Why the Calorie Obsession Ruined Weight Loss for Millions

Just Burning Calories Won’t Keep the Weight Away

If you burn more calories than you consume, you’ll lose weight. While this is undeniably true, it’s a fact that doesn’t tell the whole story about how our bodies work. Worst of all, it’s led to a widespread calorie obsession that gets in the way of people achieving long term, sustainable weight loss.

Let’s say you eat a banana. By the logic of calorie counting, you’d have to jog 1.1 miles to break even. Eat a chocolate bar, that goes up to 3 miles. That’s a lot of time and effort, more than can be realistically expected of most people, especially in city life where hours in the day are at a premium.

Not only is one-to-one calorie burning inefficient, it’s also only effective in the short term. The moment you stop exercising or over eat, the body will start storing excess calories as fat again. This is why so many people will lose weight but then struggle to keep it off. Exercising for hours every week and constantly going hungry to try and reduce calories simply isn’t sustainable and often it’s utterly miserable.

If weight loss is your objective, then the evidence suggests you shouldn’t solely focus on your calorie deficit. Instead, you need to “reconfigure” your body so that it constantly burns more calories, even when you’re not exercising.

If you don’t use it, you lose it

Our bodies are highly adaptive and very selfish. As long as a body is surviving, it won’t dedicate unnecessary resources to maintain structures and systems that aren’t in use. This is why inactive people become unfit: the body simply has no need to be strong, agile or flexible, while weight gain is the result of the body storing unused energy as fat so that it can be accessed later.

Effective exercise works by exploiting the body’s adaptivity to achieve health goals, using strenuous activities to “trick” the body into building muscle, strengthening joints and improving cardiovascular function. For us, the objective is to be fitter, healthier and look better; for the body, the objective is simply to survive. But if your exercise isn’t challenging your body, these adaptations won’t occur, no matter how many calories you burn.

Challenging exercise doesn’t just result in the more obvious physical changes, it also affects us at a cellular level, which brings us to mitochondria.

Mitochondria are the power plants of your body

Mitochondria are found in the cells of every plant and animal. Their function is to turn nutrients into energy, which is why they’re more concentrated in parts of the body that use a lot of it, such as our muscles, cardiovascular system and the most power hungry organ of all, our brains.

If a muscle is underdeveloped and rarely activated, it won’t require much energy, so there are typically fewer mitochondria cells. Likewise, the more active a muscle the more mitochondria it requires to function, and the more energy they can use.

This is why it’s so important for exercise to be challenging. Yes, you can burn calories by jogging, which will eventually reduce your body fat, but you’ll struggle to keep the fat from returning if that jogging didn’t cause physical change. However, if your muscles and cardiovascular system are forced to adapt to the increased demands of exercise, mitochondria levels will elevate and your body will continue to burn calories at a higher rate even when you’re not exercising.

The beneficial effects of challenging exercise are taken to the extreme with high intensity training, where the objective is to push the body to its limits over short periods of time. This is similar to “interval training” commonly used by athletes.  Click here if you want to learn more about the benefits of high intensity training and how just three minutes of exercise a week can significantly improve your health.

If you need help achieving your fitness objectives, our functional trainer Ryno Erasmus is also available to provide one-to-one guided training and tailored exercise programmes for people of any fitness level. You can book your appointment now by contacting us at info@westlondonphysio.co.uk or by calling 020 7937 1628.

Keep moving,

cameron tudor physio notting hill


Cameron Tudor

Clinical Director, West London Physiotherapy

For any other questions regarding this topic please do not hesitate to contact West London Physio on 0207 937 1628 or email me at cameron@westlondonphysio.co.uk