**Let’s be honest with ourselves: diets don’t work. Traditional diets state if you take in fewer calories than your body burns, you’ll lose weight:
Calories In – Calories Out = Body Fat
So if you take in more calories than you burn, the rest is stored as body fat. Seems simple,
right? But if it is that simple, why is it so freaking hard to lose weight? Here is why: because this is WRONG. And today I’m going to explain four reasons the calorie-based method of weight loss does not work.
Reason 1 that diets don’t work: Calories in and calories out are NOT independent of one another.
The traditional teaching (aka “move more, eat less”) is pretty simple: if your body needs 2000 calories a day to live, then cutting your calorie intake to 1500 calories per day creates a 500 calorie deficit. There are 3500 calories in a pound of fat, so a 500 calorie/day deficit means you should lose a pound in a week, right?
Nope. Not even close. When you cut calories, your body actually burns fewer calories to conserve energy. In evolutionary terms this makes sense: if our bodies kept burning calories at the same pace during a food shortage, we would have died off pretty quickly as a species. Think of it another way: if you suddenly get a pay cut at work, you aren’t going to keep spending money at the same rate. You’ll cut your monthly budget down before dipping into your savings. In the same way, your body will burn fewer calories when access to food is low, rather than burning through fat stores.
Reason 2 that diets don’t work: All calories are not equal.
I think intuitively we know that our body does not treat 200 calories worth of broccoli and 200 calories worth of ice cream the same way. Nobody ever got fat eating a ton of broccoli, right? Yet the concept that we must cut calories to lose weight treats all calories equally. This is another reason diets don’t work; they focus on the quantity (i.e. calorie count) of food rather than the quality of food. Over the past two decades we’ve seen obesity rates surge despite increasing availability of low-calorie foods.
Reason 3 that diets don’t work: You have less control over “calories out” than you think.
Traditional diets focus on exercise as a way to burn calories and increase the calorie deficit, in an attempt to nudge our bodies toward accessing stored fat. On The Biggest Loser contestants spend hours a day exercising in an attempt to burn calories and lose weight. But guess what? It doesn’t work.
First, you just cannot burn that many calories with exercise. Run a marathon and your body burns a whopping 2600 calories. But you can consume 1300 calories eating your average dinner at Olive Garden. And I’m guessing most of us eat dinner at Olive Garden far more often than we run a marathon.
Second, your body responds to exercise in a way that actually prevents weight loss. Exercise triggers increased hunger, which most of us have probably noticed at some point. (full disclosure: I thought the increased hunger after a run meant my body needed that deep-fried French toast!) But what you may not have noticed is that your body also compensates for exercise by being less active throughout the day. So the average number of calories burned stays the same. This has been shown in studies that followed kids with increased gym class time; the kids were more sedentary the rest of the day, so their average activity remained the same. That old adage to eat less, move more? It just doesn’t work.
Reason 4 that diets don’t work: We have less control over hunger than we think.
Hunger is hormonally regulated. Our bodies send signals to tell us when we’re hungry, and to tell us when we are full. Over thousands of years the human body has evolved mechanisms for homeostasis, i.e. maintaining a stable equilibrium. This includes body weight. And our bodies are very, very good at this. Which means part of the reason diets don’t work, is that you’re literally fighting your body when you cut calories. You may have noticed that trying to cut calories results in ravenous hunger. Your body is telling you it needs more food. And as I’m sure you’ve noticed, extreme hunger is pretty hard to ignore.
After reading this post, you’re probably thinking two things:
- No kidding I’ve never been able to lose weight! Cutting calories and exercising has doomed me to fail! (i.e. diets don’t work).
- Wait- does that mean losing weight is impossible?
I assure you, losing weight is possible. I have lost over 45lbs in the past year and a half, so I know it can be done. Want to learn a little more?
You can also read more diet myths on a previous post.
** This information is for general knowledge only, and is not intended as medical advice.
Disclaimer: This webpage is for general information only. It is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical illness, or give any specific medical advice. Because medical knowlege is constantly evolving, I cannot guarantee the accuracy or timeliness of any information in this blog.