Weight loss and Energy Balance – Is it your lifestyle that got you fat?
Fat loss and Energy Balance – Is it your lifestyle that got you fat?
The article will briefly consider weight loss, the science behind it and look at some techniques to boost your weight loss attempts. You will notice throughout that all things are considered in terms of lifestyle change.
It is no use adopting some magical diet that quickly gets the weight off. Although these are very tempting the fact of the matter is that quick weight loss most probably equates to losing water, not fat, and worse still reducing your lean tissue (muscle). You can safely and effectively lose about 1 to 2 lbs (0.5 to 1kg) a week. At the end of the day you have to think to yourself “how long did it take me to put the weight on”. The answer to this is unlikely to be one or two weeks. It is far more likely that this happened over a number of years. Therefore you have to accept a similar timescale to get back to your ideal weight. If you are willing to accept this premise you are half-way there, odds are you can achieve it quicker with the correct adjustments. The next thing you must consider is that it is your lifestyle that got you fat. Therefore only by making changes to your lifestyle can you hope to achieve long-term sustainable weight loss.
This is why most diets do not work in the long-term; it is because they have not altered your lifestyle. Therefore, the minute you finish the diet you go back to doing what was getting you fat in the first place (your old lifestyle).
When I work one-to-one with clients I psychometrically test them to see if they are psychologically ready to make a change. The readiness to change is so often overlooked in weight loss programmes and yet my research has shown that it is fundamental to long-term successful weight loss. So let’s get on and start to consider what is involved in making the required changes to achieve sustainable, long-term weight loss.
At the end of the day weight loss or weight gain comes down to energy balance. This is not rocket science, if you are eating more calories than you are using you are said to be “in positive energy balance”. Under these circumstances you will put on weight (increase your body fat %). You put on weight, or we should say ‘fat’ more accurately, through a process known as fat cell hypertrophy. We all possess fat cells (known as adipocytes) and these are laid down initially at birth and then throughout our adolescence. When you overeat the excess energy is stored in these cells as fat. Initially you are filling up the fat cells that you possess but if you continue to overeat you will eventually reach a point where your current cells cannot hold anymore. This point is called the hypertrophic limit and once reached more cells are recruited from a your preadipocyte pool. Because you are now laying down new fat cells your ability to store fat is enhanced. Once you increase your fat cells they cannot be reduced.
The best you can hope for is that the fat cells will shrink as you burn off energy. This is one reason why somebody that has been over weight finds it so easy to put the weight back on; the fat cells are sitting there waiting to be filled. If however you have never been overweight you will possess less fat cells so it is not quite so easy to increase your weight, which is not to say that you cannot. The other thing to bear in mind here is that this is particularly relevant for children. Because they are smaller they can reach their hypertrophic limit a lot quicker than an adult and so they start to lay down fat cells that they will carry into their adult life. For this reason alone you can understand why it is so important that we don’t allow children to become overweight. So that is how your weight (fat %) increases, how does it decrease?
If you are burning more calories (very active) than you are eating, you are in “negative energy balance”. Under these circumstances you will lose weight (reduce your body fat). That said, it is not quite as straightforward as this (if only it were). A number of factors impact upon this, an important one being genetics. Undoubtedly the genes that you inherited will have an impact on how successful your weight loss attempts are. With perseverance however if you maintain a negative energy balance you will lose weight.
Men will find it easier to lose weight than women and again this is down to genetic makeup. Men possess more of the enzymes that help breakdown fat and are therefore better placed to burn off fat. Added to this women have more of the enzymes that store fat (necessary during pregnancy) therefore they will lay down fat easier than a man. The good news is that the more active you become the more efficient you become at burning fat so keeping active, and if possible increasing your activity levels are the keys to long-term weight control. The energy balance equation looks something like this:
To change your
= Energy intake
Calories from food & drink
– Energy Output
As you can see from this formula energy intake is fairly straightforward it is all the energy that we consume from food and drink. Energy output on the other hand is impacted by a number of factors. The first one is RMR, this stands for ‘Resting Metabolic Rate’; this is dictated by your weight, the heavier you are the higher you RMR is likely to be. This is especially true if you carry a lot of muscle, so a bodybuilder would have a higher RMR than the average person. Because weight impacts on RMR so directly it is actually quite rare for overweight people to have a slow metabolic rate. It is more likely that their metabolism will be higher than the average weight person.
So generally using a slow metabolism as your excuse for being overweight does not hold up to close scrutiny. If however you have an under-active thyroid gland (a rare condition), then you will have a slower than normal metabolic weight.
The next factor that affects energy output is thermogenesis. This is the term used for the energy it takes to digest and absorb food. So all the actions required to break the food you eat down into small enough particles to be absorbed into the body and used. PROTEIN takes the most energy to breakdown and use. Twenty five to thirty percent of the energy contained in protein is used up in breaking it down. Therefore if you eat a 100kcal of protein, 25 to 30 of these kcal’s will be used in digestion and absorption. The other good thing about protein is that it is the most satiating of the macronutrients. This means it makes you feel fuller for longer.
