Hi! I'm your SANE concierge. What can I help you find today?

The Perfect Number of Calories To Consume to Safely Lose The Most Weight

Hey everybody, Jonathan Bailor, back with another Smarter Science of Slim show. Very excited to be with you today. I wanted to start off with a great question that I was asked by a listener. It might take all of our time here because it is such a great example of how deeply ingrained these calorie myths are in our minds, and how militant we have to be to free ourselves from this calorie mythology. I’ve been doing this for quite some time, and I continue to find ways that it has jaded my mind to think of the body as a mathematical equation, rather than a biological organism.

But enough of this lead-up, let’s go ahead and just get into it. The question, which is a very reasonable question is, what is the minimum number of calories that a person should consume while trying to lose weight in order to stay healthy? Very reasonable question, seemingly. But hold on. Let’s take a step back. If we have an individual who has 100 pounds of excess fat on their body, let’s use the traditional mathematical model and let’s say that a pound of fat consists of 3500 calories. If we have an individual that has 100 pounds of excess fat on their body, they have 350,000 calories “available” for fuel, even if they never ate anything.

The point I am making is, we have to take a step back. Someone says, what is the minimum number of calories a person should consume while trying to lose weigh in order to stay healthy? What do we mean by consume calories? If we have an individual who has 350,000 surplus calories stored on their body, why are they ever hungry? Think about this from the brain’s perspective, and from a biological perspective. You’re the hypothalamus in the brain. Your job is to keep an organism alive and fed and nourished, and you see, before that person even opens their mouth to eat food, that 350,000 units of energy are already available to you, why would you make that person hungry for additional food? They already have 100 pounds of food stored on their body. Especially when their friend doesn’t have 100 pounds of excess fat on their body, maybe they’re not hungry, and in fact, they’re less hungry than that person that has 100 extra pounds of fat on their body.

This seems obvious, but really, think about it for a second. A person who is overweight or obese, why are they ever hungry? Doesn’t the body know that they have food available to them? Let’s say, for example, that a person who is overweight or obese, let’s say they need 2000 calories, and let’s say that they eat 1000. I would never recommend that, but let’s say they did that. And when I say eat, I mean food that passes through their lips. Why would they be hungry? Why wouldn’t they just get the 1000 extra calories from their hips? Food, energy, doesn’t have to pass through our lips if we have excess fat on our body. It is sitting right on our hips, and in other places. This is a key, key point, and it shows a giant crack in the calorie mythology.

And that is, that our body has to be in some way disregulated. There has to be something fundamentally disconnected, or disregulated, in a state of obesity, and in overweight, and it has nothing to do with a moral failing, or a willpower failing, just like we don’t tell someone that has heart disease, or that has some sort of asthma problem, “Oh, yeah, you have asthma, you should breathe less, because that’s what’s causing the problem.” No, no, no, there’s a problem with the system itself. Think about the metabolic system, the system that regulates energy balance. Again, someone has 100 pounds of food stored on their body, why are they ever hungry? Why do they need to eat at all? Why is their body driving them to eat? Someone might say, “Well, of course, they need to eat essential amino acids, and they need to eat essential fatty acids, and they need to eat vitamins and minerals because calories are not enough. And that is obviously correct. Absolutely. But why do they continue to be hungry beyond that point, beyond the point of getting the necessary amino acids, vitamins and minerals, hunger for purely calories?

The reason is, this homeostatic weight regulation system, just the same way everything in our body is regulated, like our blood pressure or our blood sugar, our body is trying to balance this out. I call this our set point weight. Many other people do, too. The technical research literature calls it the homeostatic regulation of weight, or the lipostat. Biological organisms work to achieve balance. A person who is storing 100 pounds of excess fat on their body, and continues to be as hungry, if not hungrier, than someone who is carrying zero pounds of excess fat on their body, has a body and a brain, and basically a biology, that is balancing them out, that is working and is defending to keep them 100 pounds overweight, because why else would they be hungry?

That’s a big deal. If a person who has 100 pounds of excess fat on their body has a brain that is going to do everything in its power to keep 100 pounds of fat on their body, why are we asking questions like what is the minimum number of calories that person can eat to stay healthy? That seems to assume that we can overpower our brain, that despite the fact that the brain is making this person hungry, despite an over abundance of calories already available to them prior to them opening their mouth at all, they are still hungry. The question is not, how much can we starve this person to fight against a brain which is working to maintain 100 extra pounds of fat on their body? That’s not the question. The question is not how few calories can we skate by on, how long can we tolerate hunger, how much can we try to beat our body into submission?

