For everyone out there struggling to lose weight, complaining how hard it is, and raging against the wind at the injustice of it all - I agree with you. That’s right. I agree.
Feel better now?
What, you don’t trust me? Well rest assured, I really do agree - weight loss is hard. I’ll even give you some reasons why it’s so hard.
The rate of weight loss/gain is infinite in one direction, not the other. Your body’s ability to gain or lose weight is rate-limited in one direction but theoretically infinite in the other. There is a physical limit to how many calories you can burn in a day, even if you ran full-tilt, 24 hours a day - there’s a limit. Yet, there is almost no limit to how much food you can poke down. About the only thing putting any constraint on your intake is how much your stomach can hold and people have been known to stretch that out. Add to it that our food options are unbelievably calorically dense - and you get an almost infinite ability to gain weight.
Have you ever stopped to think how many calories you need in a day and how many you just ate? Most people need between 1,500 and maybe 2,200 calories per day (food labels are based on 2,000). You can go to almost any restaurant and easily find a meal that delivers all of that in one sitting. Plus you add breakfast, mid-morning snack, afternoon snack, dinner and late night snack to it – anything else you happen to graze on – and suddenly you are way over your daily calorie need and packing on the weight.
There are not enough hours in the day to exercise enough to burn all of that off. That’s why weight gain is practically infinite and weight loss is rate limited - it’ll only come off so fast. Even if you starve yourself and workout like a fiend, it will only come off at a certain rate (by the way, I am not proposing starvation or self-abuse workout schedules - not only is it unsustainable and unhealthy, but it would make me mighty unpopular).
Nature doesn’t care about your skinny jeans
Metabolic pathways in our bodies have all kinds of mechanisms, triggers and feedback loops that are awesome at saving up some energy for a rainy day. We can lay down fat like nobody’s business. We are calorie storing machines.
Imagine living in a time when you didn’t know where your next meal was coming from, and you didn’t have a way to store or carry extra food around with you - no refrigerators, lunch boxes, or even a backpack. If you came upon a pile of food, you had no way of taking it all with you to ration out over the next few weeks. What did you do? You gorged! I mean stuffed yourself ... really poked it down. Lucky for us our bodies knew just what to do with the excess - it packed on the pounds, baby. Yep, our thunder thighs used to be our backpacks - our spare tires a mini-frige. Think about it - we toted our surplus around as fat, available for energy and life-processes when food wasn’t available. Our body is great at this ... and it has served us well for thousands of years.
The problem is, we don’t live like that anymore. Not only are calories abundant, but the energy needed to acquire those calories is hardly anything. We aren’t out there clawing at the ground hoping to find a carrot - spending 200 calories to eat 50 calories. Nope. We now spend 50 calories to eat 1,000 (thank you drive-thru fast-food meal). And all our body knows to do with the excess is store it - because it thinks we might need it. There aren’t really any strong, metabolic triggers in our bodies that have negative feedback loops for overeating. No chemical comes cascading through our cells saying “bleecckkk, bacon double cheeseburgers are revolting - get it away from me.” Nope, our body keeps saying “yyaahhh, gimmee all of that!”
Your body doesn’t care that you can’t fit in your clothes, that your bathroom scale number is astronomical, that your doctor is pulling her hair out, or that you look in the mirror and hate yourself. Your body only cares about avoiding starvation. It’s never been threatened with “anti-starvation” so it has no idea what to do about it.
Add to that your body’s natural protective instinct not to lose the weight - sees it as a threat - and tries to slow you down to maintain the calorie reserve, and the problem becomes even more difficult. When you restrict calories, your body kicks in all kinds of chemicals and metabolic pathways to get you to move less - conserve that energy. The thought of going to the gym becomes daunting but the couch looks extra comfy. Thanks mother nature.
We Hear Diet and Think Deprivation
The mere thought of “going on a diet” conjures immediate imagery of canned beets, dry tuna fish in a hollowed out tomato, and mounds upon mounds of lettuce. We already yearn for our sickly-sweet, gooey-fresh doughnuts, finger-licking, salty, orange cheese puffs, and butter cream frosting roses from the edges of birthday cakes.
At first, our self-anger is so high we easily commit to the “diet” – we deserve the punishment. Take that, cottage cheese thighs! I hate you, flabby stomach! Now you’ll pay!
But then, our anger fades. We lose our punitive momentum and slowly start to notice that delivery pizza is on sale, or cookies are in the break room. Then a new kind of anger sets in – the “why me” variety. “Why can’t I have a doughnut? It’s not fair!” Because entire food groups are completely off limits, you feel deprived – set apart from others you deem normal. Eventually, you cave and eat the stupid doughnut – then you slide right back into your old habits. No more deprivation – or diet.
So you see? You’ve been right all along - weight loss is hard. Science agrees with you. Sing hallelujah from the roof tops - you were right.
Feel better? Relieved? Validated? Vindicated?
But you’re still overweight. Whatcha gonna do about that?
Well, you’ve got two choices: Keep prancing around with your apple fritter reminding everyone that weight loss is hard, or swallow that Brussels sprout whole if you have to and start down the path to a moderate, healthier lifestyle. One choice gets you validated; one gets you into a smaller size. Your choice.
NSCA certified personal trainer Shannon Sorrels holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and an MBA. Her company, Physix LLC, works with Valley individuals as well as groups to improve their overall fitness. Reach her at (480) 528-5660 or visit www.azphysix.com.