Calories In vs Calories Out Smackdown


Calories in < Calories Out = weight loss

How many times have you heard this grim equation?

Look, you can’t argue with physics – it’s true, you need to consume less calories than you burn in order to lose weight. But the Calories In & Out debate is only a small part of the overall health equation.

Protein > Fat > Carbs

In the weight loss equation, protein fares slightly better than fat which fares slightly better than carbs. ie – people who got the majority of their calories from protein were able to lose & maintain more weight than those on fat or carb rich diets.

But don’t fall into the trap of thinking carbs are evil. In his fantastic book, In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan shows that historically each main component of food has been vilified at some point. While these days everyone seems to be terrified of carbs, in the 90s it was fat, and in the 50s it was protein.

You do need all three macronutrients in your diet. Your brain requires glucose (from carbs) to function; some vitamins are only fat soluble (so you need fat in your diet to absorb them); and protein helps build muscle (so you don’t shrivel down to a skeleton).

Eating X calories ≠ Y hours of exercise

I bet you’ve seen a ton of calories vs exercise equations. They go something like “eat a Mars Bar and run on the treadmill for 3 hours”. The only thing these equations are good for is understanding calorie density. Food manufacturers have managed to condense massive amounts of calories into tiny tasty morsels.

From an evolutionary perspective, to get the same amount of calories from a Mars Bar you probably would have had to eat the entire wildebeest yourself.

So understanding calorie density is important.

But to then think the only way you could eat anything is to hold a mental (or physical) calculation of how much exercise you need to do in order to burn it off is a waste of your time.

Your body is an incredibly complex organisation of 50 trillion cells all working together to keep you alive, conscious, safe and content.

The amount of body mass (which includes organs & bones), the amount of lean muscle mass, your hormones and your genetics all play a part in how many calories your burn just by sitting reading this blog. Let alone how many you burn while you’re exercising.

Exercise = BIG PICTURE

Ya gotta look at the big picture.

Exercise gives you a TON of benefits that far outweigh just burning off your food. Increasing lung capacity, cardio endurance, and building lean muscle mass are all obvious and long touted ones.

Moreover, it helps you be able to run for the bus, carry the heavy shopping up the stairs, pick up a child, play in the park with them, it gives you emotional resilience so you can comfort a friend, increases your libido (wink wink nudge nudge) and lifts your mood.

In fact exercise was the Number 1 factor in improving wellbeing across a huge cross section of studies. Check out this amazing animation called 23 and 1/2 hours by Dr Mike Evans.

Food + Do + Positive Attitude = Good Mood

Personally, I prefer this equation for sustainable health.

Eat wholesome, nutritious food that brings you joy.

Do a type of exercise / form of movement every day that brings you joy.

Have an attitude of gratitude.


Over to you? Do you have any health equations? What do you think of counting calories?

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