Are Detox Diets Good or Bad?

Are Detox Diets Good or Bad?

Those colorful, expensive bottles of juice goodness look healthy. But are the detox diets they promote good for you?

Like most things related to diet & nutrition… it depends.

In this article we’ll cover what science says about detoxing and whether or not these cleanses may are good for losing weight (But don’t get me wrong… there’s nothing wrong with slamming down some green juice for health)!

What Does it Mean to Detox?

Like other health buzzwords such as “eating clean” and “going green”,  “detox” has no universal definition.

That’s partly because like nutrition… there’s a heavy emphasis on belief systems rather than scientific facts. In other words, “nutritional detoxing” is usually based on what someone thinks rather than what is.

When someone asks me if they should detox…

My first question is, “What are you trying to detox?”

We’ve seen throughout history that in the absence of science, people are usually left with confusion, superstition, and myth (plus charlatans ready and willing to take their money).

This trend is no different: Despite a lack of scientific support for any  “detoxifying” dietary process, many “detox diets” have emerged. They take various forms, but most prescribe:

  • certain foods,
  • special juices,
  • “detox teas”, and/or
  • colonics

And some simply promote fasting.

Of course, the imagined purpose of these interventions is to purge would-be toxins (dirty, yucky, poisonous chemicals) from our bodies. And yes… there are many, many toxins and/or compounds in our enviroment (including food) that are harmful to our body.

But again… What toxin specifically are you trying to detox from?

By definition, toxins are small molecules, peptides, or proteins capable of causing disease on contact with (or absorption by) body tissues.

The science is pretty clear on how to detox from certain substances. But depending on what you’re trying to detox, not one particular diet will do it. There are very specific steps to getting toxins unbound from your tissues, binding them to inert agents that can then be expelled by the body via respiration, sweat, urine or stool.

Fortunately, The Body Cleanses Itself

Since WW2, over 85,000 chemicals have been introduced into our lives. Out of those 85,000 approximately 2500 have been tested.

The truth is, we can’t avoid toxins so it actually makes sense to do some sort of detox. I personally try to give my body a break from toxic exposure every 3-4 months. But it’s also important to remember that our bodies have very robust detoxification systems.

Our major organs of detoxification include the:

  • digestive tract,
  • kidneys,
  • skin,
  • lungs,
  • liver,
  • lymphatic system, and
  • respiratory system.

These systems break down chemicals (toxic or otherwise) into other forms we can eliminate via the toilet, sweat, or breathing.

And the body seems to do a pretty good job of this when placed in a balanced (i.e. healthy) environment. 

If our body detoxes itself, why go through the trouble of detoxing?

While it’s true that your body detoxes by itself; it’s also true that your body wasn’t designed to be continuously exposed to the amounts of toxins in modern society and industrial civilizations.

In other words, do you think your liver (or your body) was genetically programmed to deal with:

  • overuse medications,
  • sleep disturbance,
  • chemicals continuously slathered on our skin,
  • not getting enough physical activity,
  • over-consumption of alcohol,
  • smoke, breathe in smog and ingesting other environmental pollutants like heavy metals,
  • eating nutrient-poor foods that the body might not recognize as “food”, and
  • overusing supplements?

You see… all these factors lead to higher levels of toxins in the body, a weakened ability to excrete them and thus… a higher risk of disease.

So the theory behind a detox diet is that, by giving the body a break… one can atone for lifestyle sins and purge all the nasty chemicals from the body. It’s a sort of health reboot.

But with respect to losing weight… this guilt rooted logic ignores something important:

The best  way to “detox” the body is to ramp up your natural detoxification systems and to take good care of them in the long term not to bypass them altogether, as you do when you’re on a detox diet.

Detoxing to Lose Body Fat Doesn’t Work

For a moment, let’s assume that a detox diet will help you get rid of impurities. (It doesn’t quite work like; but let’s assume it anyway.)

Does ridding yourself of impurities facilitate fat loss? Nope.

The reason folks lose a remarkable amount of weight — quickly — on most detox regimens is because they’re “empty”.

They quickly lose body water, carbohydrate stores, and intestinal bulk.  It’s gone during the “cleanse”. But all of it comes back a few hours after the detox ends. Because you can’t stay empty forever.

Interestingly, these folks lose very little fat — unless their cleanse includes fasting for really extended periods (which, if not done carefully, can be dangerous and throws your metabolism into shambles).

In the end, while it feels like a detox is helping shape up your body, it’s a sad illusion. You’re not losing anything that won’t come right back within hours after the end of the diet. And you’re putting your health at risk to support the illusion.

If weight loss is your goal, there are smarter (and more permanent)  ways to do it. Ones that are both healthy and sustainable.

All that said, if you or your doctor know exactly what you’re trying to detox from: chemicals, heavy metals, gut infections, viruses and parasites… 

Detoxing can be very effective at helping to improve your health.

10 Steps On What to Do Next

Detoxing can be great when you’re specific about what you’re trying to detox from. But detoxing to lose weight is simply not the right approach. 

Here are 10 steps you can take each day to help your body do its natural job of detoxing:

1. Eat reasonable amounts of nutrients. If you’re eating too much, you’re probably accumulating more toxins than your body needs. Eating one cookie instead of six is a detox diet. Slow down and chew your food. We all have “anatomical juicers” – they’re commonly known as teeth and stomachs. Use them as they’re meant to be used.

