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Why Burning More Energy Than You Consume Won’t Help You Lose Fat – And Could Make You Gain It!

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You may like to sit down for this one – if you’re a cardio queen or gym bunny from way back then it could come as a shock. You see, I’m about to explain to you why the weight loss rule that you need to expend more energy than you consume is – for the most part – absolutely, irrevocably WRONG.

That’s right.

Whoever said that ‘energy in vs energy out’ is the way to go if fat loss is your goal, is selling you a lie. Unwittingly or not. According to the energy in vs energy out rule, losing weight is a cinch as long as you simply eat less calories than what you burn. As a (very) general rule, women wanting to lose fat are advised to consume something like 1200-15oo calories, and men are often advised to take in between 1600 and 2000. If you’re a facts and figures kind of person then (in theory) this makes slimming down real easy. After all, an hour of really hard-workin’ cardio on the elliptical will often net you an 800 calorie deficit. Logically, therefore, doing 2 hours of cardio, or perhaps an appropriately calculated mixture of group exercise, cardio, and the occasional weights session will have you looking the bomb in no time. Add in some calories burnt for daily activity and for staying alive (digestion, breathing etc actually burns up a fair few as discussed in this post about burning fat while you sleep), and you can’t help but succeed.

Which makes it all the more strange then, that most people following this plan are still waiting for it to ‘kick in’. I mean, surely not ALL of them are lying about how much they’ve eaten?

SORRY TO BURST THE BUBBLE

While it would be nice to think that we’re smarter than our bodies or that math rules all (if I eat 1000 calories and burn 1500 I MUST lose weight), if you are serious about dropping some pounds, you’re going to have to face facts. Your body is smarter than you are and, what’s more, will actually fight your efforts by programming you to store MORE FAT if you take this energy in vs energy out rule too far.

It’s called the survival rule, and it goes like this:

  • You cut back on your calories, especially those that come from fat
  • Your body (which has no idea you live in the 21st century) assumes that food must be scarce, or that you’re on the run from something dangerous.
  • It goes into cortisol (stress hormone) overdrive IMMEDIATE FAT STORING ACTIVITY. In order to make sure you don’t starve and die, your hormonal system switches begins using stored muscle for energy (because stored fat will keep you alive longer), while at the same time releasing more cortisol to help you to store fat faster.
  • If you’re female, this effect is accelerated. After all – what if you became pregnant?
  • You decide to up your exercise quota. An extra cardio session each week – or each day! Talk about the worst thing you could do …
  • As far as your body is concerned, not only is food scarce, but you’re now running or fighting for your life! Why else would you be doing so much cardio?
  • In response, there is a slowing down of your digestive system, a lowering of your metabolic rate (energy conservation), and yet more fat storage. After all – who knows when you might get a chance to eat again?
  • After a few months (or, God forbid, a few years) of this sort of lifestyle you’re tearing your hair out and just about ready to give up on ever getting in shape as you wonder what bad genetic program means you just don’t lose weight despite ‘doing everything right’.

The solution is simple

I’m not saying calories never count. Of course they do. But trying to trim off caloric intake in response to increasing caloric expenditure is a sure-fire recipe for disaster for all the reasons listed above. If you want to look and feel your best you need to eat enough (real, full fat, protein and green-veg orientated) food to sustain metabolic activity, and focus on quality exercise that builds your metabolic rate. This means train hard – but if you want to actually train your butt off, then do so with weight lifting, and perhaps a very LITTLE amount of high-intensity interval training. Treat your body the way it was designed to be treated for optimal health and stop trying to run it into the ground. Trust me on this – you will NEVER beat your own physiology, and sometimes less really does equal more.

Do you have any personal experience on losing body fat once you gave up cardio? I can’t tell you how often I receive a shocked email from a reader or client saying that (usually after being forced, as they’re too scared to otherwise) after giving up cardio they’ve rapidly lost several kilos. Perhaps you always lose weight when on holidays despite doing less? Please comment below!

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