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Dieting

In Taco Bell the other day I saw a sign about how a woman had lost 55 pounds or something over the span of two years by - if you failed to read the smaller print - eating at Taco Bell for lunch. I forget the name of the low-fat or low-calorie foods Taco Bell is pushing now, but they're apparently "healthy" as far as fast food goes.

The small print said something like how the woman had reduced her caloric intake by 500 calories slowly and that Taco Bell drive-thru isn't considered a diet plan.

I've heard of all kinds of diets. The Atkins diet says "don't eat carbs" but you can eat all the butter you want? What? Butter's not great for you either. The celery diet says to eat more celery (more on this in a bit). Other diets say "just eat less." Weight Watchers combines that with drinks that have reduced calories. I've never been on one because, well, I've never needed to be.

But why on earth are people so hooked on diets? Why is dieting such a huge market, and why don't people understand how simple diets are?

If I end up dead in a week, do me a favor and tell the police to investigate the diet cartels, particularly if I was killed by suffocating under the rear end of an overweight hit man.

DIETS ARE SIMPLE MATH!

if (Calories_Obtained < Calories_Burned)
    echo "You're gonna lose weight. Good job!";
else if (Calories_Obtained == Calories_Burned)
   echo "You're just holding steady.";
else
   echo "You're gonna gain weight, dummy!";

What's complicated about that? The "celery diet" works because celery's not very high in calories - I've heard your body spends more energy processing celery than it extracts from it. Yet celery fills you up a little so you don't feel hungry. And no, I don't eat much celery, but it's my go-to example.

Like the programming angle? Here's a constant for you:

define("ONE_POUND", "3500 Calories");

For every 3500 calories you take in that you don't expend, you gain a pound. The opposite is true and is the only true secret to dieting: if you expend 3500 more calories than you ingest (or "obtain" from food), you lose a pound.

Obviously this isn't a true constant as everyone's body is different, but you get the point.

If you want to lose weight, eat less, eat better, exercise more, or do some combination of the three until the number of calories your body sucks out of the food you eat is is smaller than your caloric output.

That's it.

14 Responses to "Dieting"

  1. Exactly! The dieting industry learned in the 1980's that people don't want to think about counting calories, so they've concocted all these ways to hide that.

    In 2005 I visited a certified dietician and all we talked about were calories and how many I should be eating if I wanted to really lose weight. Then once I lost the weight, how many calories I could eat to maintain that weight.

    Unsurprisingly, when I went from over 5K calories a day and zero exercise to 1800-2000 calories a day and running 3.5 miles 5 days a week, I lost a *lot* of weight. 60 lbs to be exact. But that took months to achieve.

    Sadly, I've gotten away from eating that well and back to zero exercise, so I've put it all back on. But I know no miracle diet is going to help me. I just need to eat less and move my body more. It's a simple equation.

  2. The equation seems simple now, but once you start eating reduced calories, your body adjusts to the new level of calories. Which is why some dieters gain their weight back after stopping their diet.

    If you are interested in losing body fat, your body needs to use that stored fat as energy. So, you need to expend more energy than you eat. However, the body can't get body fat out of storage if you have a lot of insulin in your bloodstream, which happens if you eat a lot of carbs. This is why the Atkins or other low-carb approaches work.

    Gary Taubes' book "Good Calories, Bad Calories" discusses the energy balance equation you reference and why it doesn't work.
    http://books.google.com/books?id=Xdm40JUD9HwC

    Also, butter isn't bad for you, despite the claims by the margarine industry.
    http://www.westonaprice.org/Why-Butter-Is-Better.html

    I have successfully lost weight (although I didn't have much to lose) and have enjoyed eating on a real food, low-carb diet.

    It would nice if dieting were as simple as counting calories, but that is only one part of a larger system.

  3. Chas said on January 20, 2010:

    The equation seems simple now, but once you start eating reduced calories, your body adjusts to the new level of calories. Which is why some dieters gain their weight back after stopping their diet. … It would nice if dieting were as simple as counting calories, but that is only one part of a larger system.