2. Eat plenty of plant foods, and choose organic options when possible. Veggies and fruits contain compounds that can help the  body deal with all of the incoming chemicals. Organically raised  plants and livestock are generally lower in the types of things you don’t want, such as pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, etc.

3. Stay lean. Certain fat-soluble compounds can accumulate in body  fat. Less body fat = less real estate for potentially problematic chemicals.

4. Drink enough fluids, including water and tea. And use a water filter. The kidneys are major organs of elimination for fluids.

But don’t overdo it: Fluid intake needs to balance our bodies’ electrolytes. Generally you can avoid overhydration by not drinking more than one liter of fluid per hour.

5. Allow a little extra time between dinner and breakfast. During brief periods of fasting (such as overnight), our bodies clear out  cellular debris. If you finished eating dinner at 7pm, maybe you  could eat breakfast at 7am. This gives the body a 12-hour break from food for every 24-hour cycle.

This might also improve your sleep, which is another critical factor in allowing your body to  appropriately recover.

6. Get outside in the sun and fresh air each day. Not only do we synthesize vitamin D from the sun, but we can breathe fresh air  nto our lungs and hear the sounds of nature. Good ol’ Mother  Nature.

7. Exercise regularly. Getting your blood flowing will help circulate good stuff where it needs to be, and clear out waste products more effectively.

8. Limit unnecessary dietary supplements. Supplements don’t automatically equal health. And some might just be another burden for the body. Make sure each supplement in your cabinet serves a purpose. I generally only recommend a good whole food multivitamin, fish oil, probiotics and vitamin D3+K2.

9. Cut down foods that you know are bad news for you. You may know that some foods don’t agree with you, whether because they make you feel bad physically, because of how they make you feel emotionally, or because you don’t like the person you become when you eat them. Consider moving away from these foods gradually. (Eliminating them all at once may work, but you may find  the same problem with all-or-nothing thinking that characterizes detox diets.)

10. Check your cosmetics. Our skin is our largest organ; each day we lather hundreds of chemicals into it. These then enter our blood and circulate throughout the body. If you want to burden your  body with fewer chemicals, check your body products.

Should I Eat Grains?

Settling the Grain Debate

Can wheat and other grains fit into a healthy – and sane – diet?

Are grains saving your life, or are they silently destroying it? This article aims to discuss both sides of the debate and offer some actionable steps for you to start eating better.

Quick – How do you feel about grains?

Do you think they’re an essential food group that makes up the foundation of a nutritious diet? Or are they evil little packages of carbs that are all out to really make you fat and inflamed, and slowly kill you?

This discussion is one of the great nutrition debates of our time right now.

In one camp are vegans, vegetarians, and macrobiotic dieters, who eat a ton of whole grains. They say grains will help them live longer and healthier, free of chronic disease. Indeed, recent news seized on a Harvard study connecting grains with lower risk of death.

In the opposing camp, you’ve got the Paleo, Whole30, and Atkins advocates, who strictly limit or even completely avoid grains. They  say not eating grains will help them live longer and healthier, free of  chronic disease. They dominate plenty of news, too.

The Facts:

Celiac disease has gone up over the last 60 years, which has given rise to a gluten-fearing food subculture (and the booming gluten-free marketplace to match).

Tens of millions of North Americans now conduct grain-free experiments on themselves and read bestsellers like Wheat Belly.

There is a definitive way of determining your level of intolerance to grains. If you really want to know whether or not you should be eating grains (and not base it on an opinion or belief system), then consider getting the appropriate testing done.

Certainly there are people who simply cut out grains and say they feel better, but who’s right?

And, most importantly, should you eat grains?  Let’s iron it out once and for all.

Grains Are And Ancient Food

Considering ancestral nutrition and diet… grains, the seeds of grasses, are still the main source of calories for people all over the world.

Along with the familiar wheat, rice, oats, corn, barley, buckwheat and rye, there are lots of lesser-known grains such as triticale, quinoa, teff, amaranth, sorghum, millet, spelt, and kamut.

The raging debate about grains can make it seem like they’re a relatively new addition to the human diet, but we’ve actually been consuming them in some shape or fashion for millions of years (yes,  the real Paleos ate grains, too). Learning to cultivate wheat helped us give up the nomad life and create civilization as we know it today.

Grains provide a wide array of nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients.

Of course, when it comes to grains’ nutrients, we’re talking about

whole grains. As in the whole seed. Like this:

Whole vs Refined Grains

First off, many people get weirded out with grains because they confuse them with “carbs”.

Carbohydrates are sugar-based molecules found in a range of foods including bread, pasta, potatoes, beans, desserts, soft drinks, and – yes… whole grains.

Refined grains – those that have had their brain and germ stripped away through milling – provide all the carbohydrates with hardly any of the nutrients found in whole grains. They’re often packaged with large amounts of fat and salt.

As a result, these processed grains are really tasty, easy to consume, but way less satiating — a deadly combo that leads many people to overeat, setting them on the path toward weight gain and chronic disease.

But what about whole grains?  Aren’t they bad for you, too?

