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Calorie Deficits For Fat Loss (Calories In Vs. Calories Out Explained)
Is “calories in vs. calories out” (CICO diet) a valid model for losing fat, or is it just a “myth” like many people try to claim these days? Do you really need a calorie deficit for fat loss, and do calories matter?
You’ll commonly see this debate taking place nowadays in fitness circles…
Person A will say that in order to lose fat you need a calorie deficit in place by burning more calories than you take in. Person B then argues back that “calories don’t matter” because “a calorie is not a calorie”.
However, person B is making an error right off the bat, since a calorie is a constant unit of measurement that assesses how much energy there is in the foods we eat and in the tissues on our body. A calorie IS a calorie when it all comes down to it.
What IS true is that the body will process different *foods* differently depending on a variety of factors.
The actual calories are the same, but the food item they’re “packaged up in” is different. For that reason, 2500 calories on paper from one given fat burning diet won’t necessarily produce the exact same result as 2500 calories from a different diet as far as building muscle, losing fat and optimizing health is concerned.
The issue is that people will then take this information and make the massive, incorrect leap into saying that since food quality affects how calories are handled by the body, calories all of a sudden don’t matter and calories in vs. calories out is a myth.
But what most fail to realize is that the way food quality affects fat loss is still a result of how it impacts the calories in vs. calories out equation.
For example, consuming more protein results in a higher thermic effect which directly affects the “calories out” portion of the equation. Eating more fiber causes less caloric absorption which affects “calories in”. These are just two examples of many.
The bottom line is that body fat is stored energy, and to stimulate your body to break that fat down for use as fuel, you must create a calorie deficit. There is no way around that.
Saying that calories don’t matter or that calories in vs. calories out is a myth is flat out false and is based on a misunderstanding of how CICO actually works.
Furthermore, food quality can only take you so far.
Once you have a decent fat loss diet in place that is based around nutrient dense whole foods, contains enough protein and fiber and is laid out in a way you can sustain, there isn’t much you can do beyond that point to stimulate fat burning just based on food selection alone.
If eating clean is the ultimate answer to fat loss, what do you do when your progress inevitably stalls as you get leaner? Just continue eating cleaner and cleaner? That’s obviously not realistic.
From there, it really is just about managing calories in vs. calories out and ensuring that you’re in a net calorie deficit over time.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you must count every every calorie you eat, though most serious trainees probably will benefit from calorie tracking at least in the beginning stages of their program.
How many calories should you eat to lose fat sustainably?
A good range to aim for is about 300-500 calories below maintenance per day.