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Friday, 18 September 2009

100 Day Challenge - Day 46 - Why Calories are not the Whole Story

We all know that eating more calories than you burn results in fat storage and consuming less calories than you burn results in weight loss.

So why is that some people can eat a great deal of calories and not gain weight and others just eat a single donut and put on a kilo overnight? If a donut is the same amount of calories for a slim person and an 'easy gainer' why the difference in result?

The difference must be in the calories burned. Is it just a cruel metabolic joke or is there another explanation? It can't only be metabolism because sometimes I can get away with more calories than I would expect, and at other times, a strict adherence to a calorie restriction program gives me much less fat loss than the sums would suggest. This is the reason why my maintenance level has always been baffling.

The answer to the calorie quandry is indeed metabolic, but not in the way you imagine. Let me explain.

In order to fully utilise the incoming calories for energy, repair and eliminate the waste the body has to use its parasympathetic nervous system [rest and digest].
Parasympathetic fibers slow the heart; stimulate peristalsis; promote the secretion of lacrimal, salivary, and digestive glands; induce bile and insulin release; dilate peripheral and visceral blood vessels; constrict the pupils, esophagus, and bronchioles; and relax sphincters during micturition and defecation.
In the event of stress, guilt, self criticism, conflict, exhaustion, fear and anger, the sympathetic nervous system [fight or flight] takes over and shuts down all the above functions. [The parasympathetic system also controls the sex organs so there is a hint as to why my period stops when I diet].
(The sympathetic nervous system is) the part of the autonomic nervous system that is concerned especially with preparing the body to react to situations of stress or emergency, that contains chiefly adrenergic fibers and tends to depress secretion, decrease the tone and contractility of smooth muscle and increase heart rate.
If we eat when we are under the control of the sympathetic nervous system [stress], none of our food (or our stored fat reserves) is processed properly and ends up in storage (fat) instead.

It explains why I ate a beautiful HUGE post comp meal in a calm, relaxed manner and didn’t even register a blip on the scale, and yet weeks and weeks of calorie restriction with my body under stress doesn’t result in any significant weight loss. It also explains why my weight was the most stable it has ever been the week I purposely did no exercise at all and focused on relaxing.

Intense exercise also stresses the body, but is not a reason to stop if you enjoy it – I think the feelings of enjoyment and pleasure cancels out the stress reaction or at least gets you back to relaxed fairly quickly. But when you exercise while feeling sick, stressed, rushed, guilty, or punishing yourself for your "sins" you enter the sympathetic state (shut down digestive system) which means you won’t be able to burn your stored fat as energy, you’ll just get drained.

On the other hand, simple walking, yoga, stretching, using a fitball for a chair [my latest craze!] can also torch the fat cells if you are calm enough to access your fat when you need extra energy.

So it is not what you eat but HOW you eat that matters. To burn up all the excess fat simply and easily all you have to do is enjoy the food while you are eating AND afterwards (when digestion is taking place), be as relaxed as possible during and after meals and think happy thoughts!

It is possible that calmly eating chocolate cake with love and acceptance will result in more weight loss than eating lean chicken and green beans with gritty determination quickly followed by anxiety while you count down the hours until the next meal.

It is not what your exercise choice is but HOW you exercise that matters. If you enjoy it you will be re-energised as body releases it's stored energy but if you are doing it under sufference because you think you have to you will be depleted and hungry ("can't get to the food I've got inside me -- give me some more")

EASY when you know how. It is entirely possible to love yourself thin ...

Do you agree or am I talking through my very relaxed sphincter?

Read another opinion here.


  1. The Mediterranean diet also suggests to eat in a relaxed environment and recommends wine or beer daily.

    Ever wondered why French women don't get fat?

    I think it's definately got something to do with the what and how you think and feel.

    All I know is it's a beautiful sunny day here in Brissy this morning and the sun hasn't even risen yet. Bet Sydney's the same. You and I are going to have another amazing day today - woohoo!!

  2. VERY interesting Katie! I'm going to do my best to eat in a relaxed happy state and see what happens