The (supposed) ill effects of grains goes like this… 

“Grains can really mess up your health by causing inflammation, intestinal damage and obesity.”

Is this true?

Do Grains Cause Inflammation? (For Some People, Yes!)

A huge contingent in the grain-hating world claim these plants contribute to low-level inflammation, an ongoing immune response in which your body attacks its own tissue, causing cell damage.

They use a few studies to prove their point.

However, these studies need to be taken into context. In other words, one study had people add 19 grams of wheat bran — the equivalent of about three cups of bran flakes — to their daily intake.

Three months later, the subjects had slightly increased levels of oxidized LDL cholesterol, a possible marker of increased inflammation.

A problem with this study is that they didn’t evaluate for gluten intolerance or sensitivity. Some people are flat out intolerant to gluten and thus will produce inflammation when consumed whereas other people may have no problem whatsoever.

Another fallacy of this experiment was that by the end of the experiment, 44 of the 67 subjects had dropped out! This makes the final data sketchy at best.

On the other hand…

What’s more, several large epidemiological studies have actually  linked whole grain intake to lower levels of inflammation.

Of course, these are just links. You need controlled trials to prove any causal relationship and overall... Not one single controlled trial has shown that grains increase inflammation.

What About Intestinal Problems & Grains?

Another common conversation brought up with grain consumption is the increased incidence of intestinal damage due to anti-nutrients and other compounds that interfere with how the human body absorbs minerals.

Let’s look at a few anti-nutrient players…

Lectins: These proteins bind to cell membranes which cause damage to intestinal tissue if you consume very large amounts or don’t cook the plant first. That said, the body also uses lectins for basic functions such as cell-to-cell adherence, inflammation control and programmed cell death. Lectins may even reduce tumor growht and decrease incidence of certain diseases.

Phytic Acid: The storage of phosphorus, phytic acid can bind minerals in the digestive tract, preventing their absorption. In really large doses, it can cause nutrient deficiency and related problems (it’s been blamed for short stature throughout Egypt’s  history). But you’d have to eat copious amounts of bread that hasn’t gone through leavening — a  standard process that significantly reduces phytic acid levels — for this stuff to be a threat. In fact, in reasonable amounts, phytic acid has a number of possible health benefits.

Protease inhibitors: When raw or lightly cooked, grains still contain large amounts of protease inhibitors, which block the action of protein-digesting enzymes, interfering with your protein absorption. But once appropriately cooked, grains contain very few protease inhibitors — and those that remain actually have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.

Gluten: Wheat contains several different classes of proteins. Gliadins and glutenins are the two main components of the gluten fraction of the wheat seed. (They’re essential for giving bread the ability to rise properly during baking.) Within the gliadin class, there are four different epitopes (i.e. types): alpha-, beta-, gamma- and omega-gliadin. Wheat also contains agglutinins (proteins that bind to sugar) and prodynorphins (proteins involved with cellular communication). Once wheat is consumed, enzymes in the digestive tract called tissue transglutaminases (tTG) help to break down the wheat compound. In this process, additional proteins are formed, including deamidated gliadin and gliadorphins (aka gluteomorphins). In order to determine your sensitivity to gluten, you should consider getting tested for all the classes of gluten proteins!

Thus, these anti-nutrients can be a problem if you eat way too much of them, or don’t cook the foods that contain them properly. But if you eat like most people do — consuming a variety of foods and carbohydrate sources — you’ll probably be just fine.

Yes, grains contain anti-nutrients — because all plants contains anti- nutrients. Broccoli, spinach, and other green leafy veggies. Red wine.  Dark chocolate. Nuts. Seeds. Green tea.

Heck, fiber itself is an anti-nutrient.

Not eating plant foods because they have compounds designed to resist their digestion would be like not eating a lobster because it has a shell and claws.

All living systems come up with a way to protect themselves… this is one of those examples. The idea is to figure out your personal tolerance to these anti-nutrients.


Grains Make You Fat

There’s been a lot of research on grains and body weight.  Unfortunately, most of this research is, you guessed it, epidemiological.

These epidemiological studies are unanimous in showing that higher whole grain consumption is associated with lower body weight.

Controlled trials have been less consistent in their results. In these tests, whole grains don’t consistently lead to superior fat loss —  though the studies didn’t show the grains caused people to gain weight, either.

To go beyond the inconclusive controlled-trial data, we can look at how real people do on grain-heavy diets.

These aren’t perfect data, because there are many variables. But it can suggest possible trends and give us an idea of how grain consumption affects body weight in the real world, during real life.

If grains were inherently fattening, vegetarians and vegans, as well as many eaters in less-industrialized countries (where grains like rice or sorghum are usually a staple) would likely be more overweight or obese.

No literature exists showing that plant-based eaters, or those folks in regions for whom grains are a staple, have a higher incidence of overweight or obesity. In fact, the research shows just the opposite.

While these correlations certainly don’t prove anything, it’s likely that if grains really did cause obesity, we would see some trends and correlations to reflect it.

But here’s the crux of the issue: Buckwheat, oats, and quinoa aren’t making anyone fat.

In their original form, these and other whole grains are relatively bland foods, not overly calorie-dense, not unusually delicious, high in fiber and relatively satisfying.

