In Response to A Fat-Loss Client

Read time: 2 minutes

A client of mine has been struggling with fat loss without success. This past weekend he went away to a health spa, where they measured his basal metabolic rate. He was surprised that his metabolic rate was a lot lower than he thought.

Upon returning he emailed me and said that basically, if he wants to be lean, then he’d “have to live on a diet.” He then asks if there’s anything we can do to increase his basal metabolic rate.

My reply to him:

Hi *****,

Everyone, whether lean or fat, has to live on “a diet.”

Don’t be surprised by the “low” metabolic rate.

First, metabolism assessed through any measurement of oxygen-exchange rate is only an estimation.

Basal metabolic rate is often a lot lower than most people believe, even when adding activity levels.

Your organs burn far more calories at rest than your muscle.

Each pound of muscle you add can burn only an additional 6 calories per day — not the mythical 50 calories. Not much in other words.

  • 1 hour of weight training averages a burn of 450 calories.
  • 1 hour of CrossFIT averages a burn of 560 calories.
  • Difference = 110 calories.
  • 110 calories is less than a tiny Yoplait yogurt. Or a less than a Skinny Cow.

The point is this:

Increased muscle mass does not burn significantly more calories.

Killing yourself for an entire hour of CrossFIT burns only a few calories more, but can be neutralized with a few extra bites of food.

Basal metabolic rate is a reflection of current total body weight; increasing 10 pounds of muscle burns only an additional 60 calories per day.

Therefore, basal metabolic rate (limited to mostly organs) is not changed easily.

The best way to lose fat is eating less.

Although many diets work (Zone, Atkins, Pritikin, Paleo, high protein, high carbs, etc.), they’re mostly hypothesis that scientists and promoters still argue about.

However, the single, irrefutable law of weight and fat loss is a long-term calorie deficit.

So whatever diet you chose, if you want to lose fat, you must eat less. It’s that simple. It’s not debatable.

As such, I have found long-term success in eating fewer times per day. I also make sure most of the food is nutrient-rich — mostly vegetables, fruits, and meats. This may help to preserve optimal health while in a calorie deficit. Beyond this I still enjoy some sinful food — or what’s the point?!

Our culture is conditioned to eat 4 to 6 meals a day, believing this stabilizes blood sugar, maintains muscle, speeds up metabolism, etc. But no scientific evidence can demonstrate these factors to be different in fewer meals a day.

From a metabolic standpoint, there are no advantages to spreading 1, 2, or 3 meals over more smaller meals throughout the day.

People who eat 5 or 6 meals per day are still overweight. Bodybuilders who eat 5 or 6 meals are still fat in the off-season, and are lean only when they “diet down” for a competition, typically by eating fewer calories. 

My suggestion, *****, is that you view your exercise program as a way to become physically fit, strong, healthy, and build some muscle mass for “shape,” while you reconsider your diet as the primary factor for your fat loss.

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16 Responses to In Response to A Fat-Loss Client

  1. Mark says:

    Last night was a perfect example of what Taubes talks about in regards to exercise induced hunger. I had my usual afternoon meal of a sweet potato with butter and meat on the side. Then I went to the gym to train clients and then myself (5×5 of Deadlift and Bench Press). Afterwards I was ravenous, eating anything on hand as I was too impatient to wait for dinner to cook (leftover chicken curry with rice). I went to bed feeling satisfied, not overly stuffed, but today I’m feeling the effects of eating too many tortilla chips, nuts, and ice cream. I have to be more conscious when I get like that. Do you ever deal with stuff like this?

    Also, what are your thoughts of artificial sweeteners (like diet energy drinks and diet sodas) both in and out of my daily fast? I usually stay away from them during the fast as I’ve read that they boost insulin just like real sugar does but at night I find myself finishing my wife’s AMP Sugar Free drinks that she’s hooked on (no problem falling asleep either). Thanks

  2. Kevin says:

    Johnny… this is a good post! Awesome.

    Mark: I bet looking at the basics of what Johnny says will answer your question. Eat nutrient dense “real” food, less times during the day.

    Stop the grains & sugar and let your digestive system have a break so your body can get back in balance.

    I’m thinking that once you adapt too good, nutrient dense foods, and your body balances out… killer cravings will fade away.

    • Mark says:

      Thanks Kevin.
      I’m going to try and stick with starches from sweet potatoes and/or rice, some veggies, some fruit, meat, natural fats (coconut milk, butter, coconut oil, heavy cream, olive oil), cheeses, very little refined sugar, very little refined vegetable oils, very little wheat and see where it takes me. I really like fasting during the day. A couple of tablespoons of cream and I’m good to go until 2 or 3 o’clock.

  3. Mark says:

    Yeah but I’m going for more of a low insulin state and not necessarily a no calorie fast. I think benefits can still be had from just ingesting some fats, hopefully. It works well for me and I’ll see if I end up getting results like Johnny. I doubt it but I’m trying to remain positive.

  4. Johnny says:

    Mark,

    Artificial sweeteners may still stimulate insulin release. There was a study I read back in the late 80s showing merely putting a tablespoon of peanut butter on the tongue, but not swallowing, can trigger insulin release. Perhaps (although I’m not certain) this is an conditioned associative response through flavors and taste. The more you’ve consumed sweets in the past, the more likely your body will respond to even non-caloric sweets. (But see my last point below.)

    Kevin,

    You bring up a good point. I assume “balance out the body” to mean less insulin resistance and more efficient nourishment. This concept aligns with the hypothesis presented by Gary Taubes, but currently I have a feeling the reduced craving is more likely an adaptive response to eating less. Craving is complex; but, its magnitude and frequency are probably adaptable.

