• Kevin Mullins

Fat Loss and You - Is it Calories In or is it Calories Out?

Ask the average person what needs to be done in order to lose weight and you'll be sure to hear something a lot like, "just eat less and exercise more". The common thought has long been that you need to drastically reduce calorie intake and aggressively ramp up exercise output in order to see any real change in your body.

It is supposed to be nothing but salads and two hour stints at the gym....

Except it's not.

For most people it is only one of the two that poses the biggest hurdle towards their fat loss efforts. They either need to cut back on some of the erroneous calories they consume throughout the day or they really need to step it up at the gym and kick some ass.

Sure, some do need to intervene on both fronts. Especially those who do not currently exercise or manage their dietary intake. Yet, the average person who is seeing their progress slow does not need to anything too rash or aggressive. In fact, radical intervention can cause metabolic problems for otherwise healthy individuals.

Let's take a look at what each of these situations may look like. If you feel as though you fit into one of the category, then you'll want to stay until the end when we look at some awesome strategies for attacking your weakness!


The Problem is Calories In

Let's just face the facts on this one.

A lot of people have a very hard time controlling the hand-to-mouth motion. They struggle to stop themselves from eating every time they are bored, distracted, sad, happy, and every emotion in between.

What makes this worse is the mass availability of calorie-dense, but nutrient deficient foods that are chemically designed to make you enjoy them, and think about them the next time you need a bite.

Add in massive serving sizes, mindless eating binges, and the prevailing belief that our body composition is a only product of calories in vs. calories out - and you find a lot of people over consuming calories on a daily basis.

Ironically, some of the worst offenders are those who are regularly kicking their own ass at the gym.

They justify their meals must quicker by relating it to that day's workout intensity. For all intents and purposes they are absolutely crushing it in the gym, are likely in a caloric deficit, and do need a bit of a "re-feed". However, that re-feed should come from an additional serving of fruit or grains paired with a protein source.

Yet, many times it becomes a burrito with sour cream and guacamole, or an extra glass of wine and a slice of buttered bread before dinner.

When this individual is going to check themselves on a scale, with calipers, or just by using the eye-test...they expect to see significant progress. They remember all the sweat and the burning muscles. Their Fitbit has been saying they've been getting ten thousand steps a day too.

Then, there is no change.

Frustration and a sense of defeat kick in, and one of two things happen (both of which are disastrous):

  • They super restrict calories but attempt to maintain the same exercise intensity. They figure they'll starve the fat off their body. This method, especially with women, can lead to negative effects upon the endocrine (hormone) system. It can also lead to long term body composition issues and potentially - eating disorders.

  • They'll throw their hands up, say F*** it, and abandon ship for a week or two. They'll do everything they hadn't been doing in an effort to compensate for the time they've lost. (I've done this - and it isn't pretty).

In order to avoid this we need to have some solid strategies to employ when our workouts are rock star, but our dietary habits could use some tweaking. These simple approaches are designed to create a two hundred to four hundred calorie decrease in your dietary intake (depending upon what your diet actually looks like), so that you can inch your way into a better deficit and restart your fat loss!


Strategies to Cut Calorie Intake

1. Take a step back from your daily diet and view it with objective eyes. What is the one "silly" food that finds its way in there on a consistent basis? Are you grabbing a cookie every time you check out with a salad? Are you snacking on chips and guacamole as you are preparing dinner? Are you drinking a huge sugar-bomb from your favorite coffee shop every morning?

Everyone's silly choice will look a little different, but the truth is that we will all survive just fine without that food. Habitual behaviors such as snacking while cooking, or starting your day with a particular latte are the ones we justify quickly with the most shallow explanations.

Like Dan John has said: "Eat Like an Adult".

2. When you are eating your "meals" are you simply throwing down calories so that you can get to work on time, or have an extra few minutes to close your guys before your lunch is over?

Are you coming home to a dinner that you eat mindlessly as your eyes can't leave your television screen?

Most people do, and so don't feel like a jerk if this applies to you. The fact is that eating is an extremely inefficient use of time in a world that is paid by the hour, and built upon maximum productivity. Why would you slow down and stare at your meal when you can hammer out emails or see who is going home on the next Matchlorette show?

A good habit to practice, and one that my fellow T3+ coach Teresa Harris taught me, is to breathe in a square prior to your meal:

3 seconds in, 3 seconds hold, 3 second exhale, 3 second empty-lung.

