Weight Loss 101: What’s Actually Happening Inside You? [Infographic]

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Weight Loss 101: What’s Actually Happening Inside You? [Infographic]

You know the math when it comes to losing weight: Eat smarter and exercise. What you don’t need is fad diets or get-thin-quick schemes. It’s all about data — and if you’re logging in MyFitnessPal, a little scientific knowledge helps you understand what’s going on inside you. That’s what we’re here to provide: a comprehensive look at what happens in your body when you’re looking to lose weight.

It all starts with calories, the basic unit in foods and beverages that provides your body with energy. All calories are the same: 150 calories from a cookie or Greek yogurt is still 150 units the body converts to energy. But how many you can handle is unique to your body: Your calorie budget depends on a variety of factors, including your physical-activity levels, muscle density and genetics. Now to the science …

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  • Ghetto Counselor

    Hi Doctor Meyer, What’s the current science on eating back calories from exercise saying? This seems a topic of confusion on many blogs and other discussion groups and since exercise is seemingly always part of a well rounded diet it would seem useful to understand how to balance it in the thinking on diets. To give you some sense of the landscape I’m thinking of I’m wondering about both the after work trip to the gym with a HIIT style spin for 30 minutes, say 300 calories as well as the weekend warrior 1500 or more calorie 75 mile 4 hour road ride. Those are two very different scenarios and I suspect the philosophy to handle them is different as well. Appreciate your thoughts!

  • Waleed Ansari

    I appreciate what you have written based on your knowledge. But just considering calories and not the levels of insulin in the body and it’s resistance, tells me that you’re either unaware or simply don’t understand what’s really happening inside our bodies.

    • Lytrigian

      Or, she was presenting a general overview without getting too deep into the details of the biochemistry.

      Besides, just considering calories works.

    • Cindi Seal

      I agree… I think her assertion that “all calories are the same” is misleading. The metabolic effects of weight loss are a huge component that should not be swept under the rug. Simple calorie deficit based on simple BMR calculations will NOT (generally) result in continued weight loss in the long run, especially for those who have a significant amount of weight to lose. You must factor in the considerable slowing of the metabolism and try to counteract it, else starve.

      • He-Man

        It is true that reductions in BMR from losing body weight can counteract some part of the deficit, but it has never been shown to cancel it completely. This is why you never see fat POWs or fat anorexics.

        Some people do have what is known as a thrifty metabolism, which is when given the same diet and exercise program, the person will experience different results, due to differences in how their body responds to being in a deficit. Some people’s bodies are extremely adaptive, and will not lose nearly as much as a less thrifty person with the same weight and height.

        The same correlates to weight or fat gain. Some people respond to overeating differently than others. Some people’s bodies are more efficient at storing fat than others. As a result, given an experiment where people were asked to overfeed the same percentage of calories over a period of time, some people gained lots of body fat, and some people gained hardly any.

        That’s why the 3,500 calorie per pound rule is a myth because it does not consider adaptations of that person’s physiology to being in a calorie deficit.

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        • Cindi Seal

          Great clarification, and well said! Any chance you have a reference/citation for the study? Would love to read it to better my understanding. Thanks!

          • Ronald Jones

            Try Dr. Jason Fung, The Obesity Code. See his YouTube videos also.

          • Cindi Seal

            Thanks for the tip! He has some interesting ideas.

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    • He-Man

      I think you have been somewhat mislead. High levels of insulin alone do not explain insulin resistance. Insulin’s job is to regulate the uptake of nutrients by the body’s cells by telling them to open up.

      Without insulin, you would not survive. Food ingested causes the pancreas to release insulin into the bloodstream. As nutrients are being absorbed into the cells, insulin levels drop until all the nutrients are absorbed and insulin remains at the baseline level. Every time you eat food, this occurs, regardless of whether your perceived insulin levels are low or not.

      Insulin has a role to play in fat storage, but so do many other hormones. One of insulin’s main functions is to protect against high levels of blood glucose by stimulating glucagon. During this process, insulin inhibits the breakdown of fat cells and stimulates the formation of new ones. While this may sound scary, it’s not– the body is consistently forming and burning fat cells for energy.

      In periods were food intake is not happening, the body’s insulin levels drop to baseline, and the body is mainly burning fat for energy, but in periods of food ingestion, the body stores ingested food as fat and goes through a process of both forming and burning new fat cells. The 24 hour cycle of nutrient intake will decide whether the body will store excess energy from glucose reserves as fat, or to burn it through a process of oxidation, which can only be triggered by a deficit in ATP ( a calorie deficit).

      In the case of insulin resistance, the problems occur when due to many reasons, the receptors of the cells are unable to receive the signals from insulin to allow the nutrients to flow through. As a result, insulin is unable to do its job by signaling glucagon to break down excess glucose in the blood. As a result, the pancreas releases more insulin to respond to the excess glucose, but the glucose in the blood keeps building up, as insulin is unable to shuffle the nutrients in the cell to support a healthy blood sugar. As a result, insulin resistance occurs.

