Episode 79 Transcript – Nutrition For Fat Loss Part 1

Aidan Muir:

Hello and welcome to The Ideal Nutrition Podcast. My name is Aidan Muir, and I’m here with my co-host Leah Higl. And this is episode 79 where we’ll be talking about nutrition for fat loss. Because this is a pretty big topic, we’re probably going to split this up into three parts. And today we’re probably just going to start by focusing on some of the fundamentals and basic stuff before we get into the more detailed stuff over the next few episodes.

Leah Higl:

So we’ll start with the fundamental overarching principle of fat loss, and that is calories in versus calories out. So you may have heard of this concept before, and it’s something that is highly debated when talking about fat loss, but at the end of the day, we would consider this the overarching fundamental principle because it does underlie why fat loss does occur. So the body is literally made up of calories. So if we’re thinking about fat, about one kilo of fat has 7 to 8,000 calories within it, so it’s literally made up of calories. So if we are wanting to tap into those calories and utilize those reserves that we have in fat or muscle, which also contains calories, then we do have to consume less calories than what we are burning so that it dips into those internal stores. And that’s what causes fat loss or even muscle loss to occur. So there needs to be that deficit occurring in your diet, so that you use those internal stores in your body.

I think where the confusion comes into this is, well, probably many, many aspects which we will go through a hundred percent. But I think the concept of calories in versus calories out, it’s often considered as a very simple concept, when in fact it’s a really complex thing that has a lot of different factors that play into it. And as we go through what factors play into it, I think all of that’s going to make a lot more sense as to why it is that fundamental principle of fat loss, but other things need to be considered.

Aidan Muir:

Yeah, I think the equation is very simple, but all of the variables that go into the equation is really complex. And we have to… Calories in versus calories out isn’t really a controversial thing. It is a thing that does happen. And I think it’s very easy for us to accept it when it goes in the other direction. Being if we accept that the body’s made up of calories and we’re like, muscle is made up of calories, fat is made of a calories, we can therefore logically conclude that to gain a lot of body fat or a lot of muscle, there has to be some level of calories being stored in those areas. Terrible example, but we couldn’t eat zero calories per day and store a lot of body fat and a lot of muscle if that’s made up of calories, because where would those calories come from? We only get them externally. It’s just shifting that and going in the other direction as well. And the complexity of it is that there’s so many moving parts, like energy expenditures changes every day and energy intake changes every day, which makes it complex.

Leah Higl:

It’s not this super easy static equation. And I think that’s what’s the confusing aspect of it.

Aidan Muir:

So the first, a little bit more of a practical thing, is how do we figure out how many calories we need for what we want? And obviously because we’re talking about fat loss, we’re going to be talking about how many calories do we need for fat loss. And I think in a simple starting point, keeping in mind that there’s many ways to do this, is to get an estimate of what your maintenance calories would be. There’s heaps of ways to do this. One way that obviously I would recommend is using the calorie calculator on The Ideal Nutrition website or heaps of other similar options. But one thing I can’t stress enough is that it is an estimate. Ideally we’ve tried to make it as good of an estimate as possible, but it is still only an estimate at the end of the day. You use that as a starting point.

And as a simplified version, keep in mind you can do many different options, a simplified version could be you try and find your maintenance in practice as your starting point. Use a calculator like that to estimate your maintenance, but then you actually follow it for a few weeks and see what happens. If you are eating that amount of calories and you keep your exercise and activity stable and you monitor what happens, and if you gained weight, it would be a surplus. Because that is the definition of a surplus, it has to involve weight gain. If you maintained weight, it would be your maintenance calories and if you lost weight it would be a calorie deficit. And that’s an important thing because a lot of people are wondering, or they’ll say things like, “I’ve been in a calorie deficit for months and I haven’t lost any weight.” But the definition of a deficit isn’t based on the predicted formula or anything like that. The definition is it’s based on weight loss. It is basically being a calorie deficit is too few calories to maintain your body weight. That’s what the definition is.

So simplified version, you do this for a few weeks, you see what happens. If you gained weight and it was a surplus and you want to lose weight, you would reduce the calorie intake or increase energy expenditure. If you maintained and you want to lose weight, once again, you’d reduce calorie intake, everything like that. And you basically just want to find a deficit amount that works well for you.

Leah Higl:

Yeah, and I suppose with troubleshooting that particular system, let’s preface that you don’t technically need to track calories to do this. There are other ways to be in a deficit. There are other ways to do fat loss that isn’t calorie tracking. But for this specific example, it’s just an easier way for us to talk about it.

Aidan Muir:

Yeah. I like to just frame it that way. This is going on whether you’re tracking it or not. If you didn’t track your calories for three months and you maintained weight, your weight and maintenance calories on average, whether they’re tracked or not. I think it’s easy for me to say it as if you’re tracking, but then it sets it up for, well if you’re not tracking the same concept still applies.

