You're Fat Because You're Bad at Counting

A few years back, I wrote a BRU post (and cheeky, snarky "book") about the concept of calories in/ calories out as a means of losing weight. Since that time, I've experienced a steady stream of people, in real life or via social media, that have asked me about weight loss. My response is usually the same: 

Eat less and move more.

The typical response is usually either a) "I already tried that and it didn't work", or b) "I read (or saw a YouTube video) that refuted the idea. A new post by NPR more or less sums up my response to those responses, which is basically something along the lines of "You're just really bad at math."

Here's the deal. Weight manipulation is relatively straight-forward assuming you don't have a disease that alters metabolism. Even then, the basic principle still applies. 

If you want to lose weight, you need to create a caloric deficit.

If you want to gain weight, you need to create a caloric surplus.

That's it. It really is that simple. "But wait!" you say, "I want to lose weight. I've tried that and it has failed!"

Here's why.

Reason #1: You think you consume less than you really do. This is the biggie. In my experience of working with people trying to lose weight, they ALWAYS under-estimate portions. You may think you're eating one portion of roast beef, but you're really eating two-and-a-half. And you forgot to add that handful of Chex Mix. And that third glass of wine.

Reason #2: You think you burn a lot more calories than you really do. Let's say you run three miles on a treadmill at the gym. It took you a half hour. You probably burned about 300-330 calories. That's not even enough exercise to make up for those medium fries you ate from McDonald's.

Reason #3: You fail to account for adaptation. This is common when people have initial success, then reach a plateau. This usually happens for two reasons. First, as body weight drops and body composition changes, the number of calories needed to sustain life (or are burned through exercise), the fewer calories you need. Second, your metabolism usually adjusts to the deficit by becoming more efficient. Both of these require a continually-diminishing caloric intake until the goal weight is achieved. 

Reason #4: You're over-simplifying the equation. There are all sorts of things that probably affect caloric uptake and expenditure, like the type of food, environmental conditions, internal states, etc. For example, eating 100 calories of carrots will probably help create a deficit better than 100 calories of chocolate cake because of the way the body digests both. Since we know so little of the vast myriad of potential effects, the only reliable solution is to consider yourself an experiment of one to learn what variables seem to be at play.

That's it. I know a lot of you will be tempted to refute the idea by posting links to YouTube videos from people that "found a way to cheat the system." But they're either wrong or their idea subscribes to the deficit/surplus idea with added layers of complexity. Either way, it's ignoring the obvious:


There has never been a case of a person gaining weight with a caloric deficit or a case of a person losing weight with a caloric surplus. 

My own experimentation confirms this. Back in the day, I used to weigh about 215 pounds. I attempted to lose weight often, but always failed. The one thing that eventually worked: creating and sustaining a caloric deficit.

It's worth noting I don't continually create said deficit because, well, I like food. And beer. And wine. And I like lounging around. For me, creating a caloric deficit sucks balls. As such, I tend to cycle every few months. Gain five pounds, lose five pounds. Wash, rinse, repeat. Sometimes that weight gain is mostly muscle (for mma, for example.) Other times it's mostly fat (again, I'm lazy and I love food.) Regardless, I don't sweat it because I've done the hard work of learning how my body responds to all sorts of caloric manipulations, which is what's really necessary.

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Comments

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  4. One of the reasons for not losing weight is that we don't count calories and we shun portion control. These two must go hand in hand in order to be aware of what we're eating. Having a food diary or logging online to count calories is a must. The right kind of diet also plays a big part so choose the 3 Day Military diet to help you lose weight. That being said, make sure you exercise to make losing weight more effective and faster. Do you know that the military diet only allows one kind of sweetener? See: http://3daysmilitarydiet.com/faq/military-diet-sweetener.html

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