You already know that it requires a caloric deficit to lose weight, or at least you should know that. You need to burn more calories than you consume or consume fewer calories than you burn. Either way, it’s a process that requires patience and hard work, but it boils down to simple math. But is there a way you can eat to lose weight based on the foods you choose?
The simple answer is “yes!” A caloric deficit is the basic premise to weight loss, but there’s also the thermic effect of food to consider. That’s right, you’ve no doubt heard the term “thermogenesis” used to explain some of your favorite fat burners and weight loss products, and the concept is exactly as it sounds. Your body ramps up your metabolism due to the heat created by increased reactions within your body. You can literally burn more calories due to thermogenesis.
Obviously, the more calories you burn, the more weight (fat) you can lose. However, when you’re on the same diet and/or exercise program for an extended period, your body will eventually adapt and become more efficient at using the food you eat. Your body is always trying to reach a state of homeostasis where everything is in balance. That’s good for your overall health, but it makes it tough to stay on the downward path of weight loss and fat burning.
Luckily, you don’t have to be stuck with just reducing calories and/or increasing physical activities to break out of your body’s adaption, often referred to as hitting a plateau. You can also manipulate the actual foods you eat. Each macronutrient (protein, carbohydrate, fat) has a range of thermic effects, so you can alter what you eat to lose weight. And the thermic effect of each can be significantly different.
It’s absolutely true that you need to count calories for weight loss, but there’s also the saying that “a calorie isn’t always just a calorie.” While that’s not entirely true (a calorie is a calorie, and there’s no real way around that), it does drive home the point that our body processes calories from fats, carbohydrates, and proteins differently. At least from an energy-expenditure standpoint.
As mentioned above, total caloric intake and activity levels aren’t the only ways to take advantage of calorie burning. The simple act of digesting food also burns calories, and that’s when you can debate the fact that all calories aren’t necessarily created equal.
When it comes to overall calorie burning, your resting metabolism generally equates to about 60-70% and your activity level will normally add about 30-40%. With diet-based thermogenesis only accounting for 5-15%, it may seem too low to consider worthwhile, but consider that effect over time… Say an 8-12 week dieting phase. Now that adds up to something that would put you much further ahead than you would’ve been.
Each macronutrient has a different thermic effect, so it makes sense to alter your diet to take advantage of those differences. Protein requires the most time and effort to digest, so it has the highest thermic effect. Carbohydrates have a range of thermic effects depending on the source and whether it’s a processed or whole-food source. Fat has a double-whammy effect on the negative side… It delivers the most calories per gram while requiring the least amount of effort for your body to assimilate and store.
So, how do you manipulate your macronutrients so you can eat to lose weight? Here are a few pointers:
Generally speaking, the thermic effect isn’t that different between various sources of meat-based protein. The big difference comes from the fat content of each. In other words, the lower the fat content, the higher the thermic effect.
Knowing that the work your gut has to do on protein in order to assimilate it will give you a thermic benefit might have you thinking you should make it even harder work by chewing less. That doesn’t work and has other negative effects on your gastrointestinal system, so chew your food completely and let your stomach do its natural job the rest of the way. Also remember that more isn’t always better with protein content, as you can only assimilate so much per day. Anything beyond that will be stored as muscle glycogen or fat.
Not all carbs are the same, obviously. Processed carbs can have the same minimal thermic effect as fat since there’s less work for your digestive system to handle. That’s not to say you should avoid simple or easy-to-digest carbs, as those are ideal for pre- and post-workout since they can be assimilated quickly and help transport other nutrients into hungry muscle cells. Otherwise, it’s the fibrous, complex carbohydrates you should stick with when you’re trying to eat to lose weight.
As with carbohydrates, not all fats are the same either. Healthy fats have a slightly higher thermic benefit, and they’re just plain good for you, so stick with monounsaturated and medium-chain triglycerides when possible. And while good fats are crucial to many bodily functions, and can even help with fat burning, they’re still calorically dense no matter the source and have a low thermic effect, so eat what you need and move on.
So, while there’s not a huge difference in calorie burning based on food choices at any given meal or on a single day, there is still enough difference that the cumulative effects are well worth the effort over the long haul. It’s not just your activity level or what you don’t eat that will help get you in shape, you can also eat to lose weight.
Note: For information purposes only. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.