The Only Way To Lose Weight (It's that Simple!)
By Tyler Woodward
In this guide we will discuss the science and principles behind weight loss. You will learn everything you need to know to begin to lose fat TODAY.
Let's dive in!
Table of Contents:
- What Is A Calorie?
- What Is Metabolism
- Budgeting Analogy
- Macro & Micronutrient Composition
- Weight Loss Supplements
- Weight Loss Exercises
- Tracking progress
What Is A Calorie?:
A calorie is a unit of energy. To be precise a calorie is equal to the amount of heat required to increase the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1℃ or 4.186 joules of energy. As humans, we actually measure everything in kilocalories, meaning 1kcal (kilocalories)=1,000 calories, despite referring to them as calories.
All Calories Are Created Equal
In my opinion this is an irrefutable point. A calorie is a unit of energy… that’s it. There are no “good” or “bad” calories, there are just calories. Why? Because a calorie is a unit of measurement. If I run one mile or two miles the miles are just miles, nothing less nothing more. While 300 calories of oreos and 300 calories of chicken have a very different nutrient composition, they both contain the same amount of energy.
What Is Metabolism
Metabolism is defined as “the sum of the chemical reactions that take place within each cell of a living organism and that provide energy for vital processes and for synthesizing new organic material” (Kornberg, Britannica). I like to think of cells like mini people… every living cell is able to:
- Respond to a stimulus
- Grow & Develop
- Maintain Homeostasis
- Process energy
In order to accomplish these tasks they require an input of energy. Because humans are not autotrophic (an organism that can produce its own food) we must consume food to supply our body/cells with energy. The sum of all the energy used in each cell to fuel these reactions is equal to the amount of energy we utilize on a daily basis. Metabolism can be broken down into three parts:
- Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) - BMR makes up about 70% of your metabolism. It is the amount of energy you expend in order to maintain homeostasis. If you didn’t move an inch throughout the day this would be the amount of energy your body uses. Your basal metabolic rate will vary depending on your age, height, weight, amount of muscle mass, genetics, among other factors
- Non-Exercise Adaptive Thermogenesis (NEAT) - NEAT makes up about 20% of your metabolism. It is the amount of energy you expend doing small movements throughout the day, things that you don’t normally think about using energy. This includes walking throughout the day, talking, typing, cooking, fidgeting, etc..
- Exercise - Exercise accounts for about 10% of your metabolism (if you exercise). It is the activity that we usually account for doing things like resistance training (weightlifting or calisthenics), running, swimming, walking (for exercise), etc.
When you add the calories consumed during each of these, you will find the amount of calories you are burning on a daily basis aka your metabolic rate/metabolism. Based on your metabolic rate the amount of food you eat will put you into either a caloric surplus, caloric maintenance, or a caloric deficit.
- Caloric Surplus - When you consume more calories than you burn on a daily basis, this will result in weight gain over time. Remember calories are just energy, so a caloric surplus is just a surplus of energy. Generally when you are in a caloric surplus your body will preferentially store fat because it is your body’s most efficient method of storing energy. Performing some form of resistance training can “sway” your body to add muscle mass instead of storing fat.
- Maintenance - When you consume just as many calories as you burn you will not gain nor lose weight. It is possible to gain muscle and lose fat while at caloric maintenance if you do it strategically and again perform some form of resistance training.
- Caloric Deficit - When you consume less calories than you burn daily, you will lose weight over time. Again remember that a caloric deficit really just means an energy deficit. Your body will preferentially burn any stored fat as energy to make up for this deficit. It is possible to gain muscle while in a deficit by doing resistance training, but it is the least efficient way to gain muscle
*Note - If you are looking to lose weight/fat or gain muscle, being at caloric maintenance is not an efficient way to do so. Being in a surplus supplies your body with extra energy to allocate to building muscle and being in a caloric deficit forces your body to use its energy stores to compensate.
