So have you clicked on this article hoping to find some new, never-before-heard-of, recently discovered, “secret-mojo-way” to losing weight that the food industry doesn’t want you to know about?
Sorry. There’s no such thing. Let me say that again so you can stop your frantic searching — there is no secret way to losing weight. All you have to do is eat less, way less as it turns out.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “But I already cut out eating bread with my meals” or “I already skip dessert and I STILL can’t lose weight.” The problem is that you haven’t cut enough.
That lesson was brought home to me in an interesting way. I’m reading a fascinating book titled, “Physics for Future Presidents: the Science Behind the Headlines,” by Richard A. Mueller. In it, this Physics Professor takes much of the hype out of many of the issues that crowd today’s headlines. In a very straightforward way, he tackles issues such as “dirty bombs,” terrorism, energy, climate change, and so on.
It was on his chapter on energy where he’s talking about how much energy a gallon of gasoline contains that I found, of all things, a comparison to the energy content of food. Mueller states that “food is almost as good as gasoline” in terms of energy content. He goes on to say that,
“If you find this high energy content implausible, watch a hummingbird. It uses enormous energy to flap its wings just to sip a tiny amount of nectar. Clearly the energy in the nectar must be more than enough to cover the work being done by those rapidly beatings wings that hold the bird in front of the flower. It is. Food is almost as good as gasoline.”
Because food has such a high energy content, it actually takes very little of it to completely nourish our bodies and fuel our daily activities. The problem is that we’re typically greatly overloading our bodies with way more food than what we actually need. Professor Mueller goes on to say that,
“On the downside, the enormous energy content of food is what makes it so difficult to lose weight without serious dieting. One 12-ounce can of soda contains, typically, 150 food calories. A person can work that off with a half hour of vigorous exercise (running, not jogging; basketball, not baseball; swimming, not golf), provide, of course, that he doesn’t reward himself with a can of soda. The best way to lose weight is to eat less, not to exercise more.“
Make sure you pay particular attention to that last line: “the best way to lose weight is to eat less, not to exercise more.” It’s simple physics. To eliminate 150 calories from your diet, you can do half an hour of hard exercise, or you can simply pass on the soda and drink water instead.
Now, to be clear, note that he didn’t say that you didn’t have to exercise at all or that exercise isn’t important or that it doesn’t help you lose weight. He didn’t say any of these things. All he said is that from a physics standpoint, it’s easier to lose weight by eating less than by exercising more simply because food has such a high energy content.
So let me summarize:
- If you want to lose weight, eat less – way less. Although when you first start a diet it feels like you’re dying, your body will actually adjust after a couple of days. Your stomach will get smaller so that small portions will be more filling and your digestive system will get more efficient since you’re not constantly overloading it anymore. If you can make it past the first week, it really does get easier.
- Yes, I did say “eat way less.” Just making token cuts like skipping the bread or desert isn’t enough. Not eating bread reduces your total calorie count by what, maybe 250 calories? Big deal. That’s not nearly enough. You need to cut your total caloric intake by 1/2 to 2/3. No, this is not a typo. Cut your meals by one half to two thirds of what you’re eating now. Unless you make really radical changes to your diet, your body simply adjusts to not having bread or not having dessert and you end up weighing the same. IMPORTANT NOTE: radical changes to