But refined grains are a different story.

Whole kernel corn becomes corn syrup. Whole wheat grains become refined white flours for cookies and muffins, pizza dough or toaster pastries. Whole grain rice becomes Rice Krispies and rice noodles that we can then slather with Pad Thai sauce (potentially containing the aforementioned corn syrup).

With processed foods, “carbs” are just a way to deliver hyper-palatable, “can’t-eat-just-one” enjoyment as well as calorie-dense fatty meats, cheeses, sauces, and condiments. But are the “carbs”  themselves really the main problem here?

Do you need to eat grains?

No. You don’t need to eat any one particular food — be it grains, apples, kale, or fish.

But you need carbs. The amount of carbs you need depends on your activity level.

If you exercise fairly frequently, then you’ll likely do best with a moderate carb intake. Not getting enough could mess with your metabolism, stress hormones, and muscle-building hormones.

If you’re sedentary, have blood sugar issues, and/or need to lose a bunch of weight, then you’ll likely do best by lowering your carbohydrate intake [at first].

You could replace whole grains with a variety of other high-quality carbs, like potatoes, sweet potatoes, fruit, legumes, squash, yuca, and yams. You’d be able to get all the carbs you need, in addition to plenty of fiber and a wide array of beneficial phytonutrients.

But trying to eliminate grains entirely is going to be difficult in even the  best of circumstances.

In a life that involves family holidays, birthday parties, work functions — any instance where others are preparing the food — completely cutting out grains if you’re not suffering from celiac or a sensitivity becomes way, way more trouble than it’s worth.


What to do next

Focus on whole, minimally processed, nutrient-rich foods. This means you’ll be eating plenty of lean protein and plants — including  grains. It’ll also help you limit refined grains (those don’t hit the  “whole” mark). Remember that what’s on top of the potato skin  affects your health more than that sad, maligned tuber does itself.

Make sure your grains are thoroughly cooked. Cooking food drastically reduces its lectin, phytic acid, and protease inhibitor content. For example, fully cooking kidney beans knocks their lectin content from 20,000-70,000 units down to 200-400. Don’t eat a lot of unleavened bread.

Try sprouted and fermented breads. To take it further, grains that have been sprouted (e.g. Ezekiel bread) or fermented (e.g. sourdough) have even lower levels of phytates, lectins, and protease inhibitors. This increases mineral bioavailability and also tends to boost the protein quality of the bread.

If you suspect a problem with gluten, get tested. Go see your doctor, and get help implementing a gluten-free diet if you test  positive for celiac disease. I recommend the Cyrex Array 3 Gluten Test.

Zero in on wheat. While whole-grain wheat is likely still mildly beneficial for most (sprouted wheat might be even better), this appears to be the grain with the most problems and fewest advantages. If you’re having GI issues, it’s reasonable to see if avoiding wheat helps. Here again, talk to your doctor.

Try other grain options. Variety is good. We’ve given you a list of  whole grains in the beginning of this article. Try some others you don’t normally eat. Have fun expanding your horizons.

Consider an elimination diet. Food sensitivities do exist, though we don’t know with what frequency. They’re linked to GI problems and a host of other Conditions throughout the body. The gold  standard for uncovering a food sensitivity (grain-related or otherwise): elimination diets, in which you systematically remove and then reintroduce foods in your diet, making note of any  changes in symptoms.

Stay sane. Diet extremism leads to stress, unhappiness, and, unfortunately, weight gain and health problems. Tune out the “great grain debate” and use that energy to cook delicious food — and eat it with beloved friends — instead.


10 Ways to Boost Metabolism

What Can You Do To Boost Your Metabolism?

The physiology of weight loss and muscle building is complex; but there are proven strategies that have stood the test of time. In this article I share with you 10 Ways to Boost Your Metabolism.

1. Eat Enough Protein

Hands down… across any weight loss study conducted you’ll find that a key performing indicator for weight loss is increased protein consumption.

Protein is essential when losing weight/fat.

Protein does a number of things including:

  • Helping you to keep lean body mass (connective tissue, organs and bones)
  • Significantly increases satiety or feelings of fullness (regardless of eating less)
  • Increased calorie burning due to the thermic effect of eating it.

For example, if you’re eating 2,500 calories daily, 15 percent from protein, 50 percent from carbs, and 35 percent from fats (roughly average for US adults), you’re burning approximately 185 calories per  day through digestion.

Maintain your total calorie intak but increase protein to 30%, drop carbs to 40% and fat to 30% and now your TEE goe to approx 265 calories per day!

  • For most active men – 6-8 palm sized servings of protein per day will do
  • For most active women – 4-6 palm sized servings of protein per day.

2. Eat a Variety of Fruits, Vegetables, Quality Carbs and Fats

At this point I feel it’s safe to say that we all need more vegetables in our life. Veggies are loaded with vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, water, and fiber that help to fill you up during meals, stay full between meals, keep you healthy over all and recover from your workouts.

  • We recommend 6-8 fist-sized servings per day for most active men.
  • And 4-6 fist-sized servings per day for most active women.

The carbs will fuel training, boost leptin (a super important hormone that regulates hunger), keep up sex hormones, and prevent feelings of deprivation.