I’m sorry I’m getting amped up, but it’s so wrong, and it’s so disempowering. Really, it’s nefarious. It trivializes this brilliance that is within our body. Really, think about that. Why do people who are struggling with overweight and obesity continue to be hungry as they gain weight? It’s because their body believes, for lack of better terms, that they should weigh that amount, that it is healthy for them to maintain that level of excess fat, and that their body is now fighting losing that fat, despite the fact that it is seemingly not needed. We might think it’s not needed, but if our brain thinks it’s needed, we’re in a bad place, or at least, we are in a bad place until we refocus our eating and exercise efforts, not on how little food we can consume, and how much exercise we can do in an effort to beat our brain into submission, which will never work.

It’s like trying to not go to the bathroom. Eventually you’re going to go to the bathroom. You can try to not sleep. Eventually, you’re going to have to sleep. We can try to not blink, we can try to not breathe, and we can try to not eat. It’s never going to work, the body is in control. But if we see that there is a dysfunction there, and if we appreciate obesity as a disease of this automatic balance system, much like we know and accept that diabetes is a disease of a homeostatically or automatically balanced system for blood sugar, when our blood sugar goes up our body does stuff to bring it down, if it goes too low our body does stuff to bring it up.

Fat mass works the same way. The mechanisms have been clear in the scientific literature for decades. It is completely unambiguous and noncontroversial in the sphere of metabolic researchers. But sadly, again, that’s not where we are getting our information from, is it? We’re getting our information from people who are asking questions like, what is the minimum number of calories we should eat to stay health? You will never make a brain that thinks you should weigh 300 pounds. Stop thinking you should weigh 300 pounds by starving it, ever. That’s like trying to cure allergies by breathing less. It doesn’t change the system. We have to change the system. We have to fix the brain.

What is actually happening in a person who is holding on to 100 pounds of unnecessary body fat is that their body believes that is healthy. Their body believes that is what that person should weigh. But why? The reason why is because this regulatory system has become dysfunctional. There is inflammation in the brain. This has been demonstrated in laboratories for years, now. There is inflammation in the brain, specifically in the hypothalamus, which controls our weight. There is dysfunction in our hormones. Our insulin levels, our leptin levels, our sex hormone levels are all messed up.

And then there is our gut flora, the bacteria in our gut. Our gut is our second brain. Our brain helps us to interact with the external world. What other part of our body has huge contact with the external world? Our stomach. We actually take the external world into our body, into our stomach, so our stomach is really our second brain. We have this system of our gut and our body communicating with our brain through our hormones. And that system can be dysregulated, just like the system for blood sugar balance can be dysregulated. We call that diabetes. And just like the system for blood pressure balance can be dysregulated, and we call that hypertension.

It’s not about starving that system, and it will never be about starving that system, so the question is not, what is the minimum number of calories a woman or man should consume while trying to lose weight in order to stay healthy? It’s why is their body driving them to eat more calories than they need? Why is that happening? That is the question. The day we can answer, why is the person who is struggling with their weight being driven to continue to consume excess calories in the face of a surplus of calories already existing on their body, that is the answer.

And it’s not like they should just try harder. No. No. Their brain is not doing what it should be doing, and it is not their fault, because the reasons their brain has become inflamed, and their gut bacteria has transformed, and the reason their hormones have become dysregulated is because they have been fed a load of calorie myths. They have been told, eat whatever you want, as long as you don’t eat too much of it. And because of that, we end up eating edible products – processed starches, processed sweets, sodas, trans fats – edible products, but things that you cannot find in nature. These things are not food. They are not what our body and our metabolic system are able to handle.

It would be like putting kerosene in your car’s gas tank. It might not break it right away, but the system is going to break down. If you stick paper towels down your sink, eventually, the sink is going to overflow. It doesn’t have anything to do with the amount of water you are putting into the sink, if it has lost its natural ability to react to more water in, with more water out, which is what the body should do. More food in just gives us more energy, makes us burn more calories, and it makes us fuller. We don’t need to worry about our weight. That is how it worked for every single person who ever lived prior to the previous three generations.