    Josh,

    You’re right that “cream in your coffee” makes it not a fast. I try to remind myself, though, that the benefits of fasting is multifactorial. The primary benefit of fasting for weight management is fewer calories consumed, period. Less insulin production is important for a fasting hormonal profile, but a complete absence may not be necessary for the many health benefits seen in fasting, including fat loss. (This takes us back to my point above for Mark’s artificial sweetener.)

    I believe that fasting should not be a chore.

    Best,
    Johnny

  5. Bec says:

    Hi,
    I’m new to your site (came accross it via fitness black book) and after reading through some articles, I’ve gathered that you believe that you can gain an ultimate physique through diet alone, and that exercising can’t make up for a crappy diet.
    I’ve heard of plenty of individuals who are a bit more lenient with their diet, and workout very hard to get their figures. How is their excercise making up for their crappy diet???
    Thanks for your help 🙂

    • Johnny says:

      Hi Bec,

      To be clear, I’m saying that a person can get LEAN through diet — I’m not saying a diet alone can deliver “an ultimate physique.”

      But, I’m curious… what do you mean by “an ultimate physique”?

      Thanks for reading,
      Johnny

      • Bec says:

        Thanks for your response!

        Sorry, I suppose ultimate physique was a bit of a hyperbole. Just making reference to those ‘ripped’ and ‘shredded’ individuals who seem to workout endlessly to get their figures.
        I’m a fitness blog junkie and am in a constant state of confusion when it comes to weight loss. Yes a calorie deficit must be in order, but then in some of your blogs you talk about a calorie deficit being negative in the long term (which I agree with), so then how do people get to where they want to be? Or are we destined to live with what our genetics gave us?

      • Johnny says:

        Hi Bec,

        First, welcome to the blog! I appreciate and enjoy comments. Interacting with the blogging community is fun and forces me to keep learning.

        There are many people who are “ripped” whether they workout a lot or only a little. I also have met people (tour guides in Hawaii) who are extremely lean — like 6-pack abs and veiny arms — and all they do is hike a few miles on gentle terrains everyday, carrying a few pounds of first aide kit in a backpack on their backs. Some people are naturally lean despite the inclusion of “crappy food” in their diet, while others must work very hard in the gym.

        The inclusion of crappy food in a diet doesn’t mean the entire diet is crappy; the diet might still be within the caloric balance; or their high amount of exercise is helping to PREVENT weight gain. Studies (in rats and humans) show that exercise down-regulates the obesity gene. Down-regulation of the obesity gene does not mean weight loss but a prevention of weight gain.

        http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9228205
        http://healthcare-research.suite101.com/article.cfm/regular_exercise_trumps_the_obesity_gene

        But not everyone has the obesity gene, so many people probably stay within dietary caloric balance, despite the amount of exercise they do (a lot or a little or none), while others don’t get fat despite the food they include.

        For the rest of us to get lean and to stay lean, we have to focus on eating less. But if we’re going to eat less, then it’s probably more important to eat wholesome, real food to maximize nutrient availability. I believe this may contribute to long-term success in caloric deficit.

        As it has always been said, you can’t out-exercise a crappy diet. And also I don’t put too much stock into genetic predisposition, as most often a gene is expressed only if the environment is right — too many calories, too much crap food, too little exercise, or a combination.

        As far as building muscle to give “shape,” or to add sheer muscularity, resistance training is necessary. Also, it gives us a dietary cushion, keeping in mind that exercise PREVENTS weight gain. Also, in those who have some form of metabolic disorder (like insulin resistance), exercise can give them a jump-start to fixing the problem while they get their diet in order by eating better — like eating whole, real food and perhaps eating less.

        But exercise should be viewed as an activity independent of weight loss, and only as something that is enjoyable and/or healthful. If we want to get lean, eat better.

        I still strongly believe that a diet similar to a primal diet is very important, especially for those who are currently very overweight. But I’m beginning to believe that simply eating less is the most important. It has a positive effect on metabolic factors such as blood sugar, insulin regulation, and fat and energy metabolism.

        Best,
        Johnny

  6. Josh says:

    Cream may not effect insulin levels much, but it certainly takes the body out of “fasted mode” and into “fed mode” by blunting GH. Fat blunts GH more so than other macros, both in duration and degree. I’m not against the cream in coffee either, and greatly appreciate its nutritive properties, but I decided to avoid it on my 24 hr fasting bouts, because I feel like I can get more out of the fast, health-wise and fat-loss wise.

    As to artificial/Zero-calorie sweeteners, I’ve read studies that go both ways, as to whether they effect GH/insulin levels. Aspartame has been shown to not effect either on many occasions. The only thing I’ve seen is that some give “cephallic-phase” insulin secretions. This refers to pancreatic stimulation as a reflex from sweet tastes on the tongue. The stimulation is usually minimal, though, and although I’m not saying I think artificial sweeteners are healthy, a great many people get very lean using a great deal of them.

    • Johnny says:

      Hi Josh,

      We’d definitely would do better under a complete fast state, if that’s the intention. No argue there.

      Also, thanks for the info on artificial sweetener. Very interesting contradictive research, no doubt.

  7. Bec says:

    So can eating the same amount of calories in crap food equate to the same results of eating the same amount of calories of healthy wholesome food?

    • Johnny says:

      If both induces a caloric deficit, then you’ll probably lose weight the same. But in the long term I’d question health and aesthetic effects between the two. The debate lies primarily in the metabolic advantage derived from eating whole, real food — particularly low-carbs.

      I’ll have to say, though, there’s not enough research to make a strong claim about this metabolic advantage. There are many people who are very lean while eating a non-paleo diet.

      As for me, I always encourage whole, real food — a primal diet or something close to it. Everyone can become healthier from such a diet.

  8. College Girl says:

    I would just like to say thank you for this post!

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