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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    Is weight loss really as simple as calories in and calories out?

    Related Topic
    Conventional wisdom on the web appears to be that you put on weight if you consume more calories than you burn. My GP also reinforced this view.

    But it confuses me because sometime I put on weight when I seem to have been eating little and the opposite is sometimes true …. I have a week of going out, bbq's, etc fearful of what the scales will show but then when I get on them I sometimes found I've actually lost weight!

    Can anyone advise?
  • Find a professional to answer your question

  • 8


    Alysha Coleman

    Clinical Psychologist, Counsellor, Psychologist

    Alysha is the Primary Clinical Psychologist and Director of The Institute for Healthy Living, a clinical psychology practice in Bondi Junction. Alysha has worked with … View Profile

    Hi there,

    It may depend on the types of foods you are eating, their energy content, and how your body uses them. Perhaps your activity levels were also different during this time? It can be useful to keep a food and activity diary to help you learn the relationship between your energy intake and your weight.

    The easiest view on weight loss is to focus on consuming less energy than you burn. 

    It is also important to consider maintaining a balance; and sticking to normal, healthful eating. 

    Read on to understand why:

    Believe it or not, one of the two biggest predictors of weight regain (and weight loss difficulty)  is possessing what Psychologist’s call a ‘dichotomous thinking style’. This means that the person tends to view things in all or nothing terms: it or they are either good or bad, on or off, right or wrong, winning or losing, depriving or bingeing. What this thinking style lacks is balance; a middle ground.Unfortunately, this thinking style can easily creep in following attempts to lose weight and become more healthful.

    We all know that weight loss and healthy changes involve some sacrifice and restriction. With all the best intentions, we resolve to be strict in our eating with rules and bans on ‘naughty foods’. Inevitably, this leads to a sense of deprivation. The pressure and cravings build until we crack under the pressure. Our inner weight loss saboteur makes the final blow by saying “You’ve just gorged yourselfon banana bread, your whole day of good eating is spoilt! You may as well let loose today and start fresh tomorrow…”. We all know how this story ends: we don’t start again tomorrow.Or the next day. Or the next day.This only leaves us more convinced that being strict is the answer.This swing between all or nothing influences our mental approach to ourselves, eating and exercise.

    I have had countless people recount this same experience to me, which has resulted in difficulty finding balance in their thinking and actions.There’s no surprise that this leads to lots of emotional distress and not much change on the scales.

    Balance is the answer.Bringing our eating choices into the middle ground is a way prevent this sabotaging dichotomous thinking style from taking hold. Being too restrictive will only work against our efforts to change and will increase the pendulum swing from one extreme to the other.What is this middle ground you ask? Simple.

    Eat normally

    Sound easy? When I ask my clients what normal eating is, they usually respond with a puzzled look and the same three words: “I don’t know”.

    Normal eating is being able to eat when you’re hungry and continue eating until you are satisfied. It is knowing when you are hungry. It is being able to choose food you like and not just stop eating because you think you should. Normal eating is being able to use some moderate constraint in your food selection to get the right foods, but not being so restrictive that you miss out on pleasurable foods(and consequently feel deprived!). Normal eating is giving yourself permission to sometimes eat something because you’re happy, sad or bored, or just because it feels good. Normal eating is three meals a day, or choosing to graze. It’s leaving some biscuits on the plate because you know you can have some again tomorrow, or it’s eating more now because they taste so so good when they’re fresh.

    Normal eating is overeating at times and feeling uncomfortable. It is also undereating at times, and wishing you had more. Normal eating is trusting your body to make up for your lapses in eating. Normal eating takes up some of your time and attention, but it keeps its place as only one important area of your life. It doesn’t dominate your thoughts.Normal eating is flexible and balanced. It varies in response to your emotions, your schedule, your hunger, and your proximity to food.

    If we aim for this middle ground, we can prevent ourselves getting stuck in the battle between restricting and blow-outs. We can better manage the energy in / energy out balance.

    By eating normally, you are saying no to restrictive rules and expecting perfection. You are winning the battle against dichotomous thinking. Aim for normal eating. Remember, balance is key. Dichotomous thinking is the enemy.

    Alysha Casey, Clinical Psychologist

  • 5


    Chris Fonda

    Dietitian, Nutritionist, Sports Dietitian

    As an Accredited Sports Dietitian, APD and athlete (springboard diver), Chris has both professional and personal experience in sport at the sub-elite and elite level.Chris … View Profile

    Great response from Alysha Casey, I wholeheartedly agree. Weight management such as weight loss takes time, perseverance and yes, eating less energy than you are burning up. But it also requires the right mindset. Becoming so focused on the scales and numbers (as your weight does fluctuate on a daily basis depending on a number of factors) can have very negative connotations. 

    I recommend you consult an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) that will be able to help you create a plan which helps you to lose weight without having sacrificing the foods you love whilst still achieving the weight loss goals you desire. To find an APD head to the Dietitians Association of Australia website (

  • 3


    Kirsty Woods

    Exercise Physiologist

    Hi I’m Kirsty Woods,I would like to use my experience, expertise and passion to help you reach your weight, energy and health goalsI have been … View Profile

    To lose weight and improve body composition and health, you must be burning more FAT than you are storing. Various factors can affect this balance including:

    • Calories in VS calories out can
    • Types of food & exercise
    • Hormonal and insulin responses
    • As well as other lifestyle factors including stress, sleep and nutritional deficiencies.

    It is also important to consider whether weight loss/gain is from muscle or FAT. Not performing resistance training and SEVERE calorie restriction can impact on your body composition (fat Vs muscle).

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