At the end of the day, you may find that creating and sticking to a diet is relatively simple. And burning off more calories than you ingest is also a simple-sounding premise. However, reducing actual body fat is not the easiest thing in the world to do.
Realistically, our bodies have to consume themselves in order to get rid of stored fat. Unfortunately, we have many defense systems in place to stop this process from occurring for extended periods (think of the proverbial dieting plateau).
It’s “hard” to do, in the sense that it’s your body that needs to be disciplined and needs to burn stored fat. In a mathematical sense, looking at the relationship between calories burned and calories ingested, it can be broken down to a simple formula: total energy expenditure = heat produced + external work done + energy stored.
If that seems complicated, look at it this way: you have to put in more work to lose body fat than simply burning off a 1:1 equivalent.
For example: a pound of body fat contains roughly 3,500 calories. So burning off 3,500 calories means you’re -1 lb of body fat, right? No.
All things being equal, it seems as if that would be the case. But the 1:1 doesn’t line up; it doesn’t fit within that equation. There are other factors to contend with, such as energy your body is using during the burning.
Working out until you burn off 3,500 calories might not even knock a gram of fat off. There could be 3,500 calories in new energy stores.
There are many big words and complicated ways in which you could learn about this. But it can be told through an extremely simple analogy.
Say there’s a 50-pound chest buried three feet under the ground and a 50-pound chest sitting on top of the ground. Now, if you were to pick up 50 pounds, no matter what, it’s always 50 pounds. But which is harder to get to?
The aboveground chest is your newer energy reserves and other factors, and the underground chest is your fat reserves. You’ll have to do some digging to knock that out.
This is a big reason that many people are deterred from their diets. They figure it’s a simple 1:1 ratio and that simply going on a low-calorie diet without exercise means that the body will dip into fat reserves to thrive.
Your body essentially must be coaxed into going after fat reserves. It takes a huge boost to your metabolism, by way of exercise (remember the equation), and it also takes limiting the amount of other fuels your body is receiving, meaning you must eliminate some of the glucose in your bloodstream to allow your body to go after fat stores for energy.
If you want the mind-numbing, wordy version of exactly how this works scientifically, then check out a men’s journal or a health textbook. But an easy-to-understand premise here is that you will always need to burn off more calories than per fat pound to lose stored fat.