A New Look At Why Weight Loss Is Not Just Calories In, Calories Out
Updated: Jan 2, 2021
Each and every one of my weight loss clients is a fundamentally unique human—that requires a personalized approach. The “one-size-fits-all” strategy that almost every fitness and nutrition guru has been preaching for years, has clearly failed most, if not all of us. The eat less, exercise more bullshit is indeed accurate at a myopic level, but far too simplistic.
We are not machines. We have brains, emotions, beliefs, and experiences that shape our outcomes.
It is impossible to invent a weight loss protocol that everyone can succeed at. With that said—if you feel you need a road map and have not had sucess with your cookie cutter meal plan and Insta fit coach—I have some areas for you to explore.
Are you ready to get down and dirty? Results require hard work. If it was as easy as eat this, don't eat that—we wouldn't have an obesity epidemic in America, now would we?
Again, this is not the one single approach that is magic sauce for everyone, but it's a logical road map of areas to explore.
If someone is eating too much, they have a good reason for it. Now finding the "why" is where the solution is hidden when searching for your forever body.
Macronutrient Balance, Micronutrients, Eating Rhythm
These are very practical places to start to work in. They are rooted in “nutrition”, and tweaking these areas will often yield some nice results in a short amount of time.
First macronutrients. If you enjoy tracking your food which is usually my type A control junkies, I will give you some guidelines for setting your numbers. I always set protein first, then fats, and the remainder carbohydrates. I've settled in at 1.5g per lbm (lean body mass) for protein, .4g-.5g per lbm for fat, and fill the rest of your calories with carbs. Keep in mind these are vague recommendations that I would tailor specifically to a client and their goals/health conditions.
If you despise tracking or it gives you anxiety, there is really no need to meticulously track after an initial trial run to see what portions look like visually. If you've already done this, no need to go back to rigidity if you know you don't do well with that approach. You know what a reasonable portion looks like at this point. General guidelines for a meal is aim for 30-40 grams of protein to ensure MPS (muscle protein synthesis), a table spoon of quality oil or one serving of a whole food fat source like avocado or nuts, half a cup of starch or a serving of fruit, and fill up on fibrous veggies. Obviously this is entirely contextual depending on caloric needs, preferences, and activity levels. This is intended to be a starting place to give you an idea of appropriate amounts if you're still strongly rejecting any form of tracking.
Micronutrients are specific vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, amino acids, and other substances that your body needs in relatively small quantities to function properly. A standard American diet rarely supplies all that you need, hence all the crazy fad diets that are achieving results, this is in part due to the increase in micronutrients alone— not avoiding a food group.
Similar to macronutrients, there is a minimum and maximum threshold for each micronutrient that your body needs, and as always context matters. These personal baseline are highly dependent on your starting point, goals, genetic predispositions, and lifestyle. Long-standing micronutrient deficiencies and excessive oxidation are the primary contributors to premature aging and increased biological age.
The solution to micronutrient deficiencies is to focus your diet primarily on whole foods. They contain a wide array of harmonious substances that are needed for better nutrient absorption and utilization. The food matrix is a thing and food contains multiple co-factors that aid in our ability to optimize our nutritional status. Survival on a McDonalds and supplements alone isn't a good health strategy.
When micronutrient deficiencies in your diet occur, your body taps into its reserves to continue functioning. Once the internal reserves are depleted, the body starts prioritizing certain internal systems, and starts breaking down or sacrificing your other systems to keep the ones most pertinent to survival running smoothly. Micronutrient depletion often goes unnoticed until seemingly inexplicable symptoms start to arise.
As for eating rhythm — I discourage constant snacking and prefer people to have set meal times for a number of reasons that I will get into at another time. Some people thrive on 3 meals per day, while others might be helped with weight loss or health by choosing 6-9 small meals per day. Find what works for you. I don't have the magic solution. If anyone promises they do, they are deluded and it's best to run the other way.