Carbohydrates only have a thermic effect of between 6 to 8%, so far less than protein and the lowest of all is fat at just 3%. So it is clear from this that most of the fat we consume can be used as energy or stored; whereas with protein only 75% of it is available as energy or for storage. The final part of the energy out equation is activity and this is the factor that is most easily manipulated. A number of studies have shown that although our food intake has changed in terms of what we eat, the kcal we consume has not risen anywhere near as dramatically as the amount that our activity levels have reduced.
We are now far less active than we were 50 years ago and this is reflected in the current obesity epidemic. If you think about your own everyday life there are numerous labour saving devices, from remote controls on televisions, washing machines and tumble driers, dishwashers, cars and far less active working environments. All these aspects have led to us to be generally very inactive. Part of the reason for the rise in child obesity is inactivity. Children are driven to and from school. At break times they do not engage in physical games as they did years ago. When they get home they either go straight onto the computer or sit down in front of the television.
Years ago neither of these would have been readily available and children would have played outside and been very active.
This complete absence of activity in children’s lives is of particular concern as we are raising a generation who will be more prone to various illnesses, especially obesity. In fact some scientists have gone as far as to say that this next generation of children may be the first that will fail to out live their parents. That is a very sobering thought if you have children. The good news is that of all the factors that play into the energy balance equation, activity is possibly the easiest to manipulate. We can all think of ways that we could be more active and now would be a good time to start.
By becoming more active, especially if you decide to go to the gym and do some resistance training (lift weights) you will increase your muscle mass (lean tissue). As I have already stated “the amount of muscle you carry (to some degree) dictates your RMR”. Therefore if you build up your muscle mass you will be burning slightly more calories everyday. This can all contribute to creating a negative energy balance.
You do not necessarily need to go to the gym; some people are horrified by the thought. Just by getting out and walking you increase your activity level and this in turn tones your muscles making them more active and again raises your RMR.
The last aspect to consider on the energy out side of the equation is something called ‘Spontaneous Physical Activity’ (SPA) or alternatively ‘Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis’ (NEAT). NEAT or SPA take into account every little movement that you make and includes fidgeting, taping your feet, squirming around and generally everything that you cannot classify as exercise or regular activity. SPA or NEAT can create up to a 10% difference in your energy expenditure. So the bottom line is whatever you can do to be active, do it, it all counts.
In order to achieve weight loss you should look to create a 500kcal deficit per day. The reason for this figure is two-fold. Firstly 500kcal per day equates to 3500kcal per week which is 1lb (0.5kg) of fat. The second reason is that studies have found that if you have a huge deficit of calories per day it can have a metabolic consequence. This will vary from person to person but basically over this figure your body starts to defend itself as it thinks it is being starved.
This is a natural survival response that is innate in all of us. In times of famine the body slows down your metabolism, spares your fat stores and tries to utilise lean tissue (muscle) as an energy source. If you think about this it is the last thing that you want to happen if you are trying to lose weight. You want your metabolic rate as high as possible, this in turn means you need to maintain, if not increase your lean tissue (muscle) and finally you want your body to burn fat not spare it. Because of this it is of no use completely starving yourself because you are creating too big an energy deficit. In the long term you would lose weight but a lot of that weight will have come from lean tissue and water. Once you start eating normally again you are liable to put the weight straight back on plus a bit more because now you have less muscle, therefore a slower metabolic rate. If you go back to eating what you were before you started you will in fact gain extra weight and this is effectively what yo-yo dieting is.
The best way to achieve an energy deficit of 500 to 700kcal is to increase your calorific output (activity) by approximately 250 to 350kcal and reduce your kcal intake by the same amount. The combination of the two will give you a deficit of between 500 to 700kcal per day; see example below:
-500 to 700kcal energy balance
Negative energy balance
Reduced daily intake by 250 to 350kcal per day
Increased activity by 250 to 350kcal per day
If you have a four finger Kit-Kat at break cut this out (250kcal). Now walk briskly for an extra hour each day (dependant on your weight) and this will burn approximately 250kcal. This hour could be achieved in 6 x 10 minute blocks, so add in extra little walks throughout your day.
From these examples you can see how straightforward it can be to design a weight loss programme that is both simple to follow as well as suiting your lifestyle. Remember any changes you make have to be permanent. It is no use thinking of this as some plan that you will follow for six weeks and that is it. How many diets have you tried, lets face it if one worked you wouldn’t be looking for something else now. How many times have you joined a gym or attended an aerobics or step class, or started some other exercise regime only for this to tail off after a few weeks?
If you are going to successfully achieve a weight loss and most importantly keep the weight off then you need to make a lifestyle change. Remember it is your current lifestyle that got you fat!!!
Drink plenty of water
Move increasing your steps to 10000 + daily
Lift weights to build muscle to burn more calories whilst at rest
Eat more protein
Cut the junk
Hire a personal trainer or come to the bootcamps
Make it a lifestyle change and not just a quick fix