Does this sound familiar?
How many calories did I burn in class today? Am I allowed to eat more today because I came to class?
A few of you have asked me these very questions and I would be willing to bet that almost all of you have wondered the same thing at some point. Let’s take a look at the whole “Calorie In/Calorie Out” idea.
The first law of thermodynamics states:
- Change in energy stores = Energy intake – Energy expenditure
Applied to the human body, energy is in the form of calories and it is stored as either muscle or fat. It is from this very equation that people assume that you will lose weight as long as you burn more calories than you consume.
We all know what happens when we assume though… 🙁
The idea that overeating and/or sedentary behavior causes obesity is a misinterpretation of this law. This misinterpretation has cause and effect in the wrong place. Simply having a positive caloric balance is not going to cause excess weight gain…even though they are usually associated with each other. In reality, we eat more, move less, and have less energy to expend because we are metabolically or hormonally driven to get fat. (Hmm….what does THAT mean?) What it means is that you aren’t gaining excess weight because you’re eating more….it’s actually the OPPOSITE. You are eating more because your hormones are telling you it’s time to gain weight.
Anyone driven to put on fat by such a metabolic or hormonal defect would be driven to excessive eating, physical inactivity, or some combination. Hunger and inactivity would be side effects of such a hormonal defect, merely facilitating the drive to fatten. They would not be the fundamental cause. Likewise, a lack of hunger and the impulse to engage in physical activity can also be driven by a metabolic hormonal disposition to burn calories rather than store them. It’s all in the hormones!
This can be likened to growing children. Their hormones decide when it is time for a growth spurt, causing their appetites to increase to satisfy the energy requirements. Another obvious example is pregnancy. Women are driven to fatten by hormonal changes. This drive induces hunger and lethargy as a result. (No offense Mariah, you are CLEARLY the exception to this rule!)
A second misinterpretation of the law lies in the assumption that the human body is like a machine, resulting in each of the three variables being independent of one another. The idea that you can adjust your calorie consumption without affecting how many calories you burn is flat out wrong.
The human body is an incredibly complex system and will compensate for any changes in energy consumption or expenditure. Eat too little and your body will conserve energy by slowing down and making you feel lethargic. Eat too much and your body will become more active to expel the excess energy. This is why a severe calorie restricting diet and/or increased exercise does not result in long-term weight loss. Do you plan on drinking 2 slim fast shakes a day and jogging 4 miles before bed? Well then be prepared for your body to compensate by making you more hungry than you’ve ever been while it tries to store as much body fat as possible!
To sum it up, control your hormones if you want to successfully control your weight. This is why it is so important to focus on the quality of your food rather than the quantity. Stop stressing out over calorie counting and put that energy into eating the right kinds of foods, exercising regularly, and getting adequate sleep each day. This will help keep your hormones in check, resulting in long-term, healthy weight loss.
p.s. Can you guess who edited this for me 😉