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The Game of Weight Loss has Rules

What are your odds of winning a challenging game that you don’t know the rules to? Not so great. Likewise, if you're trying to lose weight but don't understand how your body works, your odds of success aren't good.

You need accurate information about how your body works:


Gaining weight: You gain weight when the amount of energy (calories) you consume as food and drink exceeds the energy your body uses up (energy expenditure) in the following three ways:

1. Basic metabolic processes (the energy your organs and various body tissues use generally referred to as resting metabolic rate, or RMR)
2. Energy used in activities of daily living (taking the stairs, parking further out in the lot, etc.)
3. Voluntary exercise (walks, what you do at the gym, exercise tapes, sports, etc.)

Exceeding energy expenditure means that at the end of the day, you are in positive energy balance. The excess energy is stored principally (but not all) as fat. Each pound of excess body weight represents approximately 3,500 calories.[a]

Losing weight: On the other hand, you lose weight in the opposite scenario, when the total energy you expend (in items 1 through 3 above) exceeds what you consume in food and drink. In this case, at the end of the day you are in negative energy balance, which causes the body to draw upon its energy stores (use up body fat).

What we are talking about is actually a law of physics—The 1st Law of Thermodynamics: Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it only changes form. You hear a lot of theories out there; this isn’t a theory. Like gravity, this law of physics applies to every BODY.[b]

Know your Goal Weight Net-Maintenance-Calorie TARGET

Part of the reason so many fail at weight loss maintenance is that they don't understand the difference between their current-weight-energy-balance and their goal-weight-energy-balance. In this case “energy balance” means the net calorie level that maintains a given weight; net-maintenance-calories.

Here's an example with the numbers. A woman currently weighs 215-pounds, and her goal weight is 155-pounds. At 215-pounds her net-maintenance-calories are 2,042-calories per day.[c] At her goal weight her net-maintenance-calories are 1,705-calories per day; 337-calories lower than for her current weight. [Enlarge chart]

The 337-calories per day represents a quantification of the permanent lifestyle changes required to stay at her goal weight once she’s there. In other words to maintain her goal weight she will have to permanently maintain a net-maintenance-calorie balance at 1,705-calories per day. That means permanently cutting out 337-calories per day.

What are her two options to do that?

The two variables that you have control over: 1) what you eat and drink, and 2) how much you choose to move. Most successful maintainers achieve their success with a combination of these two variables: reduced calories-in, and increased calories-out.

This illustration should make it very clear why weight loss maintenance requires permanent lifestyle changes. Also, the more weight you choose to lose the bigger the permanent lifestyle changes required to do that! Here's the recap:

  • To lose weight you have to create an ongoing negative energy balance (through a lower energy intake and/or higher level of energy expenditure).
  • To maintain weight loss, a permanently lower level of net-energy-balance must be maintained. This lower energy balance simply represents the energy balance appropriate to your new lower body weight.

Understanding ENERGY BALANCE is the foundation for success with weight loss, but only the beginning. Effectively problem-solving how lower energy intake and higher energy output is achieved is a complex challenge that requires addressing multiple variables. These include: stimulus control, support, record keeping, cooking, physical activity, cognitive restructuring, intuitive-eating, dealing with lapses, understanding the abstinence violation effect (so that the pattern can be broken), black and white thinking, stress management, and more.

For more reliable information on healthy weight loss see my book The NEW Healthy Eating & Weight Management Guide.

All the Best,

Related topics:

Normal Range of Metabolism
Weight Training and Metabolic Rate

[a]The most accurate number depends on the true composition—ratio of lean to fat—of the pound you gained.

[b]There are actually a lot more variables in the equation, but they only introduce nuances that fine tune the energy balance equation rather than change its basic premise of: [energy stores (body weight)] equal [energy-in] minus [energy-out]. Kevin Hall’s research at NIH has been refining a weight loss/weight gain simulator that may eventually be useful clinically and even for the public.

[c] A quick thumbnail estimate of net-maintenance-calories is 11-calories-per-pound for women, or 12-calories per-pound for men. If you can, have your resting metabolic rate measured.


Reader Comments (2)

Really great article, I enjoyed how you addressed numerous factors involved in weight loss that are often overlooked. Would you mind if I were to share your post with members of my weightloss support group? Please let me know, thanks.

August 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAnthemNutrition

Thank you for your note, and glad to hear that you found the article helpful!
Absolutely feel free to share the link/post with your group.

​All the best,

August 9, 2014 | Registered CommenterDorene Robinson RDN CDN

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