And the fats also keep up sex hormones, boost the immune system,  suppress excess inflammation, and make food taste really good.

  • For most active men, this would be 6-8 handfuls of quality carbs, and 6-8 thumbs of fats per day.
  • For most active women, 4-6 handfuls of quality carbs and 4-6 thumbs of healthy fats per day.

3. Adjust your intake as you Plateau

As your weight loss progresses, you will need to lower your calorie intake or increase your calorie expenditure to continue to progress. Basically, as your body gets smaller, you’ll start burning fewer calories, and your body will adapt to your diet.

Be ready, willing, and able to adjust portion amounts by removing 1-2 handfuls of carbs and/or 1-2 thumbs of fats from your daily intake. Then reassess and continue to adjust as needed.

However, one study found that weight loss plateaus have less to do with metabolic adaptations and more to do with “an intermittent lack of diet adherence”. In other words, not actually sticking to a nutrition plan consistently.

Research shows that we usually think we’re eating less and exercising more than we truly are. So do an objective review of your actual energy in and out before assuming your body is blocking your efforts.

4. Appreciate the Complexity

So many things influence what, why, and when we choose to eat.

Too often, eating and body size / fatness are blamed on lack of knowledge, lack of willpower / discipline, or laziness. In reality, food  intake and body composition are governed by a mix of physiological,  biological, psychological, social, economical, and lifestyle influences, along with individual knowledge or beliefs.

One of the simplest ways to make your decision processes easier is to create an environment that encourages good food choices and discourages poor ones. This can mean making changes to your daily  routine, who you spend time with, where you spend time, and what food is readily available to you.

But remember that weight loss can and should be relatively slow, so aim to lose about 0.5-1 percent of your body weight per week.

This helps to maintain muscle mass and minimize the adaptive metabolic responses to a lower calorie intake and resulting weight loss. Faster weight loss tends to result in more muscle loss without extra fat loss, as well as a larger adaptive response.

5. Cycle Calories & Carbs

For folks who are trying to get quite lean, at some point you can’t just rely on linear dieting to get you there. By strategically cycling calories and carbs, you can help to limit how much the metabolism-regulating hormone leptin drops (or temporarily boost it back up) – attenuating the adaptive and hunger response.

*Note: This is a higher-level strategy for fitness competitors and elite athletes who need to get very lean (i.e. ~6-9 percent body fat for men, and ~16-19 percent for women). It’s not something for the average person.

6. You Need to Refeed Regularly

If you’re lean and you want to get more lean… then you need to understand the principles of refeeding. Even Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (who is pretty dang lean) refeeds!

When getting to extreme levels of leanness, even strategic calorie and carb cycling might not be enough. So take out the big guns, and employ some periodic re-feeds to temporarily boost leptin and insulin and keep fat loss going.

**Note: This is a higher-level strategy for fitness competitors and elite athletes who need to get very lean (i.e. <6 percent body fat for men,  and <16 percent for women).

7. Mix Resistance, Cardio & Recovery Workouts

Resistance training helps you maintain vital muscle mass, burn calories, and improve glucose tolerance. Cardiovascular exercise  improves the health of your cardiovascular system, helps you expend  energy, and can improve recovery.

But don’t overdo either one.

Recovery work (e.g. foam rolling, walking, yoga) helps you maintain consistency and intensity with resistance and cardio training, making them more effective. And it helps to decrease stress (lowering  cortisol), which also helps you lose body fat and keep it off.

Aim for 3-5 hours per week of purposeful activity.

8. Find Ways to Increase NEAT

Find ways to keep moving throughout the day. Get a stand up workstation, fidget more, pace when you’re on the phone, take the stairs, park farther away, etc.

These small increases in movement can have a huge impact in your overall “Energy Out”.

9. Develop a Solid Sleep Routine & Manage Stress

Sleep is just as important to your success as nutrition and activity levels. Don’t pretend that you can get by with less. It simply isn’t true.

Often, when people lower their stress, they lose a lot of body water.  Then they also notice that they may have lost fat too. (Plus, they may  discover that chronic inflammation goes down — another win.)

This includes mental and emotional stress. Research on cognitive dietary restraint (i.e. worrying and stressing out about food) shows that constantly and negatively fixating on what you eat (or don’t) can have  the same unhealthy effect as actually dieting stringently.

Yet we need some stress to actually help with progress and growth, so find your stress sweet spot.

10. Have Self-Compassion

Give yourself a break.

There are going to be meals or days where you don’t eat as you “should”. It’s OK. It happens to everyone. Recognize it, accept it, forgive yourself, and then get back on track.

Research actually shows that self-compassion and flexible eating is associated with lower BMI and a healthier body weight, lower self-reported calorie intake, less anxiety and stress, and a better relationship with food.

And make sure that the body you really want aligns with the life you really enjoy. Understand what is required to reach different levels of  body composition. Consider the impact that will have on your life, and  choose accordingly.

Understanding Metabolism and Metabolic Damage

Can Eating Too Little Damage Your Metabolism?

There’s a lot of discussion in the fitness and health industry about whether crash dieting can cause metabolic damage. In this article I’d like to help separate fact from fiction and finish up by teaching you exactly why crash diets might be linked to struggling to maintain weight in your future.

