There are a few absolutes in the world that we live in.
You need to be in a caloric deficit to burn fat.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term caloric deficit, it simply means that in order to burn fat, you need to consume less (or burn more) calories than what’s necessary to maintain your current weight.
Now everyone will have a different daily caloric intake to maintain their ideal weight based on age, gender, and activity level. Take me for example. I am 175lbs, 29 years old (for another 2 months at least), and am pretty active on a daily basis. In order to maintain my weight, I need to consume around 2700 calories per day. However, if I wanted to lose weight, I would need to eat less than 2700 calories. That would put me in a caloric deficit.
Aside from liposuction (which we don’t recommend), you will not lose weight without being in a caloric deficit. So by this simple logic, as long as you’re eating less than what’s necessary for you and your body, you can eat whatever you want as long as you’re in a deficit.
Lose weight by eating nothing but doughnuts?!
Go for it! If your daily need to maintain your current weight is 2000 calories, you can eat 1700 calories worth of doughnuts for the next 3 months and lose weight! WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE!
C’mon now, you had to see that coming, right?
Here’s the thing. Your body doesn’t technically run on just calories alone. It craves other things like vitamins, minerals, trace minerals, phytochemicals, antioxidants, flavonoids, fiber, etc. Without these things, your body is essentially a high performance Ferrari trying to run on repurposed vegetable oil.
Vitamins, minerals, and all the micronutrients just listed do a TON of stuff to promote the proper and optimal functioning of your entire body. Everything from cell repair, hair and skin growth, muscle rebuilding, removal of cellular waste, and brain functioning (just to name a few) all benefit from ingesting the proper micronutrients.
So when your main and only concern is total number of calories consumed on your quest to lose some fat, here’s where you’ll hit a pitfall. Let’s revisit our example of eating 1700 calories worth of doughnuts to lose weight.
The doughnuts, as mind-blowingly delicious as they may be, will likely not be a significant source of protein, fiber, and a majority of vitamins and minerals.
Unfortunately these guys aren’t a solid choice for weight loss.
They will, however, be a significant source of refined sugar, processed carbs, and white flour.
This combination leads to ’empty calories’ meaning the doughnuts contain little to no nutritional value while still packing a wallop in terms of calories.
This makes your body sad because not only are you deprived of vital nutrients, but it will also likely not create satiety, or a feeling of ‘fullness’ which will cause you to feel hungry sooner than you actually are.
This leads to overeating.
Overeating leads to a calorie surplus.
A calorie surplus is the exact opposite of a calorie deficit.
You get fatter.
Trying to lose weight by only focusing on the quantity of calories and not the quality of calories, while in theory will work, but is still inevitably a sure fire way to fail when it comes to fat/weight loss.
Not only this, but did you know that your body will actually crave more food when it’s deprived of micronutrients? It happens like this… you eat doughnuts (or chips, fast food, cookies, processed crap, etc), which contain little to no nutritional value. Your body says, “Hey, I didn’t really get any Vitamin B12, magnesium, folate, selenium, or iron in that meal… buuut I kinda need it right now. Brain, eat more please.”
And your hunger response is triggered again.
So you eat more crap because, well, you’re under your target caloric intake for the day! Who cares what you eat!
This time your body says, “Wow! More food! This is great… but I still need those same micronutrients PLUS copper, niacin, and phosphorus this time.”
Boom, hungry again.
See where this is going? At the most basic level, your body only cares about one thing: survival. And it will damn well make sure that it does what’s needed to be done in order to do that… even if it means ingesting excess calories for the sake of obtaining vital micronutrients.
So listen, even though you can lose weight by eating literally anything you want as long as you’re in a caloric deficit, it’s a dumb idea in the long run. It’s like removing something from your toaster with a metal fork… just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should do it.
Take home point: total calories do matter most, but not at the expense of food quality.