Metabolism: Myths and Facts

And Its Not What You’ve Been Told Before.

By Neil O’Hanlon

Believe me when I say this could possibly be one of the most interesting things you ever hear when it comes to understanding the true process behind losing weight especially excess body fat. I’ve wrote this article to completely challenge the mainstream information thats out there within the fitness industry. I’m even challenging the information I had to swallow in order to pass my fitness qualifications. It’s now been scientifically proven that regardless of the amount of exercise you perform, you actually burn roughly the same amount of calories anyway. I always felt I had to perform excessive amounts of exercise in order to burn off lots of calories. Not so. What I now know, is that you can still lose weight with minimal amounts of exercise. The physical activity is just one small piece of the puzzle. Diet and fasting is the key to losing weight and exercise helps maintain it.

Regardless of how much exercise you do, you still only burn roughly the same amount of calories

Upsetting The Masses

I know, I know, even as I’m writing this article on diet and exercise, I’m totally aware it’s going to upset a lot of people. Why? Simple! It’s not what people want to hear. So the big question is: Whats the point in performing more exercise than you need to? 

Well the short answer is you don’t have to.

I know from researching various studies that performing exercise only burns a few more calories than not performing exercise. Sounds crazy I know but bear with me on this. For instance, a  moderately active person only burns about 200 more calories a day than an inactive person. And here’s the thing,  a very active person performing lots of exercise only burns roughly the same amount of calories as the moderately active person. So why would you bother doing more?

A moderately active person only burns about 200 more calories a day than an inactive person

Exercise Steals Vital Calories 

If you run for 40 minutes as opposed to 20 minutes, your body will still burn roughly the same calories. The reason being, as your body adapts to the longer sessions, it starts to reserve some calories back for vital internal functions. The reason for this, when we try to burn calories like crazy in the name of fitness and weight loss, we actually end up stealing calories needed for more important and essential bodily functions like keeping our immune system healthy, our brain functioning correctly, growth, repair and the reproductive system. We only have a set amount of calories to burn each day and all these functions require set amounts, any extra calories taken on board will be stored as fat regardless of trying endlessly to burn them off. Its fair to say that most of us associate metabolism with physical activity and food, but this really is a small part of the unforeseen work of burning calories that our cells do throughout the day. 

Your body can only burn so many calories on exercise

Complete Bullshit

The old way of looking at metabolism is that your body is a machine and the more physical work it does, the more energy it burns. Not so! That couldn’t be further from the truth. The fact is our body is so intelligent and dynamic, its changing all the time to balance out energy expenditure with the food we are taking in. It has evolved to do this over time when food was scarce, for instance in times of famine the body has adapted to save calories, normally stored as fat because it knows that if you spend more energy than you can take in then you eventually die.

We have an energy budget. Regardless of how much exercise you do, the body will adapt in the long term to burn  less calories on exercise and keep some back for more vital functions like immune system, brain health, reproductive system etc.

Calorie Budget And Inflammation 

What is chronic inflammation? - Harvard Health

We all have an internal energy budget within our body. So let’s call that the accounts department. The accounts department within us will allocate and prioritise its energy expenditure (calories) to certain bodily functions with the most need. 

Inflammation Happens When Unused Calories Are Still In Your Body

If we think of inflammation as a luxury, (I know its not but for the purpose of this explanation it works) then If more calories are coming in than going out, the excess calories are allocated to operations that can use it like inflammation and fat storage which is not good.   

If more calories are going out through over exercising than coming in then cutbacks are made in other vital areas like immune health and brain function which is also not good.

Infertility Issues 

The consequences of this can be fatal. You’re on the thin red line of suppressed immune function, suppressed cognitive function, suppressed energy levels, delayed recovery and reduced reproductive system. This has been so extreme for some female athletes addicted to exercise and overtraining that they have suffered infertility as a result. All in the name of running more miles?