Is this you? 

Despite working out consistently and intensely, plus eating carefully, you’re not losing weight (or not losing it as fast as you’d like or expect).

Or you were losing weight consistently… until recently. Now you’re stuck — even though you’re working as hard as ever.

Or when you were younger, you were super fit; but not anymore. Maybe you were an athlete. Maybe you did some crash diets. But now, even when you put in the same effort, you just can’t seem to get as lean.

“Is my metabolism damaged?” you may ask yourself. Patients ask me this question all the time.

Can months or years of dieting do some kind of long-term harm to the way the human body processes food?

Not exactly.

But gaining and losing fat can change the way your brain regulates your body weight.

To understand this answer let’s explore how human metabolism actually works. Then we’ll talk about whether the metabolism can actually be damaged.

*Note* This post delves into the science of energy balance, thermodynamics, and metabolic regulation. If you love learning this stuff, feel free to really dig. 

If, on the other hand, you want to jump right to the “HOW TO” for weight loss, fat loss, and breaking plateaus, feel free to skip to this article: 10 Ways to Boost Metabolism.

Energy Balance: It’s A Law of Physics (and not that simple)

You absolutely need a certain amount of energy (in the form of calories) to stay alive, as well as to move around. You can get this energy from food, or you can retrieve it from stored energy (i.e. your fat tissue).

In theory:

  • If you eat less than you work, you should lose weight.
  • If you eat more than you work, you will gain weight.

Body Weight = Energy In – Energy Out

But it’s not that simple. This relationship between ‘energy in’ and ‘energy out’ is called the Energy Balance Equation and it’s the most commonly accepted model for calculating a person’s energy balance and how much weight they’ll lose or gain over time.

While the Energy Balance Equation determines body weight… it doesn’t really tell us about body composition, which is influenced by hormones, macronutrient intake (especially protein), exercise style / frequency / intensity, age, medication use, genetic predisposition and more.

AND… this is why people get frustrated. Often times the numbers simply don’t add up or their results don’t match the expectations. (Which is a good lesson about the importance of adjusting expectations to match observable reality!)

This is Important…

The mismatch between expectations vs reality is not because the Energy Balance Equation is wrong, or a myth. I promise, no ‘body’ can defy the laws of physics… but the equation is more complicated than it sounds.

Many factors affect the energy balance equation and what you do to “ENERGY IN” affects what happens to “ENERGY OUT” and vice versa.

I will say that “Eat less, Move More” is a good start for most; but not everyone. It really just depends.

Let’s take a look at some of these factors, starting with the ‘energy in’ part of the equation.

“Energy In” is trickier than you think

Reason 1 – The number of calories in a meal likely doesn’t match the number of calories on food labels or a menu. 

This may be hard to grasp, but the FDA permits inaccuracies of up 20-25%.

And even if the labels were correct…

Reason 2 – The amount of energy a food contains in the form of calories is not necessarily the amount of energy we absorb, store and/or use.

Remember that the food we eat has to be digested and processed. And how we individually digest and process food is completely different due to genetics, pre existing health conditions and daily activities. There are so many factors involved in digestion > processing > absorption > storage and use.

For instance:

  • We absorb less energy from minimally processed carbohydrates and fats, because they’re harder to digest.
  • We absorb more energy from highly processed carbohydrates and fats, because they’re easier to digest. [The more processed a food is, the easier they’ve made it for us to digest and absorb].

For example, research has shown that we absorb more fat from peanut butter than from whole peanuts. In fact, researchers determined that almost 38 percent of the fat in peanuts was excreted in the stool,  rather than absorbed by the body. Whereas seemingly all of the fat in the peanut butter was absorbed.

In addition:

  • We often absorb more energy from foods that are cooked (and/or chopped, soaked, blended) because those processes break down plant and animal cells, increasing their bioavailability.

When eating raw starchy foods (like sweet potatoes), we absorb very  few of the calories. After cooking, however, the starches are much more available to us, tripling the number of calories absorbed.

Interestingly, allowing starchy foods to then cool before eating them decreases the amount of calories we can extract from them again.  (This is mostly due to the formation of resistant starches).

So technically speaking, eating potatoes that have been cooked and then cooled will result in less calorie absorption than eating them hot!


  • We may absorb more or less energy depending on the types of bacteria in our gut.

Some people have larger populations of a Bacteroidetes (a species of  bacteria), which are better at extracting calories from tough plant cell  walls than other bacteria species.

Take Home Message: By eating a diet rich in whole, minimally processed foods, the number of calories you absorb can be significantly less than what you expect. Plus… it takes more calories to digest them.

Opposite to that… you will absorb more calories from processed foods and burn fewer calories trying to digest them.

“Energy Out” Varies From Person to Person

There are 4 key parts to this complex system:

1 – Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR)

RMR is the number of calories you burn each day at rest, just to breathe, think, and live. This represents roughly 60 percent of your ‘energy out’ and depends on weight, body composition, sex, age, genetic predisposition, and possibly (again) the bacterial population of your gut.

A bigger body, in general, has a higher RMR.

For instance:

  • A 150-pound person might have an RMR of 1583 calories a day.
  • A 200-pound person might have an RMR of 1905 calories.
  • A 250-pound person might have an RMR of 2164 calories.

