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Why Calories In vs. Calories Out Doesn't Work

Person standing on scale checking weight

For decades, the mantra of weight loss has been “calories in / calories out” or in other words “calorie deprivation.” The idea is simple: if you eat fewer calories than you burn, you will lose weight. To this day, many doctors and nutritionists still push that advice for weight loss. However, for most people, that method will never work for a very important reason:


The body is more complex than a calorimeter…and the brain is even more complicated. 


If you’ve tried to lose weight by eating less and exercising more, and you haven’t been able to keep the weight off, you are not alone. In fact, that model fails most people and is in many ways, the worst way to lose weight.


Why calories in vs calories out doesn't work:


1. Metabolic Adaptation 

When you simply eat fewer and fewer calories, the body automatically believes something is wrong. It doesn’t want you to lose those extra pounds, even if you do. The body’s job is to store and conserve everything it can so it can protect you in case famine strikes (it doesn’t realize there’s a Kroger less than 2 miles from your house). Because of your body’s inherent desire to store those calories as fat, it will adapt to an increasingly low calorie level until you stop losing weight. That’s called metabolic adaptation. It’s largely unavoidable and is a natural part of calorie restricted dieting.


2. Calorie restriction does not address the underlying causes of weight gain.

Restricting calories is a band aid. It doesn’t actually fix what’s really going on inside your body and, more importantly, your brain. It patches the problem for a time, but will eventually cease to work unless you fix the root cause. Consider for a moment where your weight came from in the first place. Oftentimes, weight gain does come from overeating…emotional overeating. That means eating because of stress, boredom, anger, happiness, or because “screw it” the food tastes so good I might as well keep eating. 


There are also hormonal imbalances to consider - if you have issues with your thyroid, insulin resistance, or the way your brain processes hunger and satiety hormones, you likely will not respond to a calories in vs calories out model. Additionally, if you spend a lot of time stressed out, stress hormones and comfort eating could be getting in your way. Sleep deprivation will also impair your body’s ability to lose weight. 


Unless you address the factors that contributed to weight gain in the first place (be it habits, unhelpful behaviors, stress, negative self-image, hormonal imbalances, or a combination), weight loss results will be unlikely if not impossible to sustain.


3. Calorie restriction can (and often does) lead to binge eating and overeating.

Woman binging on pizza

When you restrict calories (or the calorie-dense foods you like), you generally feel deprived and are more likely to overeat or binge on high-calorie foods when the deprivation becomes intolerable (or when you have a stressful week…or when you’ve “earned it” from being “good”). In fact, self-sabotage and “screw it” eating are possibly THE biggest factors that make dieting or calorie restriction ineffective. 


4. Calorie restriction is not a sustainable, long-term solution.

Simply put, you can’t sustain a low calorie diet forever. Period. And for that reason, calorie restriction generally leads to "yo-yo" dieting and weight fluctuations. The body adapts, the brain gets tired of you telling yourself no and of the limited food you allow it to have, and before you know it the diet is over. 


So...what does work for weight loss?


The good news is that there are some simple yet very effective ways to lose weight that don’t involve calorie counting, macro tracking, or even exercise. In my next post, I’ll lay out a few practical strategies you can start using right now to lose weight sustainably.


Here’s the thing though…if you keep going back to the same weight loss tactics that never stick you’re doing more harm to your body than good. This is because each time you lose and regain weight, your body becomes less responsive and more likely to hold on to the extra fat. More importantly though, yo-yo weight loss is just downright discouraging.


That is exactly why the absolute easiest way to lose weight and improve your health is to invest in an expert coach who knows how to get you those results as quickly as possible in a sustainable way.


I approach weight loss from a simple, manageable, lifestyle change perspective. I show my clients how to make changes that not only naturally result in weight loss, but also resolve cravings, obliterate energy slumps,  dramatically improve insulin resistance and gut health, create happiness and satisfaction AND resolve diet-related health concerns. We do this without ever touching a calorie tracking app.


If you’re fed up with losing weight the old way and are ready to see results without calorie counting, sign up for a complimentary consultation with me. On this call, we’ll determine if and how I can help you achieve your weight loss and health goals. This call is 100% free but please only schedule if you are ready and committed to get results. 


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