Tuesday, July 15, 2008

What does "eating less" mean?

Recently i've been part of a lot of discussions about weight loss and calories being calories (or not) and dealing with Real People who are very frustrated at being slightly overweight, but having a heck of a time getting the last 5-10 pounds down.
No matter what your school of thought, we know that to lose weight you have to input fewer calories than your system needs to maintain your weight.

We also know however, that some people seem to lose weight faster than others (i don't mean some people are skinny and stay skinny no matter what they eat, i mean *lose weight*). Some hypothesize that it's the type of diet - privileging fat or protein over carbs, etc etc. But recent literature suggests that the differences in approach aren't particularly significant - they're noise.

If that's the case, and we assume that people can indeed lose real fat (not water, which dropping out carbs does right away, but FAT) while still eating real food including a balanced range of macronutrients (fats, proteins, carbs), how do we know what the right "less" is to ask people to eat, or to not eat, as it were?

Over where i write for geeks to help them get fit and think about food more nutritiously, i've got a piece comparing three methods:
  • the drop 500cals a day to lose a pound a week,
  • the drop 20% from maintenance and
  • the it's all relative to your fat method.
The last one, foregrounded by Lyle MacDonald, seems the most interesting, and goes some way to putting a rationale on why those last few pounds really ARE the hardest and DO take the longest to lose.

My caveat as always in this space is that before thinking about counting calories, you need to know something about the composition of those calories (protein/carbs/fats) and about how to put those ratios together to work for you. Approaches such as Precision Nutrition's habits (here's an overview) don't count calories at all in the initial phases. There, it's get right with good food habits first, and see where that takes you. Doing anything else first is just getting intrigued without a foundation.

It's like what Pavel Tsatsouline talks about in his seminar with Charles Staley around powerlifting: why would someone who's a neophyte lifter worry about whether they're going to be a grinder in their deadlift or a speedster? they have to get the skill of their strength first.

Same thing here. So i offer this idea about calculating "less" ness more as a way to understand or think about a process, not as a how to until those basics are in place.

1 comment:

Rannoch Donald said...


Once again, interesting stuff. Without going to OT I would like to point out something I have noticed. More often than not the people who struggle with the last 5 or 10 pounds are in fact deluding themselves and need to drop more than that to make a noticeable difference.

I have been approached time and again by people who say "I need to drop ten pounds" when in reality the could happily lose twice that. And this is where it gets interesting. Because they feel they need to lose a "small" amount of weight the often believe that small measures will make a difference whereas in reality those last 10 pounds or so will require at least as much effort as any other weight they might have dropped.


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