A couple trips around that square and your parasympathetic nervous system will kick in. Blood flow will shift towards the gut, your heart rate will lower, and your ability to taste and smell your food will increase. Furthermore, you'll regain the critical analysis of your meal. Instead of just shoveling food into your mouth while lost in the glow of the nearest screen - you'll see that you are eating french fries instead of vegetables.

That can impact your choices going forward, which will quickly lead to fat loss if your problem at lunch and dinner is starchy carbohydrates in place of vegetables.


The Problem is Calories Out

The meticulous dieter who hits their calorie goal day in and day out but still can't lose weight would fit in this category. The person who plans out their macros and nails them on a consistent basis fits here too. Early to bed, and hardly a night out. There haven't been many (if any) cheat meals.

Every "rule" of nutrition is being observed. So, what is the problem?

Chances are that you are not working out with enough intensity, volume, or duration to create the stimulus necessary to achieve your fat loss goals. This is even more true when cardiovascular exercise is the only form of exercise that is done.

At the end of the day you are not going to look like a fitness model if you aren't putting in the work in the gym. Properly refueling your body with nutrient dense foods that are appropriate for your body composition is a critical step in achieving this success (see above). However, if you aren't causing significant stress to the systems of the body, then you will not achieve your goals.

The human body is made up of a variety of systems that all play integral roles in how we look. A very short overview of this follows:

Our skeletal system provides the frame for which our muscles hang - it is a constant variable, especially for those trying to increase muscle size, or decrease the appearance of an area.

Our muscles create and take on forces all while providing the shape of our body. Our fascial system stores and transmits energy in ways that our muscles can't do alone.

Our nervous system transmits energy at light-speed in order to make movement, thought, and the subconscious occur seamlessly. Our circulatory and respiratory system feed our body with oxygenated blood and quickly remove the growing levels of carbon dioxide in our tissues.

Our endocrine (hormones) system may be most crucial for our body composition. The massive interplay of hormones in our blood stream and at receptor sites on tissues are the catalysts for both good and bad actions in our body. Our hormones can speed up or slow down our metabolism, can increase or decrease our muscular tension, and can increase our heart rate and blood sugar, or decrease them just the same.

In terms of exercise these following statements hold true:

  • Exercise has the potential to stimulate hormones, for better or for worse, in amounts - which can catalyze positive or negative reactions in the body. Specific forms of exercise are capable of positively stimulating fat loss (lypolysis), muscle growth (hypertrophy), and performance adaptations in the body. (chemical)

  • Exercise has the potential to breakdown and damage muscle, fascial, and skeletal tissue as a result of the mechanical stress placed upon it via the load, volume, and intensity that is utilized.

Thus, your intention in every workout should be to positively stimulate the hormones that can cause lipolysis and hypertrophy, while stressing your body with adequate and appropriate mechanical forces in order to cause metabolic stress and need for tissue adaptation.

Translation: Your workouts should be challenging, very challenging.


Strategies to Boost Exercise Output

1. Try working out with someone who is more experienced than you, or at the very least, someone who trains in a different way than you. This could be your friend who loves to do sprints on the treadmill, or the one who does all the weight lifting. The point is that this individual should push you to challenge your body with exercise selections that you wouldn't normally make.

The goal of your workout is to embody the classic motivational quote -

"Get comfortable being uncomfortable."

Having that push to make you do the things you wouldn't normally do just might be the catalyst you need to unlock new potential and results with your body.

2. Think about trying to do more with the time you are at the gym. Far too many people take far too much rest between sets of their exercises. Especially those who lift a little on the heavier side. It is easy to justify some extra rest when you have multiple plates loaded on a barbell.

Except that rest is full of text messages, switches to the playlists, random chats with other lifters, and probably waiting to start your next set when someone else can see it....

Set a time for your workout - and then take 10 more minutes off of that. (Chances are you thought to yourself "Ok, 1 Hour"). Well, now you have 50 minutes to work with and you need to get done everything you intend to get done.

By decreasing your rest intervals you'll immediately boost your metabolic output, do more overall work (a variable involving time), and leave the gym feeling wiped out.

Doing cardio?

Go the same distance you normally would travel, but force yourself to do it just a little bit faster, or on a steeper incline. You'll notice the difference!



Losing weight, specifically body fat, is a tremendous undertaking. Anyone can successfully achieve it if they are willing to explore their strengths and weaknesses. The key is to be honest with oneself and admit where the problem lies.

For some it is the weekend binge and a complete abandonment of their normal program. Others justify every craving with their workload in the gym. Then there are those who nail the diet, but their workout programs leave much to be desired.

It doesn't matter which occurrence fits your story - it only matters that you begin addressing it.


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