You Have To Eat to Lose. And I Don’t Mean Salads.

Let me guess. Ever since you were a kid in health class, you’ve been told the same thing about weight loss: to lose weight, all you have to do is eat less calories than you burn. You probably memorized the numbers at some point: 3,500 calories equals about 1 pound of fat. So you decide (and even Google tells you) to burn 3,500 more calories than you take in to lose a single pound. You start eating salads. You go to the gym once, sometimes twice a day.

And absolutely nothing happens.

It’s a familiar story. It’s an unfortunate story. And sadly, it’s the backbone of hundreds of thousands of weight-loss regimes that cause men and women to blame themselves for not having enough stamina or self-control to get the weight off. I don’t understand how America got so scientifically whacked that the medical community is encouraging people to live like this. It’s insanity. Worse, it’s futility—because drastically cutting calories to lose weight is about as effective as trying to catch the flu to lose weight. It might work, but you’ll be weaker and sicker than you were than when you began.

I’m here to tell you that as a nation, we’ve been duped.

You have to eat to lose. And I don’t mean salads.

Take Hannah for example. Hannah is 32 years old, with a job in the Music Industry. She came to me three weeks ago, as a last resort. For years, she’d been wanting to lose 10 pounds. She’d put herself through hell, following the advice of Google and the Mayo clinic, and most dietary books on the shelf.

“I worked myself out to death,” she says. “I’d go to the gym two or three times a day, and I’d eat a 100 calorie protein shake in the morning and just salad the rest of the day. I thought if I could create a calorie deficit then the weight would come off. But it never worked.”

Standing there in my gym, all I could do was shake my head. America. We’ve been doing it all wrong.

When I was a graduate student at Meharry Medical College, I learned some of the ways the body reacts when you begin to lose weight by cutting what you eat. Your body is hard-wired to enable you to handle all kind of stresses, psychological or environmental. When a stressful situation is at hand, the hypothalamus, a tiny region at the base of your brain, sets off an alarm that there is a threat—and it signals the adrenal glands to release hormones such as cortisol, epinephrine or norepinephrine to name a few.

The main function of cortisol is to maintain normoglycemia (normal blood sugar levels). It alters the immune system, suppresses the digestive system, and may change your mood. In other words, it actively works to conserve resources in case things get worse. If a person is not eating enough food, cortisol takes resources like muscle and fat to turn it into glucose for the cells so the cells can make ATP (adenosine  triphosphate) which is like gasoline for the cells. Long term, it will eat away at muscles more readily than fat.

Even the people that do lose weight, are losing muscle—not fat. This is why you get the “skinny-fat person” phenomenon. The guy who’s skin sags because he’s lost so much muscle tone. Have you ever seen someone who has been losing weight, and their eyes seem to be sunken in? It’s because they’ve lost muscle tone, even the small essential muscles around the eyes and lips—facial muscles that make us look youthful and vibrant. Muscles that prove we are healthy.

So this begs a huge question. How do you know how many calories you should be eating?

A person's total energy expenditure (TEE) is directly proportional to the person's lean body mass. The best way to know your lean body mass is to get a body composition analysis, i.e., Bod Pod testing or calipers by an experienced professional.

The Bod Pod measures fat and lean tissue, and is able to calculate the exact number of calories you should eat on days when you are active, and on days when you are sedentary. When Hannah came through and had her own Bod Pod test, she was shocked by the number at the bottom of the report.

“Experiencing the Bod Pod was awesome because I had no idea that I needed to eat that many calories for my activity level,” Hannah says. “It was 1000 calories more than I’d expected. I was eating a salad with chicken for lunch and a side salad for dinner. I stared at that number, and thought — how in the world am I going to eat that much? And it was scary to me. I thought there was no way if I was eating that much that I would lose weight.”

Hannah is on a meal plan that is very similar to the one I give a lot of my clients: five balanced meals throughout the day. And, believe it or not—I told her to ease up on the working out. We included two rest days in her plan, and limited her gym sessions to one per day. Here are her amazing results:

Hannah, at Week 1 and Week 3.

The results don’t lie. In a matter of 3 weeks, Hannah had lost 5.5 pounds of fat. Not just pounds. Five pounds of fat—we knew because we retested her in the Bod Pod. You can tell visually, because she lost so many inches off of her waist.

“It’s not about what you do at the gym,” Hannah says. “It’s mostly about how you eat, which is the opposite of how I was thinking before. I wasn’t eating enough, or the right things. I’d been conditioned to believe that salads are the right thing. But that’s just not true.”

I wish there was some kind of magic pill to go along with the truth I’m giving you. Maybe then people would believe me. And if I have to convince people of that one person at a time, then so be it.

Posted on August 12, 2015 .