All About Calories: The Truth About Fat Loss, Inspired By Herman Pontzer (Breather Episode with Brad)

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By Brad Kearns. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

This could be the most important podcast you ever listen to when it comes to understanding the true dynamics behind losing excess body fat, especially breaking free from the flawed notions that underpin the fitness and diet industries.

This show is inspired by my two recent shows with Dr. Herman Pontzer (#1 and #2), author of the new book, Burn: New Research Blows the Lid Off How We Really Burn Calories, Lose Weight, and Stay Healthy. This show aggregates the breakthrough insights about energy expenditure with what we know about calories to uncover, simplify, and demystify the truth about weight loss and caloric intake.

This episode completely challenges the foundational premise of the fitness industry as I reveal that you actually burn the same number of calories per day, regardless of exercise level and break down the constrained model of caloric expenditure. You’ll learn why the “additive model” of energy expenditure (which entails figuring out your BMR with a calculator and then adding and subtracting the calories consumed and burned throughout the day) can be highly inaccurate, which can be explained by the Compensation Theory (your vigorous workouts cause you to not only be lazier, but also eat more the rest of the day).

You’ll also learn that homo sapiens’ genetics transcends the nuances of our daily lifestyles and training logs and that we are the highest calorie burners among the apes (and the best calorie storers): Gorilla’s burn 20% fewer calories than humans, and apes in zoos actually burn the same amount of calories as a heavily active ape in the wild. I also reveal that activity really burns only a tiny bit more calories: moderately active people burn 200 more calories a day than inactive people, and hugely active people burn around the same amount of calories as the moderately active people.

I also talk about what happens when you try to flaunt your Homo sapiens genes and burn calories like crazy in the name of fitness or weight loss, which can be best summed up by this quote: “Reproduction, growth, repair, and locomotion are a zero sum game.” This means that if you do more of one, you take away/borrow from one or more of the others. I explain why the consequences of that are no joke: you’re on the thin red line of suppressed immune function, suppressed cognitive function, suppressed general energy levels, delayed recovery, reduced reproductive drive, and reproductive fitness. I also mention that female extreme endurance amenorrhea is the most visible example of this, as sadly so many women become infertile all just to run more mileage.

One important point to take away from this episode: if you reject the constraints of the human and march forward with an unsustainable lifestyle, compensations will be taken for you. This brings to mind stories I’ve heard from amateur fitness enthusiasts who often pair 6 months (or 6 years) of heavy devotion to CrossFit, but need to take 6 months or 6 years off for recovery. Similarly, when you look at the Biggest Loser contestants 6 years after the show, they have dysregulated appetite and fat metabolism. The majority of them ended up gaining all the weight they lost back and then some, and I talk about how this happens frequently to bodybuilders as well.

So how can this be? How is it that an ambitious exercise regimen will not help your fat loss at all? Dr. Herman explains: “Possibly an athlete is undergoing an initial adjustment to a higher level of training. And before they get used to it, the athlete is in a temporary unsustainable physique,” like prepping for the Tour de France. Or it could be that the athlete is also changing their diet as part of lifestyle improvement.

But what is the deal? How and why do we gain fat so easily, and how can we actually lose it, long-term, and not as a temporary fix? While Dr. Herman admits that losing excess body fat is “tough,” the truth is that there is a high genetic component to body fat percentage, and a high lifestyle component to dysregulated eating and fat gain. This is why it’s so key to focus on cultivating healthy sleep and exercise habits. I bring up Dr. Herman’s point that it is possible that high or low daily energy expenditure is set early in life, just that we don’t know yet what the precise mechanism is. He’s also noted two groups that appear to have high expenditure: athletes and subsistence farmers. What do they have in common? They both tend to grow up moving a lot, as well as eating a lot.

Whether it’s your genes, your environment, or some combination, high energy expenditure in childhood may remain intact throughout life, but Dr. Herman says we don’t know for sure. Being predisposed to high energy flux may help some people respond quickly to workouts and have more success keeping their weight stable through exercise, while for some others no amount of exercise affects weight loss.

If you want to try to figure out if exercise can help you easily lose weight and keep it off, ask yourself if you fit into one or more of the following categories:

1. You were extremely active as a kid, but are mostly sedentary now.

2. Until recently, you could eat what you wanted without gaining much weight, if any.

3. Like Mick DiMaria, you’ve spent most of your life in pretty good shape and only recently let yourself go.

If any of these ring true, there’s a good chance you’re high flux. That suggests your body prefers to eat a lot of food each day, and until recently you matched your appetite with a high activity level. And it suggests your body may respond quickly to structured workouts.

