I am sure you’ve heard of the formula for weight loss before –
weight loss = calories in – calories out
There are the slightly more complicated pieces that involve basal metabolic rates, specific calorie counts, and estimated activity levels, but the basic concept is as long as you are eating less calories than you burn everyday, then you are going to lose weight, right? It’s a science!
I used to log into My Fitness Pal and get so excited at the end of the day after they calculated my calories and exercise and exclaimed, “If everyday were like today, you’d weigh 175 pounds in 6 weeks!”…only to find myself not weighing 175 pounds 6 weeks later.
If only it were that straightforward and predictable.
The problem is, there are genetics and hormones and a million and a half other things at play with every pound lost or gained. Even with all that science has learned about the human body, we just don’t know everything about how our bodies function, but it certainly is not always as predictable as it seems.
There was a New York Times article published this week about a study done with the participants of season 8 of the TV show, ‘The Biggest Loser.’ The article basically says that after losing hundreds of pounds on the show, the participants just couldn’t keep the weight off because their metabolism slowed down so much. The winner of the season, Danny Cahill, lost 239 pounds in 7 months, but quickly gained 100 pounds of that right back after the show. They said, “just to maintain his current weight of 295 pounds, he now has to eat 800 calories a day less than a typical man his size. Anything more turns to fat.”
Their cases prove the limitations of the weight loss formula. It’s a good place to start and the basic concept of eating less and moving more is great, but it just cannot predict the exact amount of weight you can/will lose.
If I had read that article before I’d lost 100 pounds, I would have been left disheartened and hopeless. Why on earth would I want to work and sweat and eat less sweets if the “reward” at the end of the road is a lifetime of strict calorie counting and hours of daily workouts? I would have given up before I had even begun!
I’m just telling you, that is not at all what my weight loss experience has been! I lost 100 pounds, and, yes, it was difficult sometimes and it’s not entirely effortless to keep the weight off, but I do not spend 3 hours at the gym everyday. I don’t eat clean 100% of the time or count calories. I eat a lot of vegetables, but I also eat chocolate and cake and french fries (and I don’t immediately gain 5 pounds when I do). So, why is my story so different than theirs?
I didn’t have a scientific study done to monitor my body’s response along the way of my weight loss journey, but my best guess is that it’s due to the fact that I lost the weight slowly by creating a healthy lifestyle, one small change at a time, while they lost theirs by flipping their extreme unhealthy habits into extreme healthy ones overnight. It appears that the changes happened so drastically that their bodies didn’t have time to adapt, they just went into shock and fought back.
I lost the weight over many years, in many different ways. I didn’t follow one specific diet from start to finish. I tried a bunch of different diets, sometimes getting results and sometimes not. I tried a ton of different workout programs and challenges, sometimes getting results and sometimes not. I tried to remember and keep practicing the things that worked like watching my portion sizes, eating more protein and whole grains, drinking more water, and walking a whole lot more everyday.
Sure, my weight loss may not be reality show material. I can’t claim, “You’ll lose 100 pounds in 6 months by following this 1 diet!” or “Get ripped in 30 days with this 1 workout!” I have no idea how your unique body will respond to specific foods or exercises, but I will tell you that slow, steady changes work, and you are not destined to a life of strict food restriction and sweaty gym living to stay healthy once you get there.
So here are 6 ways that you can break through the limitations of the weight loss formula:
- Start right now. There are always going to be reasons to start tomorrow or next week or after that one celebration. Stop putting it off. It’s not all or nothing. You can still eat a bunch of vegetables today and have a slice of birthday cake at your friend’s party tomorrow. But right now, this very second, do something.
- Stop obsessing about the scale. I know you want to lose weight, but it’s really not about the weight. The weight is a symptom of your unhealthy choices, so focus more on changing your choices than dropping the number on the scale. Have you heard of non-scale victories (NSV)? Aim for those more than a specific weight. The Whole30 (one of the better diets out there) put together a long list of NSVs that you can check out.
- Focus on eating more of the nutritious stuff. Instead of banning the “bad” foods from your diet, focus on adding more of the really good stuff in – fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, water.
- Sit less, move more. I don’t care if you walk, run, skip, hop, bike, swim, garden, or dance. Just find reasons to stand up and move.
- One small change. Wherever you are right now in your own health, no matter how fit you are or how much you weigh, make one small change. Every time you do, even though it may feel inconsequential, it makes a difference.
- Keep going. This is the most important part of all. You will have times when you want to give up and you will feel like it’s not worth it. It is. Don’t give up.