Healthy Weight Loss vs. Weight Loss

The battle against calories seems to be a never-ending fight, and one which people in general are losing, with obesity on the rise globally. Calories, a unit of energy are the key to this battle. They are measured in Kcals (kilocalories).

Weight loss is a simple concept: you simply need to burn off more calories than you take in your diet.

However healthy weight loss is a far more complex idea. To understand it fully and discover how it works we must first understand everything that’s involved.

Carbohydrates (CHO), proteins and fats form the basis of food. Each has its own role to play in the efficient running of the human body. At the most basic level, CHO’s provide energy, proteins are used for muscle growth and repair and fats are required for the storage of the majority of energy in the body. Unused CHO’s and proteins are converted to fats to be stored in the body. However fats cannot be converted into other tissues. The only way to remove it is to burn it off through exercise. Since the body’s main source of energy is CHO’s, fat utilization for exercise is not a priority. Although there is more energy available from fats (9 Kcals vs 4 Kcals for proteins and CHO’s) the body requires more oxygen to release this energy from fats. Given the same amount of oxygen, more energy is released from CHO’s than fats.

 All of this poses the following question: if I don’t eat any CHO’s will my body use fat as its primary energy source?

The short answer is no. This theory is the basis of the Atkins diet. It is not so simple. This is the point where weight loss and healthy weight loss diverge. No CHO’s will encourage the body to break down proteins to their building blocks (Amino Acids) and use the 8 Branch Chain Amino Acids for energy. Proteins and Amino Acids are to build and maintain muscle. Therefore the body will target its own muscle for energy. Although this will cause weight loss, you are essentially losing “healthy weight” and will have a knock on effect of decreasing the fat burning capacity of muscle.

Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the minimum amount of Kcals the body burns in a state of total rest on order to keep the body functioning. One of the components of the BMR level is working muscle. This requires more energy than fat tissue. If the fat burning (oxidation) capacity of the muscle is decreased, the BMR decreases and less fat is burned at rest. Therefore by cutting CHO’s from the diet altogether you are actually lowering the body’s capacity to lose weight.

The weight loss equation has two sides. By dieting and restricting calories in, only half the battle is won. We must also work the other half and increase the calories out section through exercise. This is often the hard part since exercising at higher intensities burns more Kcals and therefore causes more weight to be lost. Intensity is intrinsically linked to weight loss capacity (See Exercise and Weight Loss article in this newsletter). Higher intensity tips the balance of the calories in vs calories out equation in favour of calories out, where we want it.

The truth is that we need a balanced approach. A healthy balanced diet is of course important in losing weight. However since food fuels the body, the diet must be matched to the bodies exercise needs. It is pointless to attempt to exercise at the appropriate high intensity if the diet does not provide sufficient fuel to allow this to occur. CHO’s are crucial here. Cutting them from the diet completely will cause weight loss but it will not be healthy weight loss, and will in impede healthy weight loss. The diet must be controlled and match your exercise level. The more intense the exercise the more fuel the body requires and the diet needs to reflect this. It should also be noted that there are both good and bad foods which will have a varying impact on your diet (However that is a matter for another day).

The key to weight loss is simple maths.

Calories taken into the body need to be less than calories expended through exercise…

* The role of exercise is dealt with in the Personal Training section of this newsletter*

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