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Weight loss 101 - what is energy balance?

Updated: Dec 1, 2023

We often hear all about that ‘calorie deficit’ term, it’s just about calories in versus calories out to determine our weight, health and performance…right?! Wrong!

To a certain extent it matters, of course, but what does energy balance really mean? Let’s take the health and performance aspect out of the equation and also, in fact, all of the nitty gritty about what, other than energy in and out can affect scale weight and let’s talk the basics of understanding what energy balance actually is.

Well, the long and short of it is that energy balance is a dynamic and continuous process OVER TIME! (Important – one salad does not make us lose body fat and by the exact same token, you go out and eat a whole load of burgers and chips you aren’t going to wake up having immediately put on a load of fat).

The first law of thermodynamics – ENERGY CANNOT BE CREATED OR DESTROYED, ONLY MODIFIED IN FORM’ – so, energy is either used, lost or stored. We cannot store calories that aren’t consumed (so, no, you cannot be eating too low calories so your body ‘holds onto’ fat, otherwise no one would ever die of starvation).

The energy that we consume, however, is actually slightly different to that which is digested and absorbed – for example, one that is often cited is almonds – the energy content on the back of a packet of almonds is the energy that we actually digest, BUT this is not actually the same as the total energy that our body actually absorbs. Mind-blowing, right?! Another reason why the numbers you’re hitting on My Fitness Pal are not the be all and end all. This is also exacerbated more with certain conditions like Chron’s disease.

Be aware that government created daily recommended energy intakes for a lot of people are NOT helpful! We are all very different in stature and individual needs based on so many factors be it activity levels, goals, things going on under the hood, training performance, size, body composition, mestrual cycle, PCOS – I could go on.

Energy in is simply the energy we consume through food and drink.

So let’s talk energy out.

· Our Basic Metabolic Rate or BMR is the energy required for our body’s vital functions in a state of wake e.g. hormonal function, brain function, digestion etc.

· Non-exercise activity thermogenesis or NEAT includes conscious and subconscious activity that expends energy for everything that we do that isn’t sleeping, eating or formal exercise so think things like fidgeting, walking to work, moving about while cooking, ironing etc.

· Thermic Effect of Food or TEF is the energy burned through the digestion process which is, for obvious reasons, increased post-ingestion of food and increases a small amount as the energy content of a meal increases.

· Exercise Energy Expenditure or EEE is the last element I’m going to discuss here and covers the energy we burn when conducting formal exercise – and you may, in fact, be surprised at how little this can be!

All of these things popped together creates your ‘energy out’ which is, of course, extremely difficult to get an accurate estimate of and is very variable. It is for this reason that when tracking, dieting or eating in an energy surplus, the numbers we begin with are merely starting points to be adjusted based on progress and the feedback we get from your clever bod as we go along – it’s a process to be manipulated over time and I’m here to help any one of you that could do with a hand!

Peace and love, A x

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