The earliest data that we have around obesity rates come from the early 1900s and show us that obesity was sub 3%. Why? Well, why not? That’s the question. See how backward this is? Why not? Every animal in nature, when left in its natural environment to consume the natural things that it is designed, or evolved, depending on your beliefs, to consume, automatically stays slim and healthy. You do not see very many diabetic dogs. You also don’t see too many overweight wolves, because biological organisms seek to maintain balance. Someone who has 100 excess pounds of fat on their body has a brain which is seeking to balance them out, it is seeking to achieve energy balance, while maintaining 100 pounds of fat on their body. That is the problem.

The question is not how few calories can they eat, because frankly, according to that calorie mythology, they shouldn’t have to eat any calories. If it is just about calories, seriously, all the traditional calorie people out there, if it was just about calories, and just about starving ourselves, and just about exercising more, and it is just that we are not trying hard enough, why do people who are over-fat ever get hungry? And I know you are not going to say it is because they are weak, because with hunger it is not about weakness. That is like asking why people have to go to the bathroom. Why do people blink? If we are hungry, it is because there is something going on subconsciously. We don’t choose to be hungry or full. It is not something we have conscious control over. There are, of course, influences, but fundamentally, it is an automatically controlled function.

To all of you people out there who are telling the 70% of Americans who are brilliant and smart and capable, and are not eating an excessive amount, because the data actually show that overweight people do not consume significantly more calories than individuals who are not struggling with overweight, that data is quite clear, in many cases, the heartbreaking scenario is that you have overweight individuals who are doing exactly what this question asks. They are trying to minimize their calorie intake and they maintain overweight in spite of that, and then they feel helpless, and then they feel broken.

To all of you calorie people out there, people that are perpetuating these calorie myths, and I apologize for calling you out, but this really breaks my heart, because we are breaking people’s brains, and we’re breaking their hearts, making them feel inadequate, when if what you are saying is true, if it was just about calories, answer me this: A person who has 100 pounds of excess fat on their body has 350,000 calories already available to them, why are they hungry? Why do they get hungry when a surplus of calories is already available to them? Why doesn’t their body just start burning the fat? Why doesn’t it eat lunch off of the stored fat from their hips rather than craving food through their lips?

The reason for it, friends, and as soon as you can wrap your head around this, and I know this is a big departure, and I wrote a whole book on it called The Calorie Myth, and we’ve got a bunch of other information for you online, but as soon as you can wrap your head around this you will be freed. You will be freed from these calorie myths and you will no longer think that you need to starve or deprive a system that has become dysregulated, a set point that has become elevated. But rather, you know that you can heal that system, you can lower the set point, and you can make your body work to balance you, with no excess fat, not no fat, but no excess fat, on your body, just like your body is currently working to balance you out with excess fat on your body.

And if it sounds too good to be true, just think of your friend that eats whatever they want and doesn’t exercise and stays slim. (I’m knocking things over, I’m getting so excited here in the studio.) What about all those millions of naturally thin people that eat whatever they want, don’t exercise, and stay slim? Well, they are genetically blessed. Their body continues to work to balance them out around a slim set point, in the face of whatever quantity of calories they throw at it.

And while we may not be as fortunate, we can certainly use high-quality food, and high-quality exercise, and an abundance of it, not how few calories can we eat, but rather, how many nonstarchy vegetables, how many nutrient-dense proteins, how much whole food fat and how much low fructose fruit can we use to heal our biology, to put out the inflammation in our brain, to re-regulate and heal our hormones and to grow the bacteria in our gut that are indicative of health and slimness so that our body can get back to the state it is supposed to have by default. And that is, working to balance us out around a slim and healthy set point without us trying to.

When we eat more, we burn more, and we become full, and then we don’t get hungry until we actually need food because we are eating food, because the system itself is healthy. It’s not about eating less. It’s not about exercising more. It’s about recognizing the innate brilliance within any biological organism and that brilliance is its innate need to balance. It is called homeostasis. We all learned about it in high school biology, we just need to be reminded of it.

And we need to remember that we’re brilliant, we’re not broken. We’re beautiful, we’re not inadequate. And our body doesn’t need to be trivialized into a mathematical equation. We’re much, much more complicated, and much, much, much powerful than that. And if we eat SMARTer, and exercise SMARTer, we will absolutely live better, without ever having to think about the minimum number of calories we should consume, because our body will take care of that for us.

Remember, eat more, and exercise less, just do that SMARTer. I’m Jonathan Bailor. Chat with you soon.