Calorie Deficit Always Works, Just Maybe Not Always as Fast as the Next Person

A friend on Facebook posted a link to an interesting study write up:

Weight loss differences on the same diet.

From what I can see in this write up, it seems that the study was done very well with many aspects and potential confounders accounted for:

  • They had each participant fast in a room calorimetry (measures calorie expenditure through breath). It showed how different bodies responded (sped up or slowed down) to a fasting situation and gave a metabolic baseline for the diet deficit.

  • Each person was put on a maintenance diet of the same macronutrient proportions (50% carb, 30% fat, 20% protein) based on these measurements to check baseline.

  • Then every person on individualized to a 50% calorie deficit and not allowed to exercise through the length of the study.

Some of the interesting results:

  • While “common knowledge” says you need to accumulate a 3,500 calorie deficit to lose a pound of fat, the participants lost one pound of weight with anywhere between 1,560 to 3,000 calorie deficit.

—> The full study is behind a pay wall, and according to the Google, losing a pound of muscle is 600 calories. So I’m going to guess that each person may have been losing a combination of fat and muscle through this study. Especially since exercise wasn’t allowed.

  • All participants lost weight.

—> A calorie deficit always works, it just works at different speeds for different people.

So lets say you go on a diet to lose weight. How can you make it the most effective for you?

1) Get “twitchy”!

  • This is purely observational, but the people I talk to who have a hard time putting on weight at the ones that never sit still. I’m not talking exercise, I’m talking about general movement. They’re the people that walk to your office instead of shooting you an email. They’re doing housework instead of sitting in front of the TV. This non-exercise movement adds up significantly over time.

2) Pick up heavy things!

  • Heavy is relative. Just pick up something that makes you go “oomph!” This will provide for two things: you will better retain muscle on a deficit if you keep using it, and muscle recovery from lifting creates a longer metabolic “after-burn” than pure cardio does. You don’t have to be a powerlifter, just pick something up, put it down, pick it up, put it down….

3) Enroll a friend.

  • And rather than think of your friend as “make me do this!” accountability, try to frame it as “let’s brainstorm ideas to make this more interesting!” I love sharing quick and dirty recipe ideas with other time crunched athletes, and trading new exercise ideas with trainers to keep things fresh. That’s how I got into circus classes, after all.