First published in the CALGARY SUN, Monday June 11, 2001
Today's column will deal with the arithmetic of a seriously misleading concept in the world of weight loss.
Do you really believe statements like: “Burn Fat while you sleep”, “No exercise weight loss”, “Increase metabolism so fat just falls off”, etc. etc. etc.? These comments and many others like them lead people to believe that there are “Magic Bullet” products, machines and procedures that just help fat melt away.
First Myth Buster: Fat cannot evaporate from your body. To remove fat from the body you must metabolize it (a scientific name for “burn” it). To metabolize anything requires the expenditure of energy. The more energy you expend, the more fat your metabolize. The products that claim to be “thermogenic” (suggesting they increase the rate of energy expenditure and therefore increase the rate of fat burning) have not been proven to work. It is true that some essential fatty acids are necessary to provide a stimulus for the metabolism of other fats but there is no evidence that we can increase our fat burning capabilities beyond the energy requirements of the body.
Think about this. Energy expenditure produces heat as is evidenced by your perspiration (which cools the body). If thermogenic products really worked, you would walk around and lay around in a constant state of sweat.
The arithmetic goes like this: One pound of fat contains 3500 Calories. In order to lose one pound of fat you must create a Caloric deficit of 3500 Calories between energy consumed and energy spent. This will never change. The average Basal Metabolic rate (basic daily energy requirements excluding exercise) is 1200 – 1500 Calories per day. On a 900 Calorie per day diet you would have a 300 – 600 Calorie per day deficit, which equals 2100 – 4200 Calories per week, which in turn adds up to a potential fat loss of 0.6 - 1.2 pounds per week.
If you added 400 Calories of exercise energy expenditure each day (equivalent to running approximately 3 miles) it would add another 2800 Calories to the deficit each week, adding up to 4900 - 7000 Calories per week. That translates into 1.4 - 2.0 pounds per week. This scenario is not likely to be followed. Think about it – 900 Calories per day and running 3 miles per day – 7 days per week. Not very likely is it?
A more realistic and achievable goal would be a fat loss of 1 pound per week. Then you could be more assured that the weight loss is fat and secondly that you actually developed a reproducible behaviour change which will serve you well for life.
There is an exception to the above arithmetic and that occurs when you are on a "Ketogenic" diet. That is a diet very low in carbohydrates and very high in protein (often referred to as an Atkins type diet – a popular ketogenic diet). Under these circumstances the body will excrete some partially metabolized fat molecules known as Ketone bodies and these contain some energy. In these circumstances there is some fat loss that will not conform to the conventional arithmetic model. The down side of a ketogenic diet is poor nutritional density and the unpleasant side effects of bad breath and body odor from the ketones. Although, with supplementations, the ketogenic diets may not be dangerous, they are difficult to maintain and do not represent a sound life-long eating practice.
The bottom line is be patient, eat well and exercise regularly. It is a matter of choosing a life style.
Lee Coyne, Ph.D. is a nutritional consultant, lecturer and author of Fat Won't Make You Fat and the Lean Seekers Nutrition coaching program. He may be reached at 1-800-668-4042 or by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright Lee Coyne, Ph.D., reprinted with permission.
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