Remember when I said, “All Calories are created equal”, well this is where it shows. No matter what foods you are consuming these calories from, it is the number of calories that you consume which will dictate weight gain, weight loss or maintenance. If your maintenance calories is around ~2500 calories daily whether you consume 3,000 calories a day of chocolate or 3,000 calories of brussel sprouts you will be in a caloric surplus and will therefore gain weight. And the same goes for a caloric deficit
How do I go about finding my metabolic rate?
Sadly, this is where it gets a bit complicated. Due to our genes and our environment everyone is different and everyone will have a slightly different metabolic rate depending on numerous factors.
So what’s the best way to find my metabolic rate?
There is actually a really interesting test called the Resting Metabolic Rate test, in which they measure the amount of carbon dioxide that you breathe out and oxygen and are then able to estimate your basal metabolic rate. Other than that, it really comes down to trial & error. I would go as far to say that almost 90% of people have never actually spent any time tracking the amount of calories they consume on a daily basis.
If you have no idea how many calories you are consuming on a daily basis, how in the world are you supposed to know how many calories you are actually burning? If you happen to fall into the majority of people who have never tracked their calories, then you might be thinking something along the lines of… well I’ve made it this far without tracking calories why would I start now? Well let me explain...
Budgeting, My Favorite Analogy For Nutrition
My dearest friend Chadleyson recently came to me with his financial dilemma, Chadleyson is looking to start saving for his future. But in the last few years Chadleyson has managed to accumulate quite a bit of debt despite having been steadily employed throughout this period.
After delving into Chad’s financial records we discovered that his current level of income is not enough to support his spending habits. In Chad’s current position he is making ~$60,000 annually, but with all his expenses including rent, utilities, car payments, insurance, ect… he is left with only $20,000 of “spending money”.
If Chad wants to save money his non-vital spending must be less than $20,000 annually.
See where I’m going here? Calories are like money. Your body uses calories to fuel its metabolic process, we use money to buy things like food, water and commodities and pay for necessities.
If you want to save money, you need to spend less money than you make. If you are in debt, you are spending more money than you are making. There are no ifs, ands or buts, its just how it is.
So Chadleyson (apparently he also wants to lose weight), if you want to lose weight you must be in a calorie deficit. You do not need to track the amount of calories you are consuming everyday in order to lose weight, but it is the only way to ensure weight loss.
Albert Einstein defined insanity as, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”. If you are someone who “cannot lose weight no matter what they do” and are not tracking your calories, I GUARANTEE you are not eating in a caloric deficit.
If you want to lose weight, having a general idea of your caloric intake is the biggest advantage you can give yourself.
Luckily, today there are a million resources available which we can use to track our calories and to help us find our metabolic rate. Just about every health & fitness guide will have some sort of calorie calculator to estimate your metabolic rate.
Activity trackers like fitbit can help to estimate the amount of calories you burn during exercise and throughout the day. And there are apps that help to estimate the amount of calories and track all the food we eat. It’s important to understand that all of these modalities are estimates. It is really only through trial & error that we can find exactly what our metabolic rate is. So take these resources with a grain of salt.
If your estimate says that your metabolic rate is 3,000 calories daily and you are consuming about 2,500 calories daily, but are still gaining weight over time then you are not in a caloric deficit. This could be because you are actually consuming more than 2,500 calories or because it was an overestimate of your metabolic rate. Whatever the reason, take that information and put it to use, either decrease your caloric intake or improve your tracking.
Tracking your calories is a skill like anything else, the longer you do it for the easier it becomes and the less you have to think about it. The more accurate you are with tracking your calories the more consistent your results will be. Is it worth weighing every piece of food that you eat to determine its exact number of calories?
That’s really up to you. I think at some point it's a great idea for everyone to weigh their food, so they have a really accurate idea of how many calories they are consuming on a daily basis. But I’m also not saying to bring your scale out to the bar ;).
Macro & Micronutrient Composition:
Now that we have an understanding of how our metabolism works let’s talk about food. As we all know, foods contain a number of calories depending on their composition and weight, but they also contain a given portion of both macronutrients and micronutrients.