    I still think it's that simple. Your body adjusts its BMR, so you adjust to keep the equation weighted (no pun intended) in the direction you prefer.

  4. Erik J. Barzeski said on January 20, 2010:

    I still think it's that simple. Your body adjusts its BMR, so you adjust to keep the equation weighted (no pun intended) in the direction you prefer.

    Do you keep reducing calories until you are on a semi-starvation diet? Say 700 calories for a person who should be eating 2000/day?

    If a person keeps eating junk food, even at a reduced calorie amount, they may lose weight, but it may be from muscle mass and not body fat. And have little or no energy from eating such small amounts.

    And how do you re-train your BMR to increase to a normal or previous level after you have achieved the target weight loss? You would be forced to over eat your BMR to get it to go up, but you'll put weight back on during that time.

    There are ways to trick your body, eating low calorie for three days, then a full calorie day, to attempt to keep your BMR high but I'm not sure it is a viable long term plan.

  5. Chas said on January 20, 2010:

    Do you keep reducing calories until you are on a semi-starvation diet? Say 700 calories for a person who should be eating 2000/day?

    Yeah, cuz that's what I'm saying here here, Chas… C'mon.

    The equation has two sides. You can amp up energy output or tone down energy intake. If your BMR is so low (is that even possible?) or you're so lazy that you need to drop to 700 calories in order to balance out the equation, then something's wrong. Something's also wrong with you if you want to lose weight faster than is healthy.

    Clearly I'm not talking about fringe cases here, or people with screwed up metabolisms, or morons who think it's safe to lose 5% of your weight per week.

  6. I guess I don't think that the 700 calorie level is that extreme.

    Let's use the first comment as an example. He lost 60 pounds. Let's assume he started as a 6' 1", 260 lb, 30 year old male with a BMR of 2409. (http://www.bmi-calculator.net/bmr-calculator/).

    He plans on reducing his caloric intake by 500 calories a day (which at 3500cal/lb) is a 1lb weight loss per week. A slow, steady and safe number. He is looking at more than year of dieting but has a lot to lose.

    Now assume that every eight weeks, his body adjusts his BMR to match the calorie intake. This is probably not an unreasonable estimate, as you are likely to plateau after two months of a new diet or exercise plan.

    So, he eats 1909 calories for 8 weeks, and loses 8 pounds. He then needs to eat 1409 calories for the next 8 weeks, to lose the next 8 pounds, to get himself to 244 pounds.

    So, he still has 44 pounds he wants to lose, and is faced with eating 909 calories to continue the weight loss.

    You can supplement the reduced calories with increased exercise, but the BMR would still adjust so that your spent energy matches the intake.

    This energy balance equation probably works for a person looking to lose 5 pounds before a vacation or a wedding, but is not a long term solution or a cure for the obesity problem in America.

    I'm all for people being more aware of their calorie intake and exercising more but I think this is a more complicated topic than you present.

    It would be like a layperson describing computer programming as putting 1's and 0's in the right order.

  7. Actually Chas, the best science behind weight loss suggests that calorie counting is the only thing that leads to long-term weight loss. And that doesn’t mean getting down to 700 kcal/day. The majority of people who want to lose weight are already overweight, and therefore have a higher BMR. Cutting their daily calories by 500 isn’t going to lead to a “starvation” diet.

    Also, a high insulin spike really only comes from foods with a high glycemic index (e.g. processed, sugary foods; white bread; etc.) Complex carbs are actually going to lead to a slower release of insulin, which is better for a multitude of reasons.

    Humans have been subsisting for a very long time on a balanced diet of complex carbs, proteins, and fat. But for the last 50 years or so, it seems like we have a new nutrient to label as an “enemy” every decade. First it was fat, now it’s carbs. If we just follow Michael Pollan’s simple rule (“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants”) it should be simple to maintain a healthy weight and good health in general.

  8. I’m not sure how exactly you’re calculating that losing 8 pounds in 8 weeks is going to drop his BMR by 500 kcal.

  9. Jason said on January 20, 2010:

    I’m not sure how exactly you’re calculating that losing 8 pounds in 8 weeks is going to drop his BMR by 500 kcal.

