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Calories in/Calories out? It's a little more complicated…

We’ve all heard the age old adage, that to lose weight it’s as simple as “calories in vs calories out”. If you consume fewer calories than you expend, you will lose weight… right?

Unfortunately, as many of us have learned over the years of fad diets and trying to cut back on calories… it’s just not that simple!  While calories in vs calories out is a good thing to keep in mind… it’s also important to realize that not all calories are created equal.

Hormones: Not just for teenagers

What we eat invariably effects how our bodies function.  Eat too much junk food, you feel lethargic and sick. Drink too much alcohol, and you embarrass yourself at the company Christmas party.  We are what we eat.

This translates to fat loss as well.  If you’ve been in the gym with us for any length of time you know that we often decry the effects of sugar on the body, and with good reason.  Sugar releases the hormone insulin.  Insulin’s job is to eat the sugar in your blood and metabolize it in the liver for energy.  Unfortunately your liver can only store so much sugar energy (glycogen), and everything beyond this is marked for storage elsewhere. This would be body fat.

To make matters worse, your body cannot burn fat as long as there is insulin in your blood.  Insulin works in opposition with human growth hormone.  HGH is what your body uses to break down fat and metabolize it for energy (it also helps build muscle and has a lot of positive health effects).  While insulin is in your blood, your body will not release HGH.  This makes sense for your body… why release a hormone that breaks down fat for energy if there’s so much available energy in the form of sugar?

This means that if you wake up at 7am and eat a breakfast containing carbs/sugar, you are spiking your insulin (and removing HGH from your bloodstream).  At around 10am you’ll feel hungry and tired, so you have a granola bar as a snack.  This ensures that insulin remains in your blood (but gives you the boost you need to last until lunch!).  Then theres carbs at lunch, afternoon snack, dinner, and a snack while you watch TV at night.  Even if all of these meals are extremely low in calories, your body will have a continuous supply of insulin in it and a continuous supply of sugar to “run” on.  This means that even if you only ate 1500 calories that day, you still will not burn fat… because the chemical needed to burn fat hasn’t had a chance to be released in your body. You will feel tired. You will feel sick. And even though you’ve restricted your calories, you won’t have lost fat.

Research Shows…

Don’t take my word for it.  There was a study* that examined this. For two weeks, participants either supplemented their diets with candy (mostly sugar) or roasted peanuts (mostly fat and protein) of the exact same calorie amount. This was added to their regular diet. After two weeks, researchers found that body weight, waist circumference, and bad cholesterol were highest in the candy group, indicating increased fat mass and worsening metabolic health. In the peanut group, resting metabolic rate shot up and neither body weight nor waist size saw any significant increases.  In TWO WEEKS.

This rather definitively invalidates the notion that all calories, especially added calories, are treated equally by the body.

But of course… the fine print

This isn’t to say that carbs are bad.  Just like calories, not all carbs are created equal.  Broccoli, for example, has a bunch of carbs in it, and you’ll never find any research that says broccoli is bad for you.  Rather it’s refined carbs and sugars (flour, pasta, bread, high fructose corn syrup, etc.) that are the major culprits.   I also feel it’s worth it to point out that too much of certain meats and dairy can have a similar effect, but I feel that carbs and sugars are the biggest offenders in our society, so let’s tackle one thing at a time.

Questions or Comments?

If you have any questions or comments I’d love for you to reach out and we can talk about it! Nutrition is a very misunderstood (but major) facet of our lives due to years of confusing and conflicting information (including within our school system).

Shoot me an email at!




1 Join the Conversation

  1. Kurt Battick says
    Feb 02, 2018 at 8:02 PM

    Very true. I struggle with this myself and I've notice a big difference changing from sugar filled breakfast to non-sugar breakfast. Great article.

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