Why superfoods are BS (sort of) for fat loss and your metabolism

If you want to burn belly fat and build slim, toned muscles there’s something you need to know about superfoods. So in this post I share with you why the term superfood is misguiding your fat loss efforts. And of course I show you what to do instead to get a flat stomach and strong, lean physique with little body fat.


Foods don’t boost your metabolism.

So yeah, “superfoods” aren’t really a thing.

Hear me out though before you rage quite this post, because I just want to help reach your fat loss goals so you never have to diet again.

Sounds nice, right?

A huge, and all too common, fat loss mistake is revolving your strategy around boosting your metabolism.

A more effective tactic is to base your nutrition on the metabolism you have right now. Because, while your metabolism isn’t entirely fixed, the majority of it is.

I want to preemptively apologize because there are some maths coming up.

I'm truly sorry. I have no choice because this math can explain a lot of your struggles with fat loss.

TDEE= BMR + NEAT + EEE + TEF

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Ok, bare with me while I explain all this nonsense. I promise it's important.

(TDEE) Total Daily Energy Expenditure:

This is the total calories you use throughout the day.

(BMR) Basal Metabolic Rate:

This is the amount of calories needed to keep you alive, supporting organ function and whatnot. This is the bare minimum calories you need if you stayed in bed all day. This is the vast majority of your daily calories, "approximately 60-75% of TDEE"*. BMR is determined by the following equations:

[Men: BMR = (10 × weight in kg) + (6.25 × height in cm) - (5 × age in years) + 5

Women: BMR = (10 × weight in kg) + (6.25 × height in cm) - (5 × age in years) - 161]*

(NEAT) Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis:

Beyond being a mouthful, NEAT is any movement you do that's not exercise, from scratching your head to tapping your foot. So there are some calories burned here even if in quite small amounts.

(EEE) Exercise Energy Expenditure:

These are the calories you burn from exercise. This "can range anywhere from 15 to 30% of TDEE."

(TEF) Thermic Effect of Food:

These are the calories you burn from digestion because everything your body does requires energy. This "can consume up to 10% of TDEE." **

The point of all this is to show you that a huge percentage of your metabolism is determined by your height and weight i.e. things that have nothing to do with your dietary choices.

The body will always store some of the energy from the food you eat.

Yes, it takes energy to digest food, but there’s no such thing as a “negative calorie” food, one where the calories it takes to digest it are greater than the calories in the food. Even if there was such a thing, TEF is such a small ratio of your total daily energy expenditure as to not be worth worrying about in terms of food choices.

Flashback time!

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Back when I was still vegetarian, I wanted to bulk up by 15 lbs. This meant I needed to eat more calories than I burned. At the time I was working out absurdly hard (to the point of frequent injury):

  • Muay Thai 2 x per week
  • BJJ 2 x per week
  • Metabolic conditioning 2 x per week (hill sprints or kettlebell intervals)
  • MMA 1 x per week
  • Strength training 3 x per week

MMA training is some of the most intense exercise you can do. And I was training A LOT in addition to lifting heavy ass weights 3 times a week.

My metabolism should have been through the roof! Surely it should have been impossible to make any muscle gains because I was burning too many calories, right?

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Well, no.

Even though I was working really hard, any boosts in metabolism from exercise still only made up a small portion of my TDEE. True, I was burning more calories than if I was training 2 or 3 times a week, but not enough to prevent weight gain as I was successful in putting on 15 lbs in just 3 months.

And regardless of my workouts, I needed to consume more calories than I burned to gain weight. So how did I do it working out at such an insane intensity and frequency?

Actually, by eating "fat burning superfoods".

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Specifically almonds and avocados. I would make sure to eat 2 avocados everyday because they have lots of calories, and I would literally have a bag of almonds with me everywhere I went, also because they have lots of calories.

P.S. If this metabolism stuff seems confusing (because it is) email me at jmorton138@gmail.com and I can answer any questions you have :)

I see almonds on those “zero calories food lists” all the time, but if that were true, it would be impossible to gain 15 lbs simply by adding a ton of extra almonds to my diet. So yeah, you can totally gain weight eating healthy foods like almonds and avocados.

Foods you typically see on those superfood lists are usually good choices for fat loss because they have a high nutrient content and a high fullness to calorie ratio, not because they ignite your metabolism or anything like that.

A high fullness to calorie ratio means you can eat a large quantity of that food with a relatively low amount of calories. I go into much more detail on how this works here -- you should totes read it because it’s necessary info for getting a flat, toned tummy... just sayin’ ;)

Simply put though, half a pound of pizza has more calories than half a pound of chicken breast, and that half pound of chicken will leave your stomach feeling much more full and satisfied. Same amount of food, different levels of fullness and calories.

The things typically deemed “fat burning foods” or “superfoods” are usually just fruits, veggies, other plants, and lean proteins AKA things with high fullness to calorie ratios.

Don’t get me wrong, typically those list of “Top 10 fat burning foods” usually contain solid food options, but only because they’re colorful vegetables, not because they have magical powers that make them more important than other vegetables.

Why should you care about this?

Reason #1 why you should care

Your knowledge of how the body works is going to influence the decisions you make. So if you believe there’s a magic bullet or some secret way to “hack” or “trick” your body into burning fat, you’re much more likely to look for shortcuts and quick fixes. This will ultimately keep your weight and body fat levels the same, despite putting in effort.

