Into the mystic…
Yesterday I wrote on my Contemplative Fitness Facebook page about how I believe an extended calorie deficit is required to promote fat loss. By and large what I wrote was accepted, but there were a few comments, and a few more private emails which suggested (reminded me) that at some point a calorie deficit may not be enough for fat loss to continue. This is true, and at some point there does exists a gray area.
The ideal of fat loss is based on manipulating a system. Like all systems, the metabolic system has varying components and influences. Components and external forces work with or against each other to determine the result of that system. Examples of these variations included quantity of caloric intakes, insulin resistance, hormone production/fluctuation, sleep, activity level, and food intolerances to name just a few. These all can influence metabolism, and subsequently fat loss.
I’ll suggest that most people attempting fat loss, be it for aesthetic reasons or for reason of improved health, don’t have a clue where they stand with regard to many of these factors, with the exceptions of caloric intake, and activity level. Thus, people focus on primarily on caloric intake, and activity level because these are within an individual’s mental grasp, and immediate control. Ghrelin production? Food allergies…? Not so much. Many people reading this will have to use The Google to find out what ghrelin even is. Few people know of their food allergies, intolerances, or hormone discrepancies.
When I talk about these intangibles in metabolism, the analogy I like to use is that of cardio activities. Many people who attempt fat lost engage in a cardio activity to help accelerate the fat loss process. It’s clear that burning calories is good, and that cardio burns calories. With this in mind, people take to their cardio theater somewhat intelligently, yet somewhat blindly, and go 30, 45 or 60 minutes at a time – whatever.
Rarely (never) have I seen anyone calculate the precise cardio duration required on a given day to meet their goal based on these variables; BMR, BMI, age, blood sugar at inception of exercise, KCals of the current 24 hour span, and caloric intake of the current 24 hour span.
If someone were to calculate their required cardio duration for a given day based on these variables, it would probably not be the cookie cutter 30 minutes, 45 minutes, or 60 minute of cardio commonly done. I don’t know of anyone who uses that kind of math to accurately calculate their daily cardio activity to the precise minute needed in order to maximize fat loss on a given day. I don’t even do that myself. I just choose 30 minutes, or 45 without knowing the details of what I truly require on that day. In short, I eyeball it.
Back to calories in vs. calories out. The broad brush stroke that I painted yesterday is just that; a broad brush stroke. By and large if one lives in a calorie deficit for an extended period of time, one will lose body fat – we just eyeball it as best we can, despite the many unknown intangibles involved.
Should someone live in a calorie deficit for an extended period of time, and not lose body fat, I will suggest the following things:
1. Know your BMR.
2. Accurately track your ingested calories daily to ensure there is a continued deficit.
3. Accurately track your kinetic calorie expenditure to ensure you are promoting a deficit.
4. Track your sleep patterns.
5. Spread your calories out as evenly as possible through the course of a day.
The science of metabolism is getting better, but like all sciences in this era, there are at least as many unknowns that there are knowns. If you follow the steps above, ensure their accuracy, remain true to them for an extended period of time, and still do not lose body fat, see an experienced endocrinologist to explore potential hormone imbalances, and food intolerances.
Your general practitioner or primary care physician may be a good person, and may have even coached your kid’s ball team, but he or she probably knows slightly less about the many variables in fat loss than the monkey-see-monkey-do editors of Shape magazine, or the Fitness Blogasaurus you put such blind trust in.
It’s a science, but not a science wholly understood just yet. I will always suggest that when questions arise, you yourself should dawn the lab coat, be the note taker, collect the data of you, study that data as it applies to you, be the scientist, and hopefully master your system before you place it in the hands of professional amateurs. Just my opinion… rc
Please check back in 2 weeks to see what happens when I push the “stop” button on the blender in my head. Oh, and there’s this from Spain. Enjoy…