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Burn, Baby, Burn?

Posted Sep 12 2008 3:58am
When it comes to weight loss, people are often desperate for an extra boost -- and marketers gladly oblige.

It seems that using caffeine as an ingredient piques dieters’ interest – and their wallets’.

So, does caffeine truly speed up weight loss?

It’s funny, really, because the majority of the research concludes the following: caffeine consumption in people who exercise regularly and follow diets that provide less calories than their regular dietary intake results in weight loss.

In essence, these people would have lost weight even without those extra two cups of coffee.

If you decrease your caloric intake and increase your physical activity over an extended period of time, you will surely lose weight.

If you happened to chew three pieces of gum every day while doing this, I’m sure some study could conclude that “chewing three pieces of gum a day while exercising regularly and eating a reduced-calorie diet results in weight loss.”

Get my point?

While it is true that caffeine often acts as an appetite suppressant, this effect usually lasts approximately 45 minutes.

The large majority of the over-the-counter “fat burning” products you see contain caffeine along with a handful of other stimulants, thus rendering them more powerful in holding off your hunger. Caffeine in and of itself is not enough.

Trying to beat a hunger pang by drinking two cups of black coffee will not trick the body into thinking it has been fed.

Additionally, most people who consume caffeine are not having it in the form of black coffee. By the time you add milk and sugar, you are ending up with more calories in your day, the exact opposite of what you want to do if you are looking to lose weight.

A lot of companies that develop weight-loss aids containing caffeine are quick to point out is “thermogenic” effects – that is, its ability to help the body burn calories while digesting and absorbing it.

And while it is true that caffeine’s thermogenic effect is higher than, say, watermelon’s, it is not high enough by any means to truly be considered a “calorie burner”.

What caffeine does accomplish as a diuretic is increasing urine volume, resulting in water loss, and thus a lower temporary weight (“weight loss”).

So, yes, if you suddenly add four or five cups of coffee to your day, it is very likely you will feel – and see yourself as – less bloated. Guess what? You are.

That being said, the moment that lost water is replenished, you’re back to your normal self.

While I’m at it, allow me to shatter a popular myth here, which I have literally had 12 people ask me about over the past few months. Eating chocolate-covered espresso beans does not result in “caloric balance”. In other words, the espresso will not burn off the calories from the chocolate.

A quarter cup of chocolate covered espresso beans is calorically equivalent to a quarter cup of plain M & M's. These are treats, not diet tricks.

Similarly, a Venti latte with whipped cream and caramel provides 600 calories – don’t count on caffeine to lower that number for you.

By all means, continue to enjoy your coffee (current recommendations are capped at three eight ounce cups… or one Starbucks Venti). Savor it, delight your nasal passages with its aroma, and pour it over ice cubes for a cool summer beverage.

When it comes to weight loss, though, you’re better off picking up a pedometer than a hot cup of Joe.
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