Slowing Down, Relaxed Eating, Breathing
Do you inhale your food? Most people do. I get it—you're busy, the kids are impatient, you've been restricting and food is fucking delicious. We all have our list of reasons why we just can't slow down.
Becoming a relaxed eater has a number of benefits such as improved health via less stress, lowered appetite because you can pay attention to your body's cues, better digestion, and better body-awareness. Change your narrative—slow means sexy. You deserve the time, repose, ease, and sense of abundance when it comes to food.
The virtue of letting go of the stress response around food, as well as surrendering to a humane and nourishing eating experience instead of judging and punishing ourselves, is profound for most people. Relieving the anxiety, fear, negative mind chatter about food and weight, and tension around life, allows you to focus on nourishing that incredible body of yours.
This is not a habit that is attempted once and mastered. As with any habit we want to cultivate, it will be an ongoing practice. Accept that there will be mistakes. Use these to improve your approach and don't beat yourself up for not being perfect right a way.
Remember Rome wasn't built in a day.
The “No Diet” Diet
Have you been swinging between chronic dieting and binging your entire adult life?
Well it's time to enroll yourself in a "no diet" diet if this has been your story.
Let go of all attempts at weight loss, all attempts at weight loss or purging exercise, all calorie counting, fat gram counting, or weighing yourself on the scale if you attach emotion and self worth to that number (most people do). Put it all on the back burner. Get out of the dieting mindset. Stop worrying about weight for at least a month. Give restriction a vacation. Let it go.
If this idea gives you anxiety, it's most likely showing you exactly where you're needing to work.
You can always come back to your old ways later on. It's time to let yourself focus on more important aspects of your life for a little while. Most people, when they do come back, they have a renewed sense of focus and ambition anyways.
Eating Environment And Moderation
There is no question that environment plays into peoples success. If I want to gain weight, all I have to do is put some hyper-palatable foods in my cupboards and fridge. Hello peanut butter and cheese.
Why? Can't everyone just learn to control themselves?
Moderation is an interesting concept in theory. You wouldn’t believe the amount of people that think they are somehow superior, because they believe they have mastered the art of moderation. They believe that everyone that hasn't been unable to master the art of moderation are just lazy, and undisciplined.
That is far too simplistic and ignorant. Many people find it far easier to give something up altogether than to indulge moderately. There’s no right way or wrong way— you just need to find what works for your brain. If moderators try to abstain, they feel rebellious and usually end up binging. If abstainers attempt to be moderate, they spend an inordinate amount of time rationalizing why and how much they should eat. Unlike others in the fitness and health realm — I do not see all restriction as being disordered or inherently bad. Believe it or not I think a lack of some restriction inevitably leads to an unhealthy weight in certain individuals.
With both types we often have foods with no breaks. Meaning when we start we just can't stop... or it's incredibly difficult to stop. The foods that hit your pleasure centers hard will be completely different from what hits your best friends.
We all must take our individual physiology, personality, and lifestyle into consideration when we are deciding what moderation means to us and how we are going to define it.
Remember this—one persons “moderation” is another persons “bender” or “restrictive" diet. It's completely subjective.
Restriction only becomes an issue when you view your diet as all or nothing. Or start to isolate yourself due to your dietary restrictions. If you experience anxiety around food, that is also a good indication that you are not simply practicing discipline, and it has crossed into disordered territory.
Do a pleasure inventory. What gives you pleasure in life? For many people on a weight loss journey, a fear of pleasure and a dissociation from receiving it, is the primary obstacle to their weight issues. Our emotional reactions around pleasure are often ignored due to the "getting shit done" mindset. We justify not needing pleasure because it takes too much time.
We need to work pleasure practices into our days. This includes allowing yourself to experience pleasure when it comes to food — but food can't be your only source of pleasure either. It needs to be diverse. Have at least a couple daily rituals that provide pleasure for you.
The solution here is as easy and as difficult as practicing receiving pleasure and letting go of guilt for accepting it into your life.