There are four types of macronutrients:
There are four categories of micronutrients:
Our body uses these macro and micronutrients in order to build an assortment of biological compounds like hormones, glycogen,muscle or fat depending on what the body requires at the time.
For example, iodine is required to produce the thyroid hormone and iron is necessary to produce hemoglobin.
Our goal in our diet should be to consume these nutrients at the same at which our body consumes them. If we do not consume these nutrients at least at the same rate our body uses them then over time we will become micronutrient deficient. When we become nutrient deficient our body has one of two options:
1. Compensate - The body figures out another way to produce this compound (more vital compounds will likely have multiple methods to be produced).
*The more micronutrients we are deficient in the less our body is able to compensate*
2. Decreased Metabolism - The body cannot compensate and therefore fewer chemical reactions are able to occur and less energy is consumed. This often results in hormonal imbalances over time.
While micronutrient deficiencies may seem foreign or abstract they are very prevalent in today’s society. To combat micronutrient deficiencies the US dietary guidelines provides recommended daily allowances for each micronutrient intake to prevent micronutrient deficiencies from occurring.
It’s important to remember that again, these are a guideline and may vary from person to person. If you are worried about being micronutrient deficient or just want some peace of mind, micronutrient tests are available to accurately test your body’s micronutrient levels.
What About Macronutrients?:
Digestion can be viewed as the breakdown of large macromolecules into single unit monomers.
Nucleic Acids ------>
Quick note- These are macronutrients, not the enemy. Carbs don’t make you fat. Fat doesn’t make you fat. Protein doesn’t make you fat. But consuming excess calories by consuming too many of any one of these macronutrients will make you fat :)
If you have ever had blood work done, you may have noticed a section in the results for blood glucose (sugar), blood lipids, and amino acid levels. The breakdown of these macromolecules into monomers allows for them to be absorbed by the cell through our blood.
These cells utilize these monomers to create a usable form of energy typically through the converting these molecules into ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate), the “cellular currency” of energy. There are two main mechanisms by which the cell can process the conversion of these monomers into ATP.
Glucose Metabolism (aka Cellular Respiration) : When there is enough glucose in supply, the cells will naturally favor glucose metabolism because it is more efficient. Meaning that per molecule of glucose, more ATP will be produced in the cell compared to fatty acid metabolism. Additionally, the byproducts of glucose metabolism like CO2 are beneficial and used to fuel other biological processes down the line.
- Fatty Acid Metabolism: Fatty acid metabolism is like our body’s natural backup system, when glucose is short in supply, the body will shift to using fatty acids or fat as fuel. When there is a chronic glucose deficiency, the body will shift into a state of ketosis, in which only fatty acid metabolism occurs.
While “burning fat as fuel” sounds great, we know that fatty acid metabolism is less efficient than glucose metabolism, but it also produces a number of “sub-optimal” byproducts mainly ketones and catecholamines.
These byproducts up-regulate the production of stress hormones like cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline. While this isn’t “optimal”, fatty acid metabolism is not “bad”. If our cells didn’t have the ability to break down fatty acids, then we would die if we ran out of glucose. Also, in order to lose fat we need to use the fatty acid metabolism to break down fat cells.
In the last few years we’ve all heard of the infamous keto diet. The keto diet is a high-fat and moderate protein diet with a very low carbohydrate intake. This forces your body to utilize fatty acid metabolism in order to continue to generate ATP as fuel.
While this sounds great, it doesn’t work out like this in actuality. Remember, if you are not in a calorie deficit, you will not lose weight or fat. If you consume fat at the same rate at which your body uses it for fuel, you will not lose any fat/weight.
How Does This Compare To Other Diets?
When in a calorie deficit, at some point your body will be forced to use fatty acids as fuel in order to compensate for the lack of supplied energy which will result in fat loss over time.
But how come I’ve heard so many benefits associated with the keto diet?