RMR varies up to 15 percent from person to person. If you’re that 200-pound individual with an RMR of 1905 calories, another person just like you on the next treadmill might burn 286 more (or fewer) calories each day with no more (or less) effort.

2 – Thermic Effect of Eating (TEE)

This may surprise you, but you’ll burn calories just from digesting food. Digestion is an active metabolic process.

TEE is the number of calories you burn by eating, digesting, and processing your food. It represents approximately 5-10% of your “energy out”.

In general, you’ll burn more calories by digesting and absorbing protein (20-30 percent of its calories) and carbs (5-6 percent) than you do fats (3 percent). So you burn more calories depending on the macros (i.e. protein, carbs, fats) you choose to eat.

This is why increasing your protein intake is a solid weight loss recommendation!

And as noted before, you’ll burn more calories digesting minimally processed whole foods compared to highly processed foods.

3 – Physical activity (PA)

PA is the calories you burn from purposeful exercise, such as walking, running, going to the gym, gardening, riding a bike, etc.

Obviously, how much energy you expend through PA will change depending on how much you intentionally move around.

4 – Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT)

NEAT is the calories you burn through fidgeting, staying upright, and all other physical activities except purposeful exercise. If you sit all day long, your NEAT is going to be low. If you have a standing work station or work in construction… your NEAT is going to be high.

So what does all this mean?

Energy Out = Resting Metabolic Rate + Thermic Effect of Eating + Physical Activity + Non-Exercise Activity

In short… it’s pretty dang complex and highly variable. This means that the ‘energy out’ side of the equation may be just as hard to pin down as the ‘energy in’ side.

So, while the Energy Balance Equation variables make it hard to know or control exactly how  much energy you’re taking in, absorbing, burning, and storing.

Here’s the entire equation:

Changes in Body Stores = [Actual Calories Eaten – Calories Not Absorbed] – [RMR + TEE + PA +NEAT]

Basically… when you try to outsmart your body, it’ll outsmart you back; and sometimes harder. When energy input goes down, energy out goes down to match it. You burn fewer calories in response to eating less and burn more calories in response to eating more.

Even that last statement is not that true. This doesn’t happen perfectly and not in everybody the same way. But… it’s how the system generally works and how our bodies were able to avoid unwanted weight loss and starvation during times of famine. Don’t be mad.

It’s the reason why humans survived for 2 million years.

The good news is that when “energy in” goes up, “energy out” tends to go up too! So you can burn more calories when you eat more calories.

To illustrate this point, here’s how your body tries to keep your weight  steady when you take in less energy and start to lose weight*:

  • Thermic effect of eating goes down because you’re eating less.
  • Resting metabolic rate goes down because you weigh less.
  • Calories burned through Physical activity go down since you weigh less.
  • Non-exercise activity thermogenesis goes down as you eat less.
  • Calories not absorbed goes down and you absorb more of what you eat.

In addition to these tangible effects, reducing actual calories eaten also causes hunger signals to increase, causing us to crave (and maybe eat) more. The net effect leads to a much lower rate of weight loss than you might expect. In some cases, it could even lead to weight re-gain.

To add insult to injury, a rise in cortisol from the stress of dieting can  cause our bodies to hold onto more water, making us feel “softer”  and “less lean” than we actually are. Interestingly, this is just one  example of the amazing and robust response to trying to manipulate  one variable (in this case, actual calories eaten). There are similar responses when trying to manipulate each of the other variables in the equation.

For example, research suggests that increasing Physicalactivity above a certain threshold (by exercising more) can trigger:

  • Increased appetite and more actual calorieseaten
  • Decreased calories not absorbed as we absorb more of what we eat
  • Decreased RMR
  • Decreased NEAT

In the end, these are just two of the many examples we could  share. The point is that metabolism is much more complicated (and  interdependent) than most people think.

So Does Dieting Damage Metabolism?

Despite what you may have heard:

Losing weight won’t “damage” your metabolism.

But because of the adaptations your body undergoes in response to  fat loss (to prevent that fat loss, in fact), ‘energy out’ for those who  have lost significant weight will always be lower than for people  who were always lean.


Losing weight, and keeping it off, is accompanied by adaptive metabolic, neuroendocrine, autonomic, and other changes.

These changes mean that we expend less energy — around 5-10  percent less (or up to 15 percent less at extreme levels) than what  would be predicted based on just weighing less.

Unfortunately, because of this adaptive response, someone who has  dieted down will often require 5-15 percent fewer calories per day to  maintain the weight and physical activity level than someone who has  always been that weight.

(Or even less, potentially, because as we learned in the very  beginning, the RMR of people of the exact same age/weight/etc. can  still vary by up to another 15 percent.)

This means someone who was never overweight might need 2,500 calories to maintain their weight, while someone who had to diet down to that weight may need only 2,125-2,375 calories to hold steady.

We don’t know how long this lowered energy expenditure lasts.  Studies have shown that it can hang around for up to 7 years after weight loss (or more, 7 years is as far as it’s been studied). This likely  means it’s permanent, or at least persistent.

This is extra relevant for people who have repeatedly dieted, or for fitness competitors who may repeatedly fluctuate between being extremely lean and being overweight in the off-season.

