Dr. Dan Benardot, a former olympic nutritionist and the current nutritionist for the Atlanta Falcons and Georgia State's athlehtes, came to my health class that has a focus on "Moving Often and Eating Well". I was shocked and engaged during the whole lecture as Dr. Benardot talked to us about energy balance and how to appropriately fuel our bodies. He debunked a bunch of healthy eating myths and uncovered some of the science behind weight gain and loss.
Sounds interesting right? Don't worry, I've gone through the lecture slides and came up with the five most important takeaways of Dr. Benardot's story of energy balance.
1. Humans are amazingly effective fat manufacturing machines
From a nutritionist standpoint, he tried to make it plain and simple: if you eat too much food, you make fat. If you eat at too little food, you will lose muscle and make fat.
What we eat is not simply an in and out process (the calories we consume vs the calories we burn). He highlighted the importance of having calories when your body needs them. Our endocrine systems work in real time, not on a 24-hour clock. This means it's more beneficial to eat smaller meals throughout the day to gradually fuel yourself as your energy levels begin to fall, bringing them back up to a beneficial level before your body goes into deficit.
Don't believe this is true? Dr. Benardot did a study that found there's a distinct difference in the body compositions of a person who always keeps their energy balance in a safe range of 200-400 calories above the necessary value to those who constantly throw their bodies into calorie deficit. Those who spend more time in calorie deficit result in a higher BMI and overall fat content in the body.
While you might technically "lose" weight initially when keeping yourself in calorie restriction, the weight lost is lean mass and muscle not fat. This is because your metabolism slows and your body begins to store fat to compensate for the muscle loss. On the other hand, a person who eats enough calories throughout the day keeps their body in good energy balance and will have a leaner mass body composition.
2. Weight is the wrong measure for virtually everything that it's commonly used for
It's not about the number on the scale, but rather fat mass vs fat-free (lean) mass. What I mean by this is that our body weight is determined by many different aspects such as muscle mass and fat mass, and the components of fat and muscle aren't equal. While a pound of fat and a pound of muscle weigh the same, their composition is much different, and there's a lot more depth to amount of muscle than there is of fat.
3. Low-calorie diets are doomed to fail
This is due to adaptive thermogenesis. "The decrease in energy expenditure beyond what could be predicted from body weight or its components (fat-free mass and fat mass) under conditions of standardized physical activity in response to a decrease in energy intake" leads to the same weight on lower energy intake, but the resultant weight has higher fat mass that makes you look bigger.
4. Very high doses of nutrients (supplements) can serve to be detrimental
The high doses can lead to lower tissue sensitivity and greater risk of toxicity. More than enough is not better than just having enough, so supplementing yourself with protein powder and god knows what else isn't necessarily the answer. The best way to get nutrients is to seek them directly from their natural sources.
#SpoonTip: You could even just try tossing a teaspoon or two of chia seeds into your smoothie for protein, omega-3's, potassium, calcium, and magnesium (to name just a few benefits of these little beauties).
5. 3,500 calories does not equal 1 pound
Our bodies are not bomb calorimeters that simply process calories directly in and out. If you eat 3,500 calories, you won't gain a pound. If you have a deficit of 3,500 calories, you won't just lose a pound.