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Metabolic Myth Buster: Calories In = Calories Out

Written by: The Veri Team

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person eating fruit on tennis court
2021-10-01

2 minutes

Here’s why that’s an oversimplified and incorrect take on weight management and metabolism.


You may have heard the concept of calories in, calories out (CICO). The gist:

If only things were that simple! Burning calories, weight management, your metabolic health—these things are all way more nuanced than the CICO myth accounts for. And yet—it’s something many of us are taught.

Why calories in, calories out is wrong

One of the first problems with CICO is that it’s simply not sustainable. Calorie deficits are usually not sustainable, and our bodies need fuel—whether we want to lose/maintain weight or not. Look at the popular TV show, The Biggest Loser. Many winners ended up gaining back their weight after the show[2] because eating less than your body needs to maintain optimal function isn’t a long-term strategy. If you artificially suppress calories at length, your body’s resting metabolic rate will decrease so that you must gain back some fat.

The other problem? This myth oversimplifies how our bodies process calories. We’re not machines, and input ≠ output. 

As Dr. Robert Lustig famously said in The Bittersweet Truth:

“A calorie is not a calorie. And the dietitians in this country are actually perpetrating this on us. Because the more you think a calorie is a calorie, the more you think, ‘well then if I ate less and exercised more it would work.’ It doesn’t.”

Sugars and carbs are metabolized much differently than proteins or fats. If you consume 200 calories of fruit juice or soda versus 200 calories of butter or eggs, your body will crank out insulin, which triggers fat storage—despite your calorie deficit.

Eating the wrong foods overall can only result in a metabolic slowdown and weight gain, even if you manage to maintain a calorie deficit.[3]

So, what actually works for weight loss and metabolic health?

Weight loss and metabolic health typically go hand in hand. Once you start focusing on metabolic health—as opposed to pure weight loss—you’ll find that shedding unwanted pounds is a natural side effect of the process. And it all starts with managing your blood glucose (blood sugar) levels.

‍Here are 5 quick tips on controlling blood glucose for weight loss:

  1. Cut out all sugared drinks. Even artificially sweetened drinks can spike insulin, so opt for sparkling water instead.
  2. Exercise frequently, and definitely after mealtime (a 20-minute walk will do!).
  3. Focus on complete meals (carb, fat, protein, fiber), rather than snacks.
  4. Experiment with a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) to see which foods are spiking your glucose.
  5. Try increasing the balance of calories from healthy fats, as opposed to carbs.[4]

References

1) https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hestat/obesity-adult-17-18/obesity-adult.htm

2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4989512/

3) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21952692/

4) https://www.bmj.com/content/363/bmj.k4583

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