We don’t have data to back this up (to our knowledge no one has studied it), but adaptive thermogenesis seems to react more strongly or more rapidly with each successive yo-yo of extreme body fat fluctuations.

All of this explains why some people can feel like they’ve “damaged” their metabolism through repeated dieting. (And why some experts suggest “metabolic damage” is a real thing.)

But nothing really has been “damaged”.

Instead, their bodies have just become predictably more sensitive to various hormones and neurotransmitters. Their metabolic rates are understandably lower than predicted by various laboratory equations.

So, where does this leave us?

Body change is going to be harder for some people, and easier for others.

That can mean all physiological changes: weight loss or gain, fat loss or gain, and muscle loss or gain.

But even if your body might resist weight loss, you can still lose weight, gain muscle, and dramatically change your body.

Why Calorie Counting is Flawed

Calorie Counting is a Flawed Science

Today I want to share with you some information on The Surprising Problem with Calorie Counting!

Most people who count calories for weight loss or weight management assume it’s an exact science. It’s not. In this article you’ll find a few reasons why calorie counting (i.e. logging your food to calculate intake) is flawed.

“Calories In” is not accurate

It’s absolutely true that the principles of energy balance work:

More Calories In vs Energy you Expend = Weight Gain
Less Calories In vs Energy you Expend = Weight Loss

However, counting calories, is fundamentally flawed because we can’t trust that the calorie numbers (and macronutrients) we see on food packages are accurate. The truth is, the way they’re calculated is imprecise.

Look at the image below​​. The calorie counts on food labels and in databases are averages. Research shows that true calorie content of what you’re eating is often significantly higher or lower. 
Food companies can use any of 5 different methods to estimate calories, so the FDA permits inaccuracies of up to 20%. This means that “150 calories” can be 130-180 calories or an error rate of up to 50%.

Look at the image below​​. The calorie counts on food labels and in databases are averages. Research shows that true calorie content of what you’re eating is often significantly higher or lower. 
In addition, we don’t absorb all the calories we consume and the ability to absorb calories is highly dependent on the individuals current health status.
Our own individual gut bacteria can increase or decrease the calories we absorb. People with a higher proportion of Firmicutes bacteria absorb an average of 150 more calories per day than those with a higher proportion of bacteroidetes.

“Calories Out” is not accurate

As if trying to calculate “Calories In” wasn’t innacurate enough, it’s much harder to measure how much breakfast you’re burning during exercise. Daily activity tracking and exercise counts can also be a problem.

Don’t get me wrong. There is value in knowing how to apply calorie counts properly. However, despite what most fitness trackers and people think… meticulous calorie counting simply isn’t a “must” when it comes to weight management.

For example, the calorie expenditure numbers we see in online calculators, fitness trackers and health magazines are based on laboratory averages with large margins of error.

Consumer fitness trackers are off by about 30% for total daily calorie expenditure. And for aerobic exercise, the devices show errors between 9% and 23%!!!

And just like we are all different in terms of how many calories we burn from what we take in… we are also all unique when it comes to how many calories we burn during physical activity. Even the time of the month can impact your calorie burn.

For example, women’s menstrual cycles affect their resting metabolic rate. Overall, it’s not unusual for an individual’s metabolic rate to vary by 100 calories form day to day.

Because… calorie burn estimates are imprecise; individuals burn calories uniquely and variably; what and how much you eat influences the calories you’ll burn…

Counting calories is less realiable than you think!

Forget Calorie Counting and Use This Instead

Rather than trying to “math” your way to calorie exactness, just look at your hand instead.

My Precision Nutrition Coaching program teaches you to gauge food portions based on your hand and has nothing to do with carrying around weigh-scales, measuring cups or smart phone apps.

Here’s how it works:

  • Your palm determines your protein portions.
  • Your fist determines your veggie portions.
  • Your cupped hand determines your carb portions.
  • Your thumb determines your fat portions.

Two Palms for Men’s Protein

One Palm for Women’s Protein

Two Fists for Men’s Veggies

One Fist for Women’s Veggies

Two Cupped Hands for Men’s Carbs

One Cupped Hand for Women’s Carbs

Two Thumbs for Men’s Fats

One Thumb for Women’s Fats

Based on the guidelines above, which I assume you’ll be eating approx 4 times per day, here’s what your daily food intake would look like:

For Men:

  • 2 palms of protein dense food with each meal;
  • 2 fists of vegetables with each meal;
  • 2 cupped hands of carb dense foods with most meals;
  • 2 entire thumbs of fat dense foods with most meals.

For Women:

  • 1 palm of protein dense foods with each meal;
  • 1 fist of vegetables with each meal;
  • 1 cupped hand of carb dense foods with most meals;
  • 1 entire thumb of fat dense foods with most meals.

Of course, just like anything… these recommendations are simply a starting point to fine tuning a diet that is personalized to your lifestyle, genetics and physiology. So depending on the goals (weight loss, adding muscle, improving endurance), there would be modifications that occur.

Want More Individualization?

Consider getting on the list for My Precision Nutrition Coaching program. We open this program up 4 times per year and only allow a certain number of people to sign up at any point in time.

If you’re ready to work on your personal nutrition, then click here to sign up for our presale list!

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