This post will provide an introduction to the fundamentals of weight loss. More specifically, we’re referring to fat loss because you don’t want to lose muscle when you lose weight. But we will use the terms interchangeably. If you read and fully understand this post, you will know more than most people about weight loss.
You probably know that calories are integral to weight loss. But what exactly is a calorie? Most people have no idea! Quite simply, a calorie is a measure of energy. In our case, it will be a measure of the energy in food.
The next concept we need to understand is energy balance. Energy balance is essentially the energy that you consume minus the energy that you expend. If you consume more energy than you expend, that’s a positive energy balance, and the opposite case is a negative energy balance.
Weight loss occurs when you are in a negative energy balance. This means consuming fewer calories than you burn. The science is very clear on this (arguments from overweight MDs notwithstanding).
Here are some explanations which are not the reason you can’t lose weight:
- Your metabolism is “damaged”
- Your thyroid is out of whack (this can happen in very rare cases but it’s probably not you)
- Carbohydrates are spiking your insulin
- You have bad genetics
- You think Donald Trump is mean
I will say it again: weight loss occurs when you are in a negative energy balance. Some of you will probably continue to deny this, and that’s fine. There are plenty of books on the bestseller list written by overweight MDs for you to indulge in. I know because I’ve read those books too!
Side note: if MDs understood weight loss, then we wouldn’t be experiencing an obesity epidemic. Let that sink it.
Here’s an analogy: imagine that you have a pet dog. Every day you feed your pet dog a certain amount of food. One day, you decide to cut the amount of food that you feed your dog in half. What do you think will happen? 1) Your dog will become fat or 2) your dog will start to lose weight. The answer is obvious! We accept the principle of energy balance for other animals, but for some reason many people think it doesn’t apply to humans. It does.
For those who are still with me, let’s proceed. We have established that weight loss occurs when energy consumed is less than energy burned. This part is pretty simple. Think of it like an equation that looks like this:
If calories consumed > calories burned → weight gain
If calories consumed < calories burned → weight loss
The “calories consumed” part of the equation is pretty straightforward. The “calories burned” part, however, gets more complicated. There are quite a few factors that affect this, but the nitty gritty really only becomes important if you’re trying to get shredded. So we’ll save that for another post. If you’re just trying to get in “good” shape, then you can focus on the essentials and you’ll see results.
Here’s the most common pitfall: most people are extremely bad at accurately assessing their caloric intake! Even professional dieticians. One study found that dieticians underreported their caloric intake by over 200 calories per day when they were consciously tracking their calories. Most untrained professionals underreport their calories by a lot more than that. This can easily be the difference between weight loss and weight gain. So learning to accurately measure your calories is very important.
To summarize: to lose weight, you need to consume less energy than you burn. In this case the what to do is very simple. The how to do it is more complicated. The how becomes more personal as some strategies work better for certain people. There are some general ideas that will help everybody though, and I’ll go through those in another post. I will also explain exactly what I have found works for me (remember I have skin in the game and actually do this stuff).
Finally, diet is much more important than exercise when it comes to weight loss. Both matter, but diet will make a much bigger difference.
In further posts we’ll dive into topics like macronutrient balance, meal timing, training strategies for fat loss, and more.
Okay one more thing – please, for the love of all that is holy, do not spend your money on things like “carb blockers” or “fat blockers”. And add any person/company selling these to your list of snake oil salesmen.