Weight Loss Part 1: Where Do Your Calories Go?

By Brad Matushewski

April 12, 2016


Posted In: Education, Fitness, Langley, London, Nutrition, Saskatoon, Surrey, White Rock

Whether you gain weight or lose weight will depend on only two things, calories out versus calories in. If you burn more calories than you absorb, you lose weight. Absorbing more than you burn means you gain. This come down to “simple” thermodynamics…but wait, here is where it gets – complicated.

Let’s say for argument sake you are on a perfect iso-caloric diet (calories in = calories out out or in other words, “perfect balance”).  Now imagine I add 2 medium coffees per day with cream and sugar, a “double double” if you will. If everything else remains the same, this would translate to a 48 pound weight gain after one year! Wait, what? That doesn’t sound right.  How can having 2 coffees per day make me gain so much weight?   Well it isn’t quite that simeple.

You see, there are 3 main ways our bodies can burn calories:
1) Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)
2) Physical Activity
3) Thermogenic effect of eating


At 70%, the biggest portion of calories that we burn is typically our basal metabolic rate. This is the energy that our bodies use to keep us alive for things like, keeping the heart beating, breathing, immune function and central nervous system activity, etc. Physical activity is any sort of movement and the thermogenic effect of eating is the calories required to break down food into usable calories and resources.

When we set out to lose weight, our bodies perceive this as a crisis and can adjust the basal metabolic rate much like a thermostat to help fight back against weight loss. It is not a perfect system but it can be very effective.  The same is true to an extent, a few extra calories can be “metabolized” without weight gain.  Our bodies have a “weight thermostat” and it can adjust up or down to an extent.  Improper nutrition choices and sedentary lifestyle  will adjust things in a predictable way whereas sensible nutrition and physical activity can result in the opposite effect.  One caveat though, our bodies are wired to readily store calories in times of surplus and vigorously defend against weight loss when intake is down.   Therefore, our BMR has the biggest influence over how many calories we burn on a day to day basis.

What can you do about it?

This is where a careful and sensible plan is crucial which includes proper eating and nutrient timing along with an effective exercise program. Eating appropriately to lose weight is far more effective when combined with resistance training. Resistance training in particular is far better  at preserving and even stimulating our basal metabolic rate compared to cardio exercise alone.  For example, a brief high intensity exercise bout can raise our BMR for up to 24 hours post-exercise, meaning you just ramped-up your biggest calorie burner for 24 hours.