The Best Strategy to Lose Extra Body Fat

The best starting point of all is to simply ditch processed, nutrient deficient food in favor of high-satiety, nutrient dense foods (protein especially). Then the next step, which is taking an under the radar approach so you get a mild calorie deficit, without prompting compensation mechanisms. There are one of two ways to do this: you can implement a slight deficit each day or occasional extreme fasting (24 hours, 1 day a week). I personally like to trigger hunger now and then to increase my appreciation of food. And why not throw in a big fasting day? (This is what Mark Sisson does on days he’s flying.)

Dr. Herman says it accordingly, “Find a diet that leaves you completely satisfied with not in excess of calories. Pick a diet with rules, restrictions and guidelines so you are not prompted to overeat. Any diet is essentially a gimmick in the end. Cut carbs, cut fat, cut plants, intermittently fast, go compressed eating window, go vegan. Just implement rules and guidelines so you don’t have constant unfettered access to hyper palatable foods and overeating. Find a diet that leaves you satisfied and happy.” My latest book, Two Meals A Day, offers a simple but highly effective strategy: to simply implement new rules and a new norm to follow, instead of following the ridiculous 3 meals a day habit, which only came out of the industrial revolution. The carnivore diet is not only extremely high satiety and low insulin stimulating, but it also has great potential for fat loss. Fasting is another rule to implement to promote automatic success: a smaller eating window simply means less potential to overeat. It’s simple, smart, and most importantly, it works.

It can seem overwhelming trying to implement all the necessary parts of a healthy lifestyle, but when you break it down, it’s simple: emphasize sleep, reduce stress, don’t overtrain, and get rid of sugar, grains, and seed oils as these drive the overproduction of cortisol and dysregulate appetite and satiety hormones. Exercise and movement are obviously hugely important, as these prompt a reduction in systemic inflammation. Dr. Herman says research reveals that if you sit too much, your body becomes inflamed. Humans have a genetic requirement for near constant movement.

The importance of checking your intentions can also not be discounted. Form a healthy body image, decide to turn things around, and reclaim your genetic potential. My colleague Amy Lucas says, “I’m sure I’ll never be fat, because I believe I’m a skinny person.”

You’ll also learn that major fluctuations in body weight can be mistaken for gaining and losing fat, but are almost entirely natural fluctuations in hydration, glycogen retention inflammation, and water retention in cells throughout the body make for most of your body weight variation. When we talk about body fat, we are best away from scale and tracking according to the fit of a tight pair of pants. And if you don’t believe me, watch Nick Symmonds lose 10lbs in 24 hours of mostly fasting, not much water, and a few hard workouts and hot sweaty workouts.

That’s a wrap for today, and good luck! One useful reminder is to ask yourself: How many times have I been hungry in the last 30 days, or 30 years? Pushing the boundary a bit of what you think of as hunger, as well as forming a set intention to change your body, can really help weight loss efforts.

TIMESTAMPS:

This podcast shatters the basic elements of the modern fitness and diet industry. [01:40]

The truth is we humans burn around the same number of calories every day, regardless of our exercise level. [03:15]

How can it be that the lazy person next door burns the same calories as I, a gym goer, do? [10:21]

The brain burns most of our daily calories and then the other organs burning the rest independent from our activity level. [12:30]

When transitioning from the moderately active category to the incredibly active category, there is very little change in daily caloric energy expenditure. [14:00]

Muscle burns a bit more calories than fat. [16:59]

Calorie burning is happening, but we need to look at the compensation factor. When you are a hard driving athlete and burning lots of calories, you are spending less energy on your immune function, your reproductive function etc. [23:18]

Mark Sisson’s example is when he was running a hundred miles a week for seven years. He had many physical maladies which led him to become the Primal Blueprint guy. [26:55]

Burning the candle at both ends…burning more calories than you’re genetically adapted to could shorten lifespan. [32:25]

How can an ambitious exercise regimen not help fat loss at all? When you are super fit, you become super-efficient in burning calories. [33:48]

Your devotion to improving your fitness and working out inspires you to clean up your diet. [38:11]

So how does one lose excess body fat? Exercising more doesn’t really work, nor does prolonged caloric restriction. [42:38]

There are many cultural influences causing us to overeat. [50:04]

The best starting point is to ditch processed nutrient foods in favor of high satiety, nutrient dense foods. [52:12]

Pay attention to your hunger and satiety signals and notice when you’ve had enough. [58:21]

You can use almost any diet as long as it has rules and regulations that will keep you from overeating. [01:00:44]

Your exercise and lifestyle changes need to accompany the dietary transition. [01:05:14]

Gluttony and sloth are not the causes of obesity. They are symptoms of obesity. [01:08:23]

Start with forming a healthy image and then decide to turn things around with positive energy rather than disgust and self-loathing and all these flimsy motivators that only work for a short time. [01:09:55]

Your weight on the scale naturally can vary from day to day. [01:11:25]

LINKS:

QUOTES:

  • "Reproduction, growth repair, and locomotion are a zero-sum gain." (Dr. Herman Pontzer)

  • "If you want to live longer, lift more weights and eat more protein." (Robb Wolf)

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