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Friday, September 30, 2011

Ditching the Numbers Game for Fat Loss

Today's guest post is by my friend, JJ Virgin, nutritionist, author and media personality.  Below, JJ talks about one of our favorite topics: The calories in/ calories out fat loss model...

The government has a new mathematical formula for weight loss. And it’s completely bogus.

You know those articles Cosmo and other women’s magazines frequently run that explain to lose one pound each week, you should cut 500 calories a day? The author then presents various ways to reduce calories, including switching to diet soda and choosing “light” products.

Well, a new government-based study conducted by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and published in the journal Lancet says if you cut 250 calories daily, you can lose 25 pounds over three years. And trimming just 10 calories each day helps you lose one pound over three years.

Keri Glassman, a registered dietitian and writer for Women's Health magazine, appeared on “The Early Show” recently to argue this revised calorie counting proves more realistic for most people.

Glassman offers suggestions to implement these new caloric reductions. She suggests cutting calories from foods that quickly turn to fat (such as refined sugar), exercising, personalizing your diet, and eating consistently throughout the day to rev up your metabolism.

What the Lancet article and Glassman don’t seem to understand is that your body is a biochemistry lab, not a bank account. What I mean is that calories certainly play a factor in fat loss, but thousands of other biochemical actions also contribute to that loss. And if you obsess about calories, you miss the big picture.

You need to choose quality calories rather than being fixated on the number itself. Eating 500 calories of wild salmon and spinach, for instance, will create an entirely different effect on your body than 500 calories from pizza.

How? Carbs spike insulin levels, and one of insulin’s chief duties involves storing fat. So even though you were careful to only consume 500 calories, the pizza is going to spike and crash your blood sugar, which will eventually lead to cravings and make you fat.

The protein and good fat in salmon, on the other hand, will keep you satiated for hours. That’s because protein and fat decrease ghrelin, your hunger hormone, and  increase CCK, a neurotransmitter that tells your brain you’re full. Protein and fat also stimulate glucagon, insulin’s sister hormone that actually releases fat for your body to burn for energy.

Can you see now how a calorie isn’t always a calorie, and how food provides powerful information that can determine whether your body burns fat or stores it?

There’s more bad news for calorie-counting obsessive people. Decreasing your caloric intake will eventually lower your resting metabolic rate (RMR). In other words, your biochemical machinery slows down to compensate for the decreased calories, which means you stop losing weight.

When this happens, people typically either cut their calories even further (and again, your body eventually adapts) or they start exercising more. But people who exercise frequently overestimate how many calories they burn. For instance, let’s say you walk an hour on the treadmill. The digital tracker says you burned 420 calories during that vigorous walk.

Here’s the thing. You would burn about 100-200 calories by simply sitting on your butt doing nothing. That’s your resting metabolic rate (RMR), or the amount of calories your body requires to simply function. So in reality, you burned around 300 calories during that hour’s walk. Not bad, but not the number you anticipated. And don’t justify that exercise with a 400-calorie dessert, which will spike your blood sugar and store the fat you worked so hard to burn.

I have a much simpler formula to burn fat than counting calories. Choose lean protein, non-starchy vegetables, fibrous legumes and other starches, and good fats. You’ll burn fat, give your body the nutrients it needs to function optimally, and have steady energy throughout your day.

And you can save the math for the next Barney’s Warehouse Sale.

Dr Kevin D Hall PhD, Gary Sacks PhD, Dhruva Chandramohan BSc, Carson C Chow PhD, Y Claire Wang MD, Steven L Gortmaker PhD, Boyd A Swinburn MD. Quantifica tion of the effect of energy imbalance on bodyweight. The LancetVolume 378, Issue 9793, Pages 826 - 837, 27 August 2011.

© 2011 JJ Virgin & Associates, Inc. Celebrity Nutrition & Fitness Expert JJ Virgin is the best-selling author of Six Weeks to Sleeveless and Sexy, creator of the 4X4 Workout & co-star of TLC's Freaky Eaters. Visit her at to take the quiz & find out if Your "Healthy" Habits are Making You Tired, Bloated & Age Faster?


  1. Can't hardly wait for "Throwing a Fit". Informative, entertaining and humorous. What could be better than learning and laughing? Keep it up Jini!