How the body burns calories

In the last post I talked about the fact that for optimal health and weight loss we can’t simply worry about reducing our sugar intake. As well, we can’t simply focus on creating a caloric deficit. Both of these need to be addressed in order for healthy weight loss to occur.

A caloric deficit is necessary for weight loss.

A caloric deficit is necessary for weight loss.

Because here’s the thing…we can all find examples of people who have lost weight on a diet consisting of poor quality nutrition. If you want to read the story of the science teacher who lost 37 pounds in three months eating only McDonalds click here. No one is disputing the fact that creating a caloric deficit will lead to weight loss.

But does weight loss always equate to better health? Can you lose weight and become unhealthier in the process? Sure it’s easy. Just eat McDonalds every day for 3 months.

At the same time if all we are concerned with is reducing our sugar intake we may improve our health as evidenced by having some blood work done however we may lose much less than 37 pounds in 3 months.

From the previous post we established that it’s not an either-or scenario. We need to reduce our sugar and our calories. We need to worry about our mass and our health. But let’s just look at weight loss for the time being. How do we attack weight loss?

Well we need to create a caloric deficit. In other words we need to expend more calories than we consume. And as we already mentioned numerous times on this blog our sugar and overall caloric consumption is constantly increasing. And it seems unlikely that any of us are going to find a 25th hour in the day and begin doing more exercise so the other alternative is to reduce our intake.

Now let’s just back up for a second and  look at what dictates the calories we expend. There are four categories here including:

* Resting Metabolic Rate – This is a fancy term to describe all of the reactions occurring in the body. Some build and create i.e. anabolism and others break down and simplify i.e. catabolism. And energy is required for many of these processes occurring the body. When our metabolism is up we burn more calories. And when it is suppressed we burn fewer. This is the biggest consumer of our calories. This can contribute approximately 70% of total calories burned.

* Exercise – This is thoughtful and purposeful movement, training and work that expends calories. It might be we work in construction and are on our feet all day lifting heavy materials. Or it could be the workouts at the gym or the walk around the block with the dog. As you can see by the variation in activities there is likewise a huge variation in the exercise component of our energy expenditure. This along with NEAT can contribute up to 25% of calories.

* Food – Eating requires energy is order to digest, process and absorb the nutrients we eat. Some foods such as  simple sugars are more readily and easily absorbed requiring less energy than say beef tenderloin. And while the types of foods influence how many calories are burned with eating, more frequent eating burns more calories as well. This can contribute up to 10% of calories.

* NEAT – This stands for Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis and refers to calories burned from movement but that is not planned. For example, fidgeting burns a few extra calories than sitting quietly. And as you can probably guess the contribution of NEAT to our daily caloric output may be quite small.

There can be huge variations in % per category. Physical activity includes exercise and NEAT.

There can be huge variations in % per category. Physical activity includes exercise and NEAT.

So what’s the take home message from all of this?

Well first it’s important to understand that our metabolic rate is the biggest furnace for burning calories. We need to do what we can do keep our metabolism elevated.

Secondly, we need to know that the foods we eat have an impact on how many calories we burn in a day. 100 calories of cotton candy and 100 calories of salmon do not require the same energy to assimilate them into our cells during digestion.

Next, it’s important to understand that our training is at best only worth maybe one fifth of our total energy expenditure during a day. And this includes all the extra little movements we make which require calories. It kind of makes it easy to see why the expression ‘you can’t out train a poor diet’ makes sense. Eating crappy foods with a depressed metabolism is four times more damaging to your weight loss goals than having the absolute best training session in the world can be.

Case in point…how many lean people do you know that don’t exercise? Probably more than a few. And as well, how many chubby or overweight exercisers do you know? Probably more than a few as well.

Going forward make sure you are in control of your caloric intake. It’s important to eat less, eat less sugar and to move more. But most importantly is to do things that boost your metabolic furnace. In the next post I’ll talk about some things people do which put the breaks on their weight loss efforts.

Chris [fb-like]




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