While doing the keto diet your body experiences an up-regulation of catecholamines and ketones, which as we know are precursors to stress hormones. including: cortisol, norepinephrine, and epinephrine. At first, the increase in these hormones results in increased energy/alertness, due to cortisol activating our “fight or flight” response, and loss of water weight and bloating due to glucose depletion in our cells.
These benefits are short-lived and typically only last a few weeks before having chronically high stress levels takes over and results in down regulation of our thyroid and testosterone levels, decreased energy levels, and often bloating due to excess estrogen levels. It is for these same reasons that anyone that stays in a calorie deficit for a prolonged period of time, will experience similar symptoms.
The keto diet is not advantageous for fat loss or general health
Are there any diets that you recommend?
Yes, the one you’ll end up sticking with. A lot of times today we view diets as temporary things we do to lose weight, but here’s the thing… your diet really shouldn’t change to lose weight, only the amount of calories you are consuming.
While there may be certain foods or drinks you choose to cut out or consume less frequently to make maintaining a calorie deficit easier, the majority of the foods you eat should remain the same. If you cannot see yourself continuing to eat this way for an indefinite period, then it is not sustainable.
Now that we’ve established that there is no such thing as “good” or “bad” calories, what actually makes food healthy or not? For the purpose of this article I am going to define “healthy” as any food that does not actively take away or reduce our current state of health. When you think about it, the key to any good diet comes down to remaining in balance with your body by consuming both macro and micronutrients at a rate equal to your body’s consumption of them.
Certain foods are more micronutrient dense (contain more micronutrients per gram) than others, if you want to quantify these foods as being “healthier” then sure, go for it. But at the end of the day, a “healthy” diet really comes down to meeting the body’s macro and micronutrient needs.
This also means that the chocolate bar, ice cream or margarita’s you ate aren't “bad” for you, but just contribute less to satisfying your body's micronutrient needs because they are less micronutrient dense relative to other foods.
Stop labeling things as “good or bad” without any context or perspective! Life is not in black & white, the same food that is “bad” for humans might be vital for another animal.
But what if I want to lose weight?
Here’s the thing, weight loss is not “healthy” for you. It’s an additional stress placed on your body due to being in an energy (calorie) deficit while also making you more susceptible to micronutrient deficiencies due to the limited food intake.
For this reason, I do not recommend losing weight, unless you have excess body fat. Now, obviously, you’re reading this article because you want to lose weight and by all means go for it, but just understand that weight loss has a cost.
Is the cost of weight loss worth the benefit?
If you are an overweight individual losing weight will make you healthier in the long run and is worth the short-term stress induced. If you are already in a “healthy weight range” and just want to lose that last bit of fat to get those abs ‘poppin’ or fit into a smaller jean size, there’s a lot less benefit for your body to do this.
Now I, along with thousands of other weightlifters, purposely go through cycles of both calorie surpluses and calorie deficits in order to gain muscle mass through the calorie surplus and then lose any excess fat acquired during the surplus through the calorie deficit. Ultimately this decision is up to you.
*Now, before you freak out I am not advocating against weight loss, I am advocating for caloric maintenance. Caloric maintenance is the balance point of your body and where you will achieve optimal health. To get to this state of optimal health, we need to be in a “healthy” weight range by not having excess body fat.
Fat Loss Supplements:
HINT - There aren’t any. Weight loss supplements might actually be one of the biggest scams on planet Earth. The only way to lose weight is to maintain a calorie deficit over a sustained period of time! The only way a supplement could theoretically help you lose weight is by correcting a micronutrient deficiency, which will result in an increased metabolic rate. It should be noted that for the majority of the population this will only have a marginal effect on increasing their metabolism and may or may not even be noticeable.
What about Fat Burners?
For a second let’s assume that fat burners work the way they’re intended or better yet, “marketed” (the evidence for most of them is iffy at best). The fat burners push your body to use fat as fuel by using the fatty acid metabolism.
But, if you are not in a calorie deficit, your body will just replace the fat it burned with the fat you just ate. If you are in a calorie deficit, then sure fat loss supplements could theoretically help to increase the amount of fat you burn, but the effect is going to be minimal (if any).’