    My assumption is that the body adjusts to lower calorie intake, independent of what a normal BMR would be for that weight (6' 1", 252 lbs = 2359 kcal using the same online calculator).

    I don't have a scientific source to link to as a reference, but this is my understanding of why simple calorie cutting doesn't work long term.

    Even if the BMR only adjusts halfway between nominal and the new eating level, he still only gets to 228 lbs before he would need to eat 909 kcal/day.

  10. Chas said on January 20, 2010:

    My assumption is that the body adjusts to lower calorie intake, independent of what a normal BMR would be for that weight (6' 1", 252 lbs = 2359 kcal using the same online calculator).

    If your body adjusted like that, nobody would ever really lose (or gain) weight!

    And you probably know what they say about assuming. I'd bet a heck of a lot of money that 2359 is a lot closer to accurate than your prior guess.

    Chas said on January 20, 2010:

    Even if the BMR only adjusts halfway between nominal and the new eating level, he still only gets to 228 lbs before he would need to eat 909 kcal/day.

    He's still at 1700+ by the calculator. You're still using your earlier assumptions. Your BMR probably does adjust a little, but you don't know how much. It's probably an incredibly small amount beyond the calculated amount for someone on a reasonable (slow and steady) weight loss program.

    Plus I'd call it highly unlikely that your body responds linearly throughout the entire range from "gluttonous pig" to "Ethiopian waif."

  11. BMR is primarily based on weight, height, sex, and age. It’s the amount of energy that your body uses every day. Very little, if any, of the BMR is “adjusted” by the body in response to a lower calorie diet. By your theory, no diet should work long-term unless you cut to starvation numbers, since the only way to lose weight is for (calories in) < (BMR + calories burned exercising). It doesn’t matter where those calories come from if you’re not taking in more than you’re burning.

    The fact is that overweight people do have long-term success in getting down to a healthy weight by cutting calories and eating real, non-processed foods in a relatively healthy proportion of 40% carbs, 30% protein, and 30% fat. The long-term success rates of fad diets like the Atkins diet are much lower.

  12. So, my wife does Weight Watchers. I don't *think there are special drinks. Or, if there are, she has never mentioned them.

    Of the "Diet" plans out there, though, I like them the best because they follow almost EXACTLY what you are saying. It breaks down a bit differently, but it basically says "you have a certain number of points a day - use them". There are good health guidelines like fruit and fiber and oils that you are supposed to use up, but when it comes to it, if you stay within your points (and everything has a point value), you should lose weight because your intake isn't exceeding your output.

    So Weight Watchers is a eating plan for those who have a hard time determining for themselves how much to eat. It isn't a fad or a diet in any way (except where eating food at all is a diet).

  13. I still don't get it why people has to make a big fuss about gaining pounds! Diet is applicable to the people who are overweight, have medical problems, planning to flaunt their body to the public ala "supermodel". But if you are just a normal person, just eat the usual diet. It should be balance.. not too much and not too few... I agree with Erik's words:

    "If you want to lose weight, eat less, eat better, exercise more, or do some combination of the three until the number of calories your body sucks out of the food you eat is is smaller than your caloric output."

    Ain't that simple?!?!

  14. I think the main difference is "simple" versus "easy"

    Just because the reality is simple, doesn't make it easy. People would rather try just about anything than actually have to do the work of ____ (eat less, exercise more, whatever.)

    I know a 55 year old alcoholic that swears by the "Eat as much meat and drink as much liquor as you want, but never have any carbs or fruit" diet. ...which is just a convoluted carb-starve with the added bonus of "drink whatever i want"

    These "diets" are retarded.

    But, full disclosure, it's not exactly fair for me to judge, as i'm one of those skinny jerkwads who can eat whatever i want and never gain a pound, even when i try. I'm also young, so give me another 5 or 10 years and i may be one of those desperate weirdos trying every silver-bullet scheme that comes along. who knows. :\


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