Your app says you’re eating 1200 calories a day. The online metabolism calculator says that you’re burning 2000 calories a day. You’re even using the secret awesome supplements, fat burners, shakes, and other “scientifically proven” stuff that your trainer/TV doctor said to use. But for some strange reason, you just can’t seem to lose any weight. How can this possibly be?!?! Well, let me tell you a dirty little secret. Most of that stuff can be summed up in one word. Crap. Because if any of this sounds familiar to you, you’re not losing body fat because in one way or another, whether you realize it or not, you’re eating more than you think are even when you think you aren’t.
Nutrition tracking is great because it can give you a sense of how many calories you’re eating within a given food, meal, day, etc. However, when it comes to tracking nutrition, the energetic content of food has been completely divorced from the energetic cost of food. Meaning, the tracker won’t take into account how many calories will be burned preparing the food and/or digesting the food. Additionally, your tracker may not always be counting correctly. For instance, I have seen examples on my tracker where the calorie count is identical for 4oz and 8oz portions of the same foods. So even if you use a scale to weigh and meticulously record you food stuffs, you could still end up being way off. In fact, on average people, even after being well educated on how to track their food, will under estimate their intake by 429 calories per day (1).That’s about 3,000 calories per week! That’s not to say tracking calories is not worth your while. Because when you’re not paying attention to calorie intake, you leave yourself open to all the environmental and cognitive factors that have you eating more and more without even realizing it. For the most part, your brain is to blame for all of this. So, set your brain up for success to decrease the amount you eat.
You take out your phone at the end of a long day and see that you have walked almost 10.000 steps. You say to yourself, “not a bad day’s work! No need for the gym tonight.” But, of course this is a huge mistake. For starters, everyone should be exercising in some fashion just about everyday. Regardless of age, gender, or health concerns, there are guidelines that you should follow for your exercise routine. The operative word being routine. Not a “when I feel like it” mentality. Secondly, there really is no great way to measure your steps, or for that matter, your calorie output. Even the most expensive and popular brands of trackers routinely under-estimate your steps while over-estimating your calorie expenditure (2). If you truly want to know how many calories you’re using in a day, you will need to be hooked up to some expensive machinery (see picture bellow for details). But you better not plan on using that number forever. Your calorie usage changes on a daily basis for many reasons. And as you lose weight, your body will almost cruelly reduce the number of calories it burns. Because as you become leaner, this ‘leanness’ means your body doesn’t require as many calories to keep you alive.
Beware The Guru
By now most of you know that I don’t enjoy the works of certain health and fitness “gurus.” Not only that, but I don’t really believe that the works of many supplement companies are quite ethical. With everyone craving instant results, the immoral take advantage of this fact despite knowing there is no way they can deliver. They make fads something to profit off of rather than actually help people and guide them to success in their goals. They try to get you to buy into their way of thinking, so it makes it harder for you to dig yourself out of their profit pit. They use fear mongering to get their way and make your pocketbook lighter. And while it certainly is commendable that you want to do something to make yourself healthier, I would like to share with you some money saving and health enhancing facts. Fat burning supplements won’t help you lose weight but can be dangerous (3). Vitamin supplements and detoxes are a waste of money (4). And cutting fat is just as effective as cutting carbs to lose fat mass (5). Diet soda is actually a good tool to help you lose weight and to that end, there are no negative side effects of consuming artificial sweeteners (6). And the likes of TV doctors and Men’s Health magazine leave much to be desired when it comes to good advice (7,8)
Instead of focusing on instant gratification, remember that anything worth having is going to take time, hard work, and persistence. Instead of searching for motivation all the time, learn why motivation is unreliable and what you should do instead. Remember that any diet suggesting you remove entire food groups, or slash your calories drastically doesn’t have your best interests in mind. There’s no long-term play here. Finally, ask yourself “are there any beliefs you hold that you might need to let go in order to attain better results?”
1. Champagne, C. M., Bray, G. A., Kurtz, A. A., Monteiro, J. B. R., Tucker, E., Volaufova, J., & Delany, J. P. (2002). Energy intake and energy expenditure: A controlled study comparing dietitians and non-dietitians. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 102(10), 1428-1432. doi:10.1016/S0002-8223(02)90316-0
2. NELSON, M. B., KAMINSKY, L. A., DICKIN, D. C., & MONTOYE, A. H. K. (2016). Validity of consumer-based physical activity monitors for specific activity types. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 48(8), 1619-1628. doi:10.1249/MSS.0000000000000933
3. Dara, L., Hewett, J., & Lim, J. K. (2008). Hydroxycut hepatotoxicity: A case series and review of liver toxicity from herbal weight loss supplements. China: The WJG Press and Baishideng. doi:10.3748/wjg.14.6999
4. Guallar, E., Stranges, S., Mulrow, C., Appel, L. J., & Miller, 3., Edgar R. (2013). Enough is enough: Stop wasting money on vitamin and mineral supplements. Annals of Internal Medicine, 159(12), 850.
5. Hall, K. D., Bemis, T., Brychta, R., Chen, K. Y., Courville, A., Crayner, E. J., . . . Yannai, L. (2015). Calorie for calorie, dietary fat restriction results in more body fat loss than carbohydrate restriction in people with obesity. Cell Metabolism, 22(3), 427. doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2015.07.021
6. Peters, J. C., Wyatt, H. R., Foster, G. D., Pan, Z., Wojtanowski, A. C., Vander Veur, S. S., . . . Hill, J. O. (2014). The effects of water and non‐nutritive sweetened beverages on weight loss during a 12‐week weight loss treatment program. Obesity, 22(6), 1415-1421. doi:10.1002/oby.20737
7. Korownyk, C., Kolber, M. R., McCormack, J., Lam, V., Overbo, K., Cotton, C.. . Allan, G. M. (2014). Televised medical talk shows–what they recommend and the evidence to support their recommendations: A prospective observational study. BMJ (Clinical Research Ed.), 349(dec17 11), g7346-g7346. doi:10.1136/bmj.g7346
8. Cook, T. M., Russell, J. M., & Barker, M. E. (2014). Dietary advice for muscularity, leanness and weight control in men’s health magazine: A content analysis. BMC Public Health, 14(1), 1062-1062. doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-1062