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Busting the Myth of Low Calorie Dieting

 Are you caught up in the calorie craze? For a long time now we’ve been told that losing weight (or gaining for that matter) is a simple math problem. If you consume more calories than you burn you gain weight and vice versa.  It’s what I was taught in school and what most diet/nutritional programs are based on.

The problem is, YOUR BODY DOESN’T ACTUALLY WORK THIS WAY!  The human body is a biochemical system and whether your body burns or stores the food you eat is up to many different factors. The fact is, a calorie isn’t even an actual thing, although we tend to use it as if it is. A calorie is a specified measurement or unit of the heat put off of by a substance when it is burned. That is how those numbers are derived for different foods. The food is literally burned  (with fire) and the heat generated is measured.

This is a thermodynamic principle: 

CH4 + 2 O2 → CO2 + 2 H2O + energy (this energy is heat that is measured when dealing with calories)

Discussing the number of calories in food is like discussing the number of gallons of gas that your gas tank holds. You would never say that you are going to go out and burn some gallons on the drive to work (gallons of what?). It sounds silly, but that is exactly what we are doing when we discuss calories as if they are a noun.

A meal that has 500 calories and a workout that consumes 500 calories are not the same thing. While the meal produces 500 calories of heat if you burn it with fire and your body generates 500 calories worth of heat by breaking down chemical bonds during your workout that is where the similarity ends. Like I mentioned earlier, your body is a biochemical system, summed up in this chart:

 A little more complex than the simple combustion equation above! 

Dr. Diana Schwarzbein in her book The Schwarzbein Principle: The Truth About Losing Weight, Being Healthy, and Feeling Younger discusses the physiological (aka biochemical) reasons behind the fallacy of trying to lose fat on a low calorie diet.


Simple Physiology

Your metabolism dictates whether food energy is stored or consumed, not the mere presence of food. Your metabolism slows down when calories are scarce which causes the body to become greedy and store as much energy as fat as possible


When attempting to lose weight on a low calorie diet this is what happens

  • All energy from a meal is either used or stored within 2 hours of eating
  • Stored sugar is taken from the liver for body processes, muscles use sugar for energy
  • As sugar stores are depleted, weight is lost.  Up to 9 pounds in the first week because stored sugar weighs much more than fat

    Because not enough is being eaten, the body’s sugar stores are slowly depleted. Once the stored sugar is completely gone most people give up on their diet because they feel bad. 


  • If the low calorie diet is continued, lean body mass (muscle and bone) is burned to create the necessary fuel for the brain and kidneys
  • Some fat is burned but not nearly as much as lean tissue. 
  • Metabolic rate slows down to preserve lean tissue; fatigue and depression typically follow
  • At this point the goal weight is met or it becomes impossible to continue
  • Normal eating is resumed but now the body is greedy and stores more fat than usual.  Lean body mass that was lost is regained, leading to more total weight gain than before
  • Since the weight was regained, additional resolve is made to eat less for a longer period to keep the weight off the next time
  • The cycle repeats itself until complete physical or emotional breakdown

    Low calorie, or starvation dieting is physiological sabotage that leads to metabolic problems, emotional disorders and disease.  Eating this way does not provide enough energy or nutrition to sustain life. Most low fat diet programs are also low calorie programs.


    Breaking the Cycle

    Choosing to eat a physiologically balanced, real food diet, like that found in NRG Your Diet and Lifestyle Compass will build and sustain you while helping you reach your goals of weight loss and optimal health. 


    For More Info on this topic check out Dr. Curtis’ series of posts on protein

    Protein Diet For Weight Loss, Where’s the Beef?

    Does a High Protein diet affect blood sugar? Where’s the Beef #2

    Does a High Protein Diet Plan cause kidney damage? Where’s the Beef Part # 3


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