There’s always a lot of buzz on this subject and certainly about the latest diet plans like paleo, keto and the myriad of plans as advertised on TV. What is often misleading about many diet plans is the real basis behind weight loss. The science behind it is complex but the theory is straightforward and based on the First Law of Thermodynamics. This law says that energy entering a closed system minus energy leaving a closed system leaves a positive or negative energy balance.
What this means is that if we take in more calories than we burn we will gain weight and if we burn more calories than we take in we lose weight. It doesn’t matter what diet plan you choose, paleo, keto, you name it, every diet plan must conform to this formula or you don’t lose weight. Perhaps you’ve heard something else and that’s understandable.
There are several factors that have allowed the diet plan industry to confuse this issue. First, everyone burns calories at a different rate. So, someone taking in 2000 calories a day could lose weight, someone else could gain weight. Second, the foods you eat can make a difference in the burn rate. There’s a process called the “thermic effect of food.” Digesting your food takes energy. The more complex the molecules you eat are, the more energy your body must expend to digest it. This process can burn about 10% of your total caloric intake each day, but if you consume a lot of simple sugars (which do not need digestion), then you can lose a considerable portion of the thermic effect. Third, the amount of energy you expend each day obviously affects your caloric balance. It is not only difficult to know exactly how many calories you take in each day but also how much you burn. It’s different for each of us.
So, consider this: a surplus of 3500 calories will cause you to gain one pound. If my normal caloric intake is 2000 calories per day and I’m eating complex carbohydrates, proteins and fats, the thermic effect could be 200 calories per day. If I eat too many simple sugars (like cakes, pies, ice cream, chocolate, etc.) I could easily lose half of the thermic effect. Therefore, those 100 calories per day amount to over 3000 calories per month which means I could gain about a pound per month, 12 pounds a year and 60 pounds in 5 years just by losing the thermic effect by eating too many simple sugars!! It doesn’t take a huge caloric surplus for one to gain weight over time.
Then, there are other processes that can affect your weight including genetics, hormones, enzymes, and disease that can increase or decrease your metabolic behaviors. Some would have you track and count your calories (like My Fitness Pal, which by the way is very effective, but requires some work to keep track of everything), to other methods like buying expensive pre-planned meals that are shipped to you. Again, it doesn’t matter what diet plan you select, if it’s working you can bet your body is burning more calories than it’s taking in.
So, in this blog we’d love to hear from you about what’s worked for you (or not) and why you think it worked (or didn’t) and your opinions on the subject. We can all learn. To begin, we’ll enter the first comments to kick things off:
A while back we read a blog that broke our hearts. A woman wrote that she had been watching the TV program “The Biggest Loser” and a scientific study had come out that 100% of the contestants on the show who lost significant amounts of weight had gained all the weight back and then some. She said, “See, it’s hopeless. Even if I work hard like they do and I lose the weight, I’m only going to gain it all back.”
Wow!! Is this true? Yes, it is, but is the situation as hopeless as the blogger insinuated? Hardly! The issue here, however, is why did they gain the weight back? When they left the show did they eat too much? Not exercise enough? What happened?
Here’s our take: the real culprit here was the production schedule of the show, but how can that be? Consider this: We’re guessing here, but let’s say the show’s schedule was 24 weeks. In that time the trainers had to get the contestants to lose lots of weight. So, they started exercising them and restricting their caloric intake, and they lost weight. After a few weeks the rate at which they lost weight slowed down. There’s a schedule to meet, and the trainers know this so what did they do? They increase exercise intensity and further restrict calories resulting in further weight loss. By the end of the season the individuals on the program have lost so much weight so fast their metabolisms have slowed down to a snail’s pace.
When they left the show, even if they restricted their calories and exercised regularly, their metabolisms were so compromised they could not help but gain weight. The moral of the story (and the study) is you cannot lose weight that fast without having a very nasty effect on your body’s metabolism. Rapid weight loss sounds great, but should be done only in special circumstances and under the supervision of a physician.
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