Don’t be alarmedif I stir some emotion when I say that the CICO – calories in, calories out – model has been outrageously misconstrued.
For years, our country has fallen victim to thinking that energy balance is all that matters when it comes to weight loss, but recent research tells us differently.
Those of you who don’t know what CICO is, well…I am sure you will get the picture when I say it is the concept of how many “professionals” believe that the only thing that matters is eating less and moving more to lose weight.
While energy balance is crucial for optimal health, we forget the simple fact that what you do to reduce calories can be the very reason you get stuck in your weight loss plateau to begin with.
When you eat fewer calories than you burn, you sure as heck can start losing weight. We will not argue that fact. I also will commend those who use this analogy to think about “balance” with their diet so they don’t feel restricted to certain foods.
After all, you can lose weight despite eating Twinkies for 10 weeks from Dr. Mark Haub from Kansas State did back in 2010.
The only thing I would like to remind everyone is that when it comes to fat loss, all food is not created equal. Fat loss isn’t the only thing affected by what goes in your mouth. Things like blood lipids, blood sugars, systematic inflammation, gut health, and adrenal health all have large factors when it comes to fat loss.
All these things are impacted by nutrition, stress, and recovery. If you don’t have all three pieces lined up…your weight loss efforts will come to a haunting halt.
Let me pin some research on you:
A study of 36 men went on a diet for three months at 3,200 calories per day. Suddenly, over the next 6 months they were semi-starved with 1,570 calories per day. They were given foods higher in carbs for energy and rarely ingested meat and dairy. They walked 20-22 miles a week.
Once the six months hit, they began increasing calories and showing some drastic behavior. Their resting metabolic rate dropped nearly 40%! They started feeling cold and irritable and had no motivation.
They had restless sleep and began obsessing about food….creating borderline eating disorder behavior.
It proved that the calories going in and the calories going out are dependent variables. A simple analogy you can think of is this:
Imagine you make $100,000 in a year with a money-in, money-out philosophy. If your income is reduced to $25,000 all of a sudden, what would happen to the money going out? Do you think you would continue to spend the $80,000 to $100,000?
Not if you have a brain and don’t want to hit bankruptcy! Money in and out are dependent variables.
So now applying this to calories in and out….you can see that reducing the calories going in your body to lose weight only works if the number of calories you burn is stable. However, where most people go wrong is that they drastically reduce the calories going in and don’t realize they just wrecked their body’s homeostasis and their calories out are now lower, stopping weight loss as their body tries to balance the energy budget.
You see, your body is smart! When you play games with it — such as extreme dieting, cutting carbs, over-exercising — you will naturally begin to burn less. Then you get upset and eat even less.
What happens then? You cut calories more and end up feeling worse, driving more stress to the body. Your cortisol becomes more chronically elevated with the disruption of other important hormones like ghrelin, estrogen, testosterone and others.
So next time you start your diet, remember that you may be setting yourself up for a long recovery road ahead if you don’t do it right. These things need strategically planned just as your training does.
You can’t just step up and expect to swing a home run if you never played baseball. Don’t start messing with your body’s natural ability to burn calories without a proper plan in place.
Total Energy Expenditure = basal metabolic rate + thermogenic effect of food + Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) + Excess Post Exercise Consumption (EPOC) + exercise.
Energy expenditure is not just your workouts. In fact, they only account for 15-22% of the total calories you burn daily…so you need to make sure your parts “under the hood” are working well.
That is one of the key fundamental components of my “Simple Seven” method I teach in my Revive program to get your body primed for fat loss.
If you are tired of constantly feeling like you diet and workout to get absolutely nowhere, you are not alone.
Mike Over is the owner of Over-Achieve Fitness in Chambersburg. Follow him on Instagram at @mjo_oaf.