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The 5 Universal Principles of Good Nutrition — Principle 1


My name is Mark Airey and I am a Nutritional Coach and motivator for lifestyle change. The thing I love most about nutrition, apart from helping people of course, is sifting through the research and gaining a sound understanding of the fundamental principles behind what the actual scientific evidence says. Because lets face it there is a lot BS out there! There isn’t a day goes by that I don’t stare flabbergasted at something on the TV, in a magazine or on social media that causes me to deep sigh, cup my face in exasperation or knock my head off the table.

Sometimes the BS is that convincing that I really do question myself and think “have I missed something?” or “have I completely misunderstood that?” and so I head back to the science and have a check and happily, most of the time, I resurface knowing that I hadn’t missed something and I did understand.


BUT, I am a self confessed nutritional geek and I know that not everyone (well hardly anyone really :-)) does this and therefore can fall foul of the cacophony of nutritional BS that is out there — and so I will save you the hassle.

A lot of people that DO know and DO understand the science all agree that there are 5 universal principles of good nutrition and over the next 5 blogs I will be imparting this wisdom on you — so if you are interested in hearing the actual truth then please read on.

Principle #1: Weight loss and weight gain come down to one key equation.

Everyone knows this one, though not everyone believes it. It’s the energy balance equation, also known as calories in, calories out (or CICO for short), and it looks like this:

[Energy in] — [Energy out] = Changes in body stores

In other words:

When you take in more energy (or calories) than you burn, you gain weight.

When you take in less energy than you burn, you lose weight.

When you take in the same energy as you burn, you maintain.

So you might be wondering: How do we know this with absolute certainty whereas “wine is bad/good for you” is still up for debate?

First, like gravity, this principle is easy to test. With gravity, you can continually release a heavy object. No matter how many times you try it, the object falls.

It’s the same with energy balance. If you reduce “energy in” and increase “energy out,” you always get the same result: Bodyweight goes down.

Second, the energy balance equation comes from the first law of thermodynamics: Energy can neither be created or destroyed, only transferred from one state to another.

Humans can’t create energy from nothing. We convert it from food. And any excess energy we take in doesn’t magically vanish: Your body either increases “energy out” (often by turning up the metabolism) or stores the excess.

Scientific laws are as close to facts as we can get. Can they be updated over time? Of Course But in this case, however, the law has stood firm for well over a century.

So, why do some people say “Not all calories are equal!”?

In a word: confusion.

As you can see from the illustration below, many complex factors influence “calories in” and “calories out.” Your brain, especially, can turn up or turn down metabolism, exerting a massive influence on “calories out.”


To better understand the universality of energy balance, let’s circle back to another law you may have studied in physics class: the law of gravity.

Like energy balance, it’s also represented by the equation F = ma (force equals mass times acceleration). The basic equation applies to every object, dropped from any height. But a lot of factors affect it — like air resistance — making it seem like it’s not true.

Similarly, with food and humans, the basic equation never changes. It’s true of all foods consumed in all situations.

But, lots of factors can affect different parts of the equation.

What does this mean for you?

If you want to gain or lose body mass, you’ll want to consider overall energy balance and how to shift it in your favour. Here are a few ways to do just that.

To reduce calories in:

Consume more fiber-rich vegetables to reduce the number of calories your body absorbs.

Consume more protein to reduce appetite and therefore overall energy intake.

Eat slowly so you can tune into hunger and fullness signals, and stop eating when you are satisfied, not stuffed.

Use hand portions to guide how much you eat. (covered in a previous post)

Get enough sleep to reduce hunger and cravings for sweets.

Practice self care to reduce stress and improve sleep — both important for a healthy metabolism.

To increase calories out:

Add cardio to burn more calories.

Add strength training to build more muscle, boost overall metabolism, and burn more calories.

Increase daily activity by taking the stairs, parking farther from your destination, and/or using an activity tracker to nudge you to take more steps.

Boost protein intake to increase the thermic effect of digestion.

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