      The biggest predictor of Type 2 diabetes, by the way, is body fat gain. There are examples of many cultures that have extremely high carbohydrate intake, yet have the fewest incidences of Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

      • Cindi

        I am a 61 year old female. I have been involved with the fitness industry for over 40 years. I have been diagnosed with being insulin resistant. I do cardio for 45 to 90 minutes 6x per week. Weight training 30 to 45 minutes 3 to 4x per week. I am also a massage therapist with an average of 30 hours per week of deep tissue massage .I eat a low carb diet. I eat approximately 1200 to 1400 total calories per day of mostly protein and vegetables and
        I can’t lose weight . I have been to see numerous nutrionionists and no one can solve it. My cholesterol is also high. I want to lose 20 pounds

        • Henry Aarvold

          Hi Cindi, try adding more saturated fats to your diet. Add organic butter to your veg. Go for more fatty grass fed/pastured meat like lamb, pork and beef rather than just lean protein like chicken. You’ll be surprised by the effect this will have on your health and weight loss. Don’t count the calories, just listen to your body and eat when only when hungry.

        • Olivia

          Too much cardio can be an obstacle to lose weight. The key is builfing muscle as miscle requires more energy to run. More muscle = more cals you’ll naturally burn. Low carb, high protein diets have been shown to create resistance in the body in the long yerm and make it more and more difficult to lose weight over time, and that would explain the high cholesterol too, as I assume these protein cone from animals’ bodies mainly.
          Have you tried a high carb, low fat diet? Sustainable, great for fat loss and most healthy. That did (is doing it for me) 🙂

        • Shepard

          Eat less

        • rosa

          Hey Cindi,
          Check out this book by Diane Kress, RD, CDE, titled The Metabolism Miracle
          It has helped hundreds of people also myself with issues of weight loss . I have gone on many low carb diets only to regain the lost weight, this book will give you great insight into what can be done to lose weight for good.

        • joe

          Different methods work for different people. I’ve had some success with intermittent fasting and HIIT (interval training); try switching out the cardio for interval training, and take 2 days off instead of 1. Also, have a low protein/high carb day once per week. Add soluble fiber to help with cholesterol (supplement with psyllium, inulin, chia seed, flax seed, and glucomannan throughout the week). I also take Niacin, fenugreek, and aged garlic extract to help. For weight training, are you doing mostly compound exercises (squats, deadlifts, lunges, chest and military press), and increasing the weight amount over time? Best wishes to you!

      • Zoe

        Hey He-man I think you need to check you facts on one detail here. The body generally isn’t forming New fat cells it’s filling and emptying existing ones. This is one of the reasons it is so hard to keep weight off. As the fat cells remain in the body after weight loss, waiting for any chance to refill.

  • Nikki Walker

    “All calories are the same,” gahhh I feel like you were hired by the sugar industry to write this post so the readers start counting calories again, instead of reading what’s actually being put into our food.

    • Julia Elizabeth Cooper

      This is a blog post written on a website owned by by a company who is in the business of counting calories. Whether or not they’re all the same, it is likely a biased article. Take with a grain of salt.

    • Nick Fergadis Giannakopoulos

      You do realize MyFitnessPal’s main function is calorie-counting, don’t you?

    • Kelli

      The source of calories has different reactions on your body. Consuming carbs creates a completely different reaction during digestion in your body then consuming protein or fats. Google glycemic index.

    • M Blair Weng

      I agree. I think people need to do both – watch calories and look closely at what’s in the food.

  • Ronald Jones

    Doctor, respectfully, please review the findings of Dr. Jason Fung. See book The Obesity Code, and the many YouTube videos by Dr. Fung. A calorie is not a calorie, and the “eat less, move more” or “caloric reduction” approach does NOT work in the long run, and everyone knows it. They all gain the weight back. It’s not as simple as you’ve explained it and if you don’t educate yourself you’ll continue to do a disservice to your clients.

    • jack

      An energy deficit has worked for me, and I do use this app religiously. I’m 72 and within ten pounds of my high school weight with a normal bmi. My understanding is the national weight control contains information on this matter. Men who do an hour of exercise per day and stick to 2000 calories effectively control weight over time.

      The likes of Gary Taubes haven’t repealed the laws of physics. The Doc is correct, at least in my experience.

  • Gabriel Nguyen

    Not all calories are there same. Having someone on a low fat diet vs a low sugar diet having the same calories and exercise will give very different results. The moment she said all calories are the same made me suspicious.

    • Nick Fergadis Giannakopoulos

      Energy is energy, regardless from where it’s coming from. Sure, if we are talking long term, too much sugar and carbs will slow your metabolism and cause all sorts of issues, but in the short term, if you’re eating below your maintenance, let’s say 1200kcal/day, you will lose weight whether you’re eating chicken breasts or donuts.

  • Rabih zeineddine

    Straight and easy we need no more than this simple and straight forward information, i loved it.

  • Rona

    I agree with Ms. Megan. All calories are equal. Meaning even if that 150 calories come from “healthy food” like yogurt, boiled egg, wheat bread etc STILL it is still SAME and/ or EXACT calories coming from 150 calories of so-called “unhealthy” food like soda, junk food etc.

    • M Blair Weng

      Uh… no. The effects of 500 calories from an avacado and 500 calories from a bag of cheetos and a coke are totally different – for obvious reasons.

  • Great info! Luckily I found your blog and I’ve saved as a favorite for later!

  • Yasmine Mavrakis, RD

    The AMDR’s for fat and protein shown in the first diagram are inaccurate. The AMDR for protein is 10-35% and ft is 20-35%

  • Floridajan

    All calories may be same.But calories from some foods with high fiber and good fat keep you full so you don’t feel hungry and go for junk foods. Calories with good nutrition also helps. It is the combination of calorie control and proper foods that do not spike your insulin.

  • Very nice article. Our body requires fuel to aerobic exercise, and high energy food is the source of that fuel. That’s why when we start to workout we report feeling hungrier. If one want to lose weight fast, then this could be very Helpful. Keep it up