The universal advice to lose weight has always been to eat less and move more. In general, it’s simple, straight forward advice based on the first law of thermodynamics. To lose weight, one simply needs to consume fewer calories than they expend. It’s the advice that has sold millions on weight loss plans, programs diets, books, etc. and is still the number one reason why people say they workout. But if it really was that simple, why is that we face a nation of expanding waistlines yet have more tools at our disposal to keep our eating in check and our activity plentiful?
Weight Loss is Not Linear
In theory, it makes perfect sense that if we eat less (calories) than we burn we should tap into our calorie stores (fat) to make up the energy deficit. Then there’s the generic advice that if you successfully are at a net loss of 500 calories of day that after seven days (3500 calories) you would be down one pound of fat. (1 lb. fat = 3500 calories). On paper, that looks and sounds great! That is until you consider what would happen if you successfully continued at that rate for 1 year (52 weeks = 182,000 calories = 52 lbs.); 2 years – 104 lbs.; 3 years – 156 lbs.; and so forth. At some point, there would be nothing left to lose. Is it as simple as just decreasing the calories until you reach your desired or recommended weight or is there something much larger (no pun intended) to consider?
Know Thy Metabolism
People talk about metabolism like they understand it as well as they do their favorite Netflix show. You’ll hear things like, “Oh, she just has a high metabolism” when referring to someone who appears they can eat whatever they want and not gain any weight, or “I have a slow metabolism.” when justifying why they can’t eat whatever they want or they would gain weight. STOP! I don’t pretend to know the intricacies of how a car works when you step on the gas. I do know however that a car without gas or inefficiently tuned isn’t going to go very far. Calories are a representation of the amount of fuel we bring in and your metabolism is simply the sum of the amount of energy (calories) your body needs and/or consumes to keep the engine running. What most don’t understand or appreciate is that there is an amount of energy your body needs and whether those needs are met or not, the body will do what it must to protect itself and survive despite what you think is the right thing.
Survival of the Fittest
It’s no secret. If you cut calories you will lose weight…initially. Why? Without getting into a fat vs water weight debate, the body is adjusting to a new stimulus like it’s supposed to. Thousands of years have still yet to change the human genome. There’s little scientific data to support how long that adjustment window is but I’m sure most who have ever dieted over and over again will tell you it can be anywhere from four to ten weeks, otherwise known as the “plateau” or end of the weight loss. Hence the cycle begins of gaining weight back, cutting calories again, gaining weight back, cutting calories again, etc., etc., etc. What gives? Is this Mother Nature’s little joke? No. It’s her way of telling you, “Fool me once, shame on you; Fool me twice, and I’m going to do what I need to do.” Your energy requirement (calories) decreases as a result of your total energy (metabolism) decreasing. Shouldn’t that result in a greater weight loss? Initially, yes but as the energy demands of the body decrease, so too does the amount of energy needed to be ingested. The net result is a body that is striving to do its part to sustain and survive at all costs by slowing down bodily functions, decreasing lean tissue mass, leaching minerals from various parts of the body, while simultaneously storing any extra energy (calories) brought in to save for a rainy day.
Remove the Blindfold
When it comes to watching calories, most will assign themselves an arbitrary number such as 1,200 calories or 1,800 calories with no idea at all what those numbers mean for them. They assume that less is better and that even less must be even better. In reality the “less” is what actually may be thwarting their current and future efforts. It’s no secret. A great way to play the weight loss game is to hop from one diet to the next; small victories at times but failure in the long run. There is no winner. The only solution is to lead a lifestyle that is not only healthy and sustainable, but that is unique to you. That has to start from knowing some numbers. The BMR, basal metabolic rate, represents the amount of calories your body needs to just operate, nothing else. You can get an estimate here. That number doesn’t represent the number of calories you need; that’s just to get the engine running. The other number to know is your DCE, daily caloric expenditure. There are many nifty ways both on-line and various fitness apps such as MyFitnessPal to determine that number, which is representative of the total amount of calories you burn throughout the day – plus the BMR. That includes getting out of bed, household chores, going to work, etc., and of course exercise which can have a huge impact on the number. This number doesn’t represent the ceiling of the number of calories you can ingest. It not only represents the potential total energy you require but where you can have the greatest impact on how your body uses or stores energy. Expend more energy and you will see positive results so long as the BMR is being met. But there’s still a catch.
Success is a Badge of Consistency
Successful weight loss as stated earlier is not a linear process and as the body physically adapts, so too must you. That means, those numbers, BMR and DCE, will change throughout a year based on certain circumstances, such as activity level and/or how consistent you effectively reach the body’s energy demands. If your pattern of providing at least the bare amount of energy (BMR) is met haphazardly there will be a decline in its value. If you’re DCE drops or is here and there with activity, it too will drop. If either one drops and there is an overload a calorie surplus, you gain weight.
The main point here is this. Weight loss is not the result of fast or slow metabolisms. It is a result of what you created – a body that has become efficient at storing calories. Weight loss is not an easy task but and one that is fraught with tons of gimmicks, props, pills, shakes, and plain ol’ misinformation. It’s not just as easy as eating less and moving more; it is a balance. You can and are fully capable of making your body a machine that uses and stores fuel efficiently. All that’s required is a little patience and consistency.
Til’ next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.