So while the recommendation is still ”veggies veggies veggies”, knowing the correct reason for WHY the answer is veggies is going to help you make smarter, more informed dietary decisions for faster fat loss.

Plus, it frees you up to make decisions that work for you, with foods you like, rather than feeling constrained to buying only expensive, organic “superfoods”.

So again, certain foods, while they may be fat loss friendly, don’t burn fat or cause any metabolic boost that allows you to eat excessive calories while still burning fat.

You don’t need to eat any one single food if you don’t want to.

There are no specific necessary foods for burning body fat.

Yes, you should eat lots of plants and lean proteins, but if you’d rather stub your pinky toe repeatedly on the corner of your coffee table for an hour than eat kale, don’t.

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Find some other vegetable you actually like eating, because if you enjoy your healthy meals it won’t feel like a chore => you’ll stick to your plan more often #winning

This means you’ll get better results because you’ll be eating healthy more consistently. Plus, eating healthy won’t make you sad.

Reason #2 why you should care

Because chasing a higher metabolism is going to run you into the ground for no reason.

You’ll be working your ass off, feeling exhausted all the time, yet see zero difference when you look in the mirror, which is immensely disheartening. It makes you feel completely helpless and powerless. I probably don’t need to explain why this isn’t a good thing.

Chasing a high metabolism with extreme workouts and diets is a great way to get injured and not lose any fat. Remember, your workout has no effect on your BMR.

Your BMR stays constant unless your weight changes in which case it actually goes down. Yes, the skinnier you are, the slower your metabolism will be.

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Reason #3 why you should care:

“Metabolism boosting” opens up your brain to so many counterproductive fat loss tactics like detoxes, butter coffee, and workouts that make you tired but don’t make your body change. Because under the guise of “metabolism boosting” these methods can sound too legit to quit.

Spoiler alert: they’re not legit at all. Let alone legit enough to quit.

“Superfoods” aren’t magical. The only actual superfood I can think of is Unicorn blood and you saw how that one worked out for You Know Who.

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“Superfoods” are just plants, which is awesome for health and fat loss because they simply provide minimal calories with lots of fullness and nutrients which allows you to more easily maintain a caloric deficit.

But they’re not going give your body the metabolism of a teenager who can stay skinny eating nothing but french fries and Twix bars, because their height is increasing about an inch every day.

And I know that's the dream -- to be able to eat burritos and ice cream all the time while all of those blueberry and kale smoothies jack up your metabolism so you can still look fit, lean and toned.

I get it. I do.

That would be fucking awesome! Unfortunately that's just not how your body works. Changing your long term habits is really hard, but it’s necessary if you want your body to look different.

If you want to keep eating the rich foods you love and make your body lean, there is a way to do that.

But the way to change your nutrition habits is not by eating blueberries, or goji, or kale or what-have-you.

You can still have pizza, and ice cream, while burning body fat. You’ll just have to pay attention to how much and how often you indulge in such treats.

One way to continue eating your favorite rich foods is to simply work them into your nutrition plan.

  1. Indulge 1- 3 times a week
  2. Enjoy the hell out of it.
  3. Move on.

Plus, you’ll find when you treat yourself 1-3 times a week, you actually enjoy it more anyways. Which is the whole point of treats! To enjoy them!

There are many different ways to lose fat, but they all revolve around consuming less calories than you burn. Yes, there’s some nuance in terms of how this works, but for all practical purposes that’s what you need to know.

If you struggle with fat loss it’s not because of nuances, it’s because you need to master the basics:

  • Fill up 80% of your plate with protein and veggies at every meal
  • Eat 3 meals a day +1 snack
  • Leave meals feeling satisfied but not painfully stuffed.
  • Aim for 8 hours of sleep a night
  • Move for an hour every day. This could be anything from walking to yoga to frisbee to sex to yoga-frisbee-sex (if that’s what you’re into)
  • Lift weights 2 or 3 times a week

There’s nothing sneaky or remotely sexy about this list of basics, except that they work.

Everything other than that is minutia and not worth worrying about until you’ve mastered those basics.

So superfoods/fat burning foods aren’t a thing. The foods labeled like this might be good for fat loss, but they won’t accelerate your metabolism or anything like that.

Make healthy eating work for you by dumping the arbitrary lists of “mandatory” foods and pick fruits, veggies, and proteins that are both convenient, and actually enjoyable.

Make your own list of fat loss friendly foods you’re most likely to eat -- foods that don’t feel like a chore to eat. Then, simply eat those foods, because that’s how you stick to a fat loss plan for more than 2 weeks. That’s how you finally see your hard work reward you with lean muscle tone in your arms, thighs, and stomach.

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References
  • Mifflin MD, St Jeor ST, Hill LA, Scott BJ, Daugherty SA, Koh YO (1990). "A new predictive equation for resting energy expenditure in healthy individuals". The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 51 (2): 241–7. PMID 2305711.

** McCall, Pete. "Caloric Cost of Physical Activity." Ace Fit. American Council on Exercise, 17 June 2017. Web. 18 July 2017.

Posted on Jul 19, 2017