Exercises for Fat Loss:
HINT - There aren’t any! Exercise burns calories. By exercising you increase your total daily energy expenditure which allows you to either consume more calories/food daily while staying in a deficit or increases the size of your calorie deficit.
The goal of exercise should be to improve your overall health or induce physical adaptions in your body like muscle growth, not for weight loss. There are no exercises that are “better” for fat loss than others, so find whatever form of exercise you enjoy doing and stick to it. But remember exercise is for improving your health, not for weight loss.
The Thermo Diet:
My go-to recommendation for diets is always The Thermo Diet. This is UMZU’s diet/lifestyle program designed to help you achieve optimal health. The program is based on all of these principles we have discussed and aims to maximally increase your metabolism by correcting any micronutrient deficiencies you may have accumulated.
The program also goes in-depth on what foods we recommend consuming to get to this state of optimal health and what foods we recommend avoiding and why. As I mentioned before when I defined the term, “healthy”, there are foods that by consuming them actively decrease our health and while I will not be discussing them in this article, I highly recommend checking out this program here for more information!
Setting yourself up for Weight loss:
- Step 1 - Find your caloric maintenance then subtract ~ 20% to put you in a caloric deficit.
For weight loss we estimate that most people will be in a caloric deficit if they consume about 11 calories per pound of their current body weight.
(I weigh 200lbs so I would be able to consume ~2,200 calories daily while maintaining a caloric deficit.)
- Step 2 - Set up your macronutrient intake.
- Carbs - should make up for about 50% of your calories, divide this by 4kcal/gram .
Protein - Recommended intake should be about .8 grams/ per pound of bodyweight
(I weigh 200 lbs therefore should consume 160 grams of protein * 4kcal/gram = 640 calories)
- Fats - About 25% of your diet, take the amount of calories you have remaining and that’s about how many calories of fat you should consume (or divide by 9kcal/gram to get the amount in grams)
- Step 3 - Micronutrient Intake
- Make sure you are consistently consuming micronutrient dense foods.
- Use the FDA guidelines for Recommended daily allowance for micronutrient intake as a guide.
- Step 4 - Avoid any “blockers”, foods or substances that take away from our health.
Tracking your weight loss journey can be a difficult and frustrating task. There are two main ways to go about it of which you can use either :
The Infamous Scale - The scale is a great way to track your weight as it declines over time. Sadly, weight loss is usually not a linear journey and your weight will fluctuate a lot throughout the day and day to day. If you choose to use this method I recommend weighing yourself first thing each morning, to make it as consistent as possible.
If you don’t like looking at the scale, then maybe only weigh yourself weekly or even not at all. I personally find the scale very rewarding as I see my weight drop over time, but remember it is normal for your weight to fluctuate and you will be heavier some days than others. While this can be frustrating, it is not your weight day-to-day on the scale that matters so long as you are losing weight over time, be that week-to-week or month-to-month.
- The mirror - If you have a bad relationship with the scale, then the mirror can be your best friend. When we lose weight/fat over time it becomes very visible all over our body when you’re seeing features you have that you didn't know existed or had not seen for years. In reality, the number on the scale is kind of irrelevant.
I mean if you and I both weigh 200lbs, but if you’re 5’ tall and I’m 6’... you could probably use to lose a couple pounds. We should also note that weight (like calories) does not provide any information about your body’s actual composition. Two people at the same height and weight can look completely different if one has a lot more muscle mass. I recommend getting to a body fat level that you are both comfortable and confident in that does not interfere with your daily lifestyle.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading my article! I hope you found it helpful and maybe even enjoyed reading it :). Also if you’re not already, I highly recommend following @coacheugeneteo and @jamessmithpt for more information on weight loss among many other interesting topics.
If you have anything to add to this article, or any helpful comments or criticisms feel free to reach out to me in our facebook groups (The Thermo Diet Community Group, The UMZU Community Group) or on Instagram @TylerWoodward__).
Until next time… be good~Tyler Woodward
B.S. Physiology & Neurobiology