The world of food and nutrition is filled with myths, fueled by journalists who don’t understand science (or don’t care) and health gurus with another new, radical way to slim down that belly.
I’m one of the lucky few who have never had to lose weight. I’m in the other camp, struggling to gain weight. But for people trying to lose weight, it seems like there are a thousand conflicting ways to do it. But before we even get to the diets and busting those myths: how does gaining and losing weight work? Well, not the way most people think.
Imagine this: you discover an awesome doughnut shop nearby. Their doughnuts are so good, you get into a habit of having a doughnut every day as a snack after lunch. What will happen to your body?
Indeed, you will gain weight. And if you’re like most people, you’ve learned that you will keep gaining weight as long as you keep eating your daily doughnut. Bit by bit, you get bigger and bigger, until you look at yourself in the mirror and think: where did I go wrong?
However, this is not how it works: you will gain weight for a while, say a few months, but then the weight gain will stop. How come? The weight you’ve gained costs energy to maintain and carry around. Your daily doughnut is now enough to maintain your new, slightly heavier body, but not enough to gain even more weight. You’ve reached an equilibrium of caloric intake and usage.
If you binge on cakes and hamburgers for a week, you will also gain weight only temporarily, and you will fall back to your old weight given some time. The ugly truth is that if you keep gaining more and more weight for years, you’ve been eating more and more.
This mechanism also explains why it’s easy to lose weight when you first start dieting, but it gets harder after some time, even though you’re eating less than you did before your diet. You’re carrying around less weight, so you use up fewer calories than before.
What to do then? You can’t eat even less, because it’s unhealthy and you can’t keep it up in the long run anyway. The only healthy option is to increase your use of calories with exercise. I’m sorry the answer isn’t easier and more exciting… Such is life!