Leah Higl:

It still applies, 100 percent, even if you don’t know the numbers. Which kind of leads us onto our next point, and that’s talking about why we specify that the formulas that we use or the online calculators, they only provide an estimate because those numbers are not perfect. It’s quite often that people will overestimate their activity levels is something that happens a lot, or just generally the fact that it’s not an individualized thing. Everyone’s going to be a little bit different. Your body composition, there’s a million things that play into your energy expenditure that are not necessarily going to be taken into consideration in that those simple calculations. So it is at the end of the day just an estimate.

And then on the flip side of that, if you are tracking calories, that’s also not a perfect system. Well, it would be pretty much impossible to track calories to the T. And underestimating calorie intake is also something that is really, really common. And I think where people usually find themselves is they’ve potentially slightly overestimated their energy expenditure and then they underestimate their calorie intake, think they’re in a deficit, but they’re not in practice and they’re not losing weight. So in terms of troubleshooting that, it really comes down to you start tracking whatever you want to do, you test it out, you test those numbers out, and then see what happens in practice, and then literally go from there like you said.

Aidan Muir:

Yeah. And I frame it being, find maintenance calories first and then go from there. But there are no rules of this. You don’t have to start at maintenance. That just is a simple way of me explaining it, but it’s no reason you couldn’t, instead of finding maintenance and then adjusting there, there’s no reason you couldn’t just jump straight into a deficit and then adjust from there based on what happens in practice too.

So a common question once we get to this point, this sort of calorie deficit is all of these kind of things, is how far below your maintenance should you go if you’re striving to create a deficit? If I was going to give a number and had to give a number, I’d say a solid starting point is 20 percent below your maintenance calories. But obviously this is so individual, it depends on what you want. If you want to lose weight really quickly, you probably have to go lower. If you want to feel good on doing all of this, you probably want to go a little bit less than that as well, potentially. And it also depends on how you respond to that. Some people could do that and feel incredible, other people do that and that feels like a massive change.

So I say 20%, good starting point. But instead of focusing on that number, I would just focus on what is happening in practice. If you take away too many calories, you might feel really hungry, fatigued, your training might suck, you might feel restricted, and there could be a bunch of other downsides that can come alongside being on relatively low calories. If you take away too few calories, the only downside is you just lose body fat too slowly. And I don’t know, another downside that’s associated with doing it too slowly is it also means you have to be in a fat loss phase for longer. But the only downside of having two high calories while in a fat loss phase, assuming you still on deficit, is it just takes longer. I would, for most people, depending on the person, start more conservative and then reduce as needed rather than start more aggressive and then wait until floors arise like getting too hungry or fatigued or whatever and then having to go the upper way. So I’d just adjust based on what happens.

Leah Higl:

Yeah. I think it’s easy to fall into that, go too aggressive and then you’re on it for two weeks and then you give up because it’s really, really difficult. It’s an easy trap.

Aidan Muir:

Yeah. And I often find that fat loss can be easier than a lot of people think. Don’t confuse that with me saying it’s easy because in a lot of cases it’s not easy. But a lot of people have tried aggressive approaches as they go to start off with, and every time they’ve tried that, it’s been a pretty rough experience. It’s like, well, we could have taken away half as many calories, felt a bit better in the process and made that progress longer term as well.

Leah Higl:

Absolutely. Another question that comes up a lot is, “Can you go so low calorie that your body stops you from losing fat?” So technically no, this is not something that happens. Never in the research in controlled settings do we see this issue arising. We know that with metabolic adaptation, that if you are in a calorie deficit and you have gone lower calorie, that your body will likely down regulate its metabolism and reduce the amount of energy you’re expending through your metabolism to somewhat counteract that. But it’s never to the point where it’s 100 percent of that deficit. So if you’re in, let’s say, a 1,000 calorie per day deficit, which is quite a lot, but your body would adapt likely, and you may end up burning 100/200 calories less per day. But it’s never going to be, you went from eating 2,000 calories to 1,000 or 1,200 and then you are all of a sudden you’re burning 1,000 less calories on average through your metabolism.

So whilst metabolic adaptation is a thing, and it’s something that can contribute to things like plateaus with other things and contribute to slowing down fat loss to a certain extent, it’s never going to be that you’ve gone so low that your body has gone into “starvation mode” and no longer responds to a deficit because of that.

Aidan Muir:

Yeah. It’s one of those things where people can say a lot of things that are true that then add up to something that is untrue. They can mention metabolic adaptation and a few other things that result in a reduction in energy expenditure. But when you add the context and you’re like, “Okay. Well that takes away 200 calories, but we’ve reduced our intake by 1,000.” It doesn’t add up in that case. But we’re going to talk about that more heaps in the next episode. As I was writing all this out, I’m just like, “This could be a monster episode. I want to split this up and keep this nice in short.” So we’ll talk about that in the next episode and why this happens in practice, this whole low calorie concept preventing fat loss or anything like that. We’ll talk about why it happens in practice and why it’s not seen in research and everything like that. But apart from that, this has been episode 79 of The Ideal Nutrition Podcast and hopefully you’ll continue with the rest of the series.