not to read on, I completely understand. 

If you’re still reading this, thank you.

We know more about the human body now than ever before. We’ve been educated on “proper” nutrition for the last few decades and we know that eating fast food isn’t good for us and drinking too much alcohol (or any for that matter) isn’t ideal, to say the least.

Then there is the impact of alcohol on your sleep. We know that drinking alcohol completely ruins your sleep and recovery, and if you’re not getting good quality sleep, your growth hormone cannot do its job properly and help you repair.  If you drink before sleep, you’re less likely to get the 7-8 hours of sleep you need, which leaves you a little moodier the next day and craving bad foods. 

Additionally, if you’re also one of those people that generally get less than 7 hours a night, your testosterone levels fall (a hormone that helps keep you lean), and as a result, you increase body fat storage.

So like I said, I am not a Dietitian or Nutritionist. My full-time profession is a Strength and Conditioning Coach at a semi-professional level and the director of a Strength and Conditioning Gym in Wangara – Athletic Institute. We work with the everyday person, all the way through to professional athletes.

Quite honestly, I am sick of my members and athletes being misinformed about human nutrition. I believe every dietitian is doing the best they can when providing information, and have their client’s best interest at heart, however, the place you learn about nutrition (University in most cases) is behind on the research, too slow to change and driven by money.

Personally, in the last 6-years, I have dabbled in natural bodybuilding, powerlifting and now very much into triathlons. So, I’ve been involved in sports that require purely aesthetics, one that’s all about max strength and also one that is purely all about endurance. Each of these is very dependent on how you eat, not just how you train, and I would argue how you eat could be more important (depending on your current training or training history).

As a coach and as an athlete, I know first hand what is required for each discipline to perform. For the purpose of this blog, I will talk mainly about eating for everyday health and looking your best, rather than an actual performance for a sport, but one can’t help thinking that you can’t have one without the other. Why? Let’s face it, healthier humans are going to perform better.

This is the first of a 3-part series de-bunking the calories in vs calories out myth and taking a closer look at the elements that can derail your weight loss. By the end of the blog, I will give you some rough guidelines to get lean, stay lean, and kick the cravings that have you searching for sugar.

Part 1…So all you need is to be in a calorie deficit?! Hmmm

Firstly, calorie counting seems all very well, but let’s face it, it’s time-consuming, a pain in the ass and unsustainable.  If you’ve ever done it, you’ll get me.

Secondly, your body doesn’t understand or even know calories; it regulates hormones through certain receptors in the body in response to certain foods you eat. So, if you eat 100 calories of donuts or 100 calories of broccoli, your body won’t understand you’ve eaten 100 calories at all. It will, however, understand you’ve eaten food and you’ll get a big insulin spike if it’s a donut and almost no insulin spike if it’s broccoli (hormones play a vital role in weight-loss and I’ll go into that in part 2)

Look at good fats; if you eat an avocado or olive oil you get pretty much no insulin spike, plus the added benefit of satiety, so you feel fuller for longer. You can pretend that eating 200 calories of brownie is the same as eating 200 calories of vegetables, but the insulin response from the brownie is to increase fat storage. 

Thirdly, if the calories in vs calories out theory was correct, surely we can just keep drinking diet coke, or eat foods with the fat replacement olestra in, or “fake” or refined foods with almost zero calories?

Better yet, if you need “2000 calories” why not just enjoy yourself and eat 1800 calories a day of donuts and fast food? You’ll be in a deficit, so weight loss should happen, right?

So here’s the point; it’s not how many calories you eat, it’s how many carbs you eat and the type of carbs that you need to watch.

We all know that overweight person who says they only eat 2-3 times a day and “not that bad”, and while they might not eat all the time, the type of food they chose is the problem, or they’re lying about how many times they eat. 

Further to this point, we all know someone who’s been overweight for a long time (5, 10, 15-years), versus someone who gained weight over summer (i.e. me in Europe when I put on 10kg’s in just 5-weeks). If we both went on a calorie-restricted diet, you would expect us both to lose weight at the same rate, but we know that doesn’t happen because the chronic insulin response of the first guy will take a lot longer to overcome than for myself.

These are the people who say “I’ve tried everything but can’t seem to shift the weight”, they’ve tried calories restriction (but still eat too many carbs), don’t do it for long enough, eat too many refined foods, drink and eat diet foods thinking this will help. If you’ve been overweight for 10-years, you can’t expect to lose that weight in 10-weeks being on a slight calorie deficit, it just won’t happen.

By the way, big food corporations like Coca-Cola love the calorie theory, because they want you to believe you can drink or eat their products as part of a healthy balanced diet daily! 

After all, a can of coke has 11% of your daily recommended carbs based on the “recommended” 2000 calories per day and the food pyramid’s 45-65% carb allowance (but that’s 39g of carbs from 10-teaspoons of sugar.)

I get most of my athletes to aim for 50-75g per day at max, and less than 50g on rest days, so one can of coke would technically be ok, but we both know it’s not. 

What about bodybuilders, they count calories? Yes, you’re right, they do, and so did I when I did a bodybuilding show. However, let’s just talk about the natural guys (non-steroid users) for a second. They will eat from 5-7 times per day, weighing and measuring everything, but this isn’t necessary because the quality of food they eat is so high.

They will eat plenty of vegetables, lots of protein (too much) and good quality carbs (sweet potato, quinoa, brown rice etc.), all of which give you minimal insulin spikes. They also generally eat the carbs around training when it can be utilised to some degree. They also spend a lot of time preparing their food so they don’t need to rely on buying food from the shops or deli’s, which most of the time is refined crap.

I was eating in excess of 3000 calories per day during my preparation, but nothing refined beside my one “cheat meal” (pizza followed by ice cream.) My body had no idea it was 3000 calories; the hormones would respond accordingly and decide what to do with the food. 

This is the same for Vegans and those on a Whole Foods Plant-Based way of eating. They are generally healthy people and actually eat more carbs than most, but they eat plenty of good quality ones (fruits and vegetables), they also avoid refined foods because they understand the dangers of all the additives, preservatives and sugars.

Same with the carnivores, most of those guys will be lean because they consume copious amounts of proteins and plant-based foods. Once again low in refined foods, probably an unhealthy amount of animal protein (a debate for another day), but they will be leaner as the balance of insulin is well maintained.

So, after all this, what do you need to do daily to be lean? The first thing is to cut all refined carbs to a bare minimum. If you’re someone who counts macronutrients (carbs, fats, and protein) aim for less than 15% of carbs per day, filling the rest of your day up with plenty of good fats and plant-based proteins with a little animal-based protein (if you eat meat). If you want to label this type of lifestyle it would be a lower carbohydrate and healthy fat approach. If you’re someone who doesn’t want to count calories, then follow the above 3 lines and eat when you’re hungry (~3 times per day).

Understand that the sensation of feeling hungry will come and go 3-4 times per day, but if you keep working or get distracted you’ll feel fine in an hour, and you’ll start to tap into some of your body fat stores. 

Let me close with this final thought for you, I compete in Ironman triathlon and if you know anything about them, you know they required a lot of training. If you ever go watch one take note of the people who cross the line after 12 – 13 hours, they actually fall into the obesity category (25% & 32% + body fat for male/female), because their dietician says carbs are important for performance, so 50% of their diet is made up of them.

These people train 10-15 hours per week, what chance do you have if you follow the same guidelines?

If you want to get ahead of your nutrition, click here and book in with our in-house Sports Nutritionist today.


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