My Personal Experience Of This 

This is something I can relate to personally. I have been on the receiving end of the body making compensations for me as I ploughed myself into a totally unsustainable exercise regime. The first time this happened was about 15 years ago, I was feeling fatigued, constantly taking longer to recover from physical activity and my body was screaming for rest.  Foolishly I continued to train and ended up getting diagnosed with Atrial Fibrillation. My body had diverted too many calories to the extreme exercise and left my body’s defences in a deficit resulting in creating an abnormal heart rhythm. Thankfully I was able to reverse this by doing less exercise, albeit still some exercise. 

Arrhythmogenesis of Sports: Myth or Reality? | heart arrhythmia sports

The simple fact is, if you foolishly reject the constraints of the human body then compensations within the body will be made for you

Another Experience And An Autoimmune Disease 

The disease below happened to me over 5 years ago. Again very similar, I was training too hard for my body to sustain, not to the same level as previous overtraining episodes many years ago but still doing too much. I wasn’t resting properly, not eating enough and my body just went into shut down mode.  My body had again diverted most of my energy and calories to the extreme exercise and left my vital immune functions struggling to maintain there roles as protector of my body. This led to being diagnosed with an extremely rare Autoimmune disease called Kikuchi Fujimoto Disease which I still manage today. 


There’s my personal account of how this stuff is no joke…

Too Much Exercise Can Lead To Leaky Gut Issues:

Again, this is something I can relate to personally as had many years doubled up in agony with severe cramping and intestinal pains, all as a result of overtraining. A really important point I’d like you to take away from this article is this. If you foolishly reject the constraints of the human body and over-exercise to the extreme with a totally unsustainable lifestyle then compensations within the body will be made for you.  

What causes an athlete's leaky gut?

Exercising too much robs your body of calories it needs leaving you in a worse state physically than if you just performed small or moderate amounts of exercise.

Over Exercise Leads To Over Hunger


Another thing to consider is that if you train to excess, this will increase your hunger and you end up eating more throughout the day as a result. As well as this you will be lazier over the day as your body is recovering. So the calories you thought you burned earlier (which is actually not that much) are being replaced twice over and the body is now storing them as fat.

So how can it be that large amounts of exercise will not help fat loss at all? 

You may drop a few pounds to begin with but as I’ve said your body will adapt to this and go into famine mode. This means your body will adjust your metabolism accordingly, lowering your energy expenditure (calories out), but saving your energy intake (calories in) hence storing more fat.

There was a study that showed a controlled group of subjects who initially just dieted lost the same amount of weight as those who dieted and exercised.

7 Tips To Burn Extra Body Fat

Ok, with that said, what are some of the best ways to burn some more body fat without exercising to the extreme. Below I have listed some and the reason it works.

1. Ditch The Processed Foods

To lose extra body fat the first bit of advice I would give is to really limit or totally ditch the processed foods.

Higher ultra-processed food consumption correlates with higher risk for  incident CKD


Heavily processed foods often include unhealthy levels of added sugar, sodium / salt and fat. These ingredients make the food we eat taste better, but too much of them leads to serious health issues like obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.

2. Eat Real Whole Foods 

Eat foods that don’t come in a packet or have more than 3 ingredients on the label. 

Real Food: The Ultimate Guide for 2020 | Primal Peak


The benefits of a whole food include lower rates of heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes. Another advantage of eating mostly whole foods comes from the vast array of vitamins and nutrients acting together.

My advice – Eat foods your grandparents would have eaten

3. Create A Small Calorie Deficit 

The Health Benefits of Time Restricted Eating - Happy Hormones For Life

The best way I have found to do this is to implement a ‘Time Restricted Eating Window’ into your day. The easiest way to do this is the 16:8 method which means you don’t eat anything for 16 hours (half of which you are asleep) and then you have an 8 hour eating window to eat your calories. This will promote automatic success as the smaller eating window means less potential to overeat.  I would have my eating window from 12pm to 8pm. That means you are basically just skipping breakfast which is we all know is no problem whatsoever.  

This type of eating is simple, smart and most importantly it works!

4. Keep It Simple And Sustainable 

Keep It Simple Stock Photo - Download Image Now - Simplicity, Sparse,  Technology - iStock

Ultimately you need to find a way of eating which does not have crazy restrictions and doesn’t feel like your starving yourself, as in the long term it won’t be sustainable.

If we want to lose weight, then we must eat fewer calories than we burn, it’s not rocket science, it’s that simple.

Ultimately when you break it down, in order to lose weight it can be as simple as getting enough sleep, at least 7 hours a night, reducing stress by implementing a short meditation, drinking at least 2 litres of water a day, not overtraining and doing fewer things better. Along with this we need to ditch the sugar, refined carbs and grains, and give the ultra processed foods like vegetable oil and sunflower oil a very wide berth. 

All of the above stalls the body’s ability to burn fat and creates chronic inflammation  

5. Reckless Eating Habits Need To Change

Nutrition experts blame government for bad eating habits - CBS News

The first thing I’d say is to change up the environment in your house. So for instance, If that junk food in your cupboard is constantly calling you and you think you have the so called willpower to abstain from it, I promise you, its not going to happen.  

Believe me, eventually you will give in.

You’re going to have moments where you’re stressed out, works a pain, the kids are playing up and things are generally getting on top of you. It’s when you feel like this its all too convenient to walk over to your junk food cupboard and if the foods in there staring you in the face, guess what, you’re going to give in. I promise you. I know at some points in my life where stress has gotten the better of me and I’ve caned a whole packet of biscuits, large pack of chocolate bars or a family bag of Doritos in one sitting. So if I was in your position, my rule would be I can’t have that in the house. 

We need to cut down on reckless eating, reaching for the processed foods and snacks out of habit.

6. Better Snack Choices

29 Healthy Snacks That Can Help You Lose Weight

On the other hand if it’s not there then most people aren’t going to go out of their way and drive to the supermarket at 8pm at night to pick up some more biscuits or sugary treats because its too much hassle. If your environment is set up for convenience with those unhealthy foods, then your willpower in loose terms is going to break.  

So as I’ve said, if you change your environment where that junk food isn’t in the house and you have healthier choices available to grab, then guess what? When you’re hungry, you may opt for a piece of fruit or some good nuts, possibly food rich in fibre and if you’re really hungry, you’re going to eat it. And that’s what your environment is set up to do, to help you. 

7. However Exercise Is Still Really, Really Important

All this said though, exercise and movement are obviously really important in a sensible and moderated way. The reason exercise is so important is that it massively reduces the body ability to create inflammation. If we sit too much and become inactive then our body creates inflammation, its that simple and totally avoidable. 

An Optimal Dose of Exercise | Harvard Medical School

The simplest way to explain this is that your body needs to burn your daily calorie budget per day regardless of what the budget is being spent on. This means that if you don’t burn some of your  calories on exercise then it will use those calories to create more inflammation in the body. If we have no calories left for the day, then the body has no leftover calories to spend on producing more inflammation within the body. A good result!

Exercise In The Right Dose Is Key To Good Health

Regardless of exercise not being great for weight loss, this is exactly why we still need to exercise to remain healthy. Either way our bodies are going to burn their daily calories on functions like breathing, brain function and your immune system regardless.

However exercise does seem to help people maintain their weight loss once they’ve initially lost it through diet. 

Keeping fit and exercising regularly will prevent you from developing, heart disease, diabetes, obesity etc. The reason for this is that the exercise has robbed the Inflammation calories that would have caused this.

However if you want to lose weight, the tool for that is your diet!

The Takeaway 

ripleys-fish-chips-sausages-chips-baked-beans-meal-takeaway-derbyshire -  Ripleys Fish & Chips

So there you have it. Most of us have associated metabolism with physical activity and food. However studies now show that diet and not exercise is the key to losing weight. In a total reversal of what we know to be true, the science now says that to reduce weight you really are better off eating less than being over active. It’s the only strategy that seems to work consistently.

Spending more energy by over exercising than you can actually acquire will not end well in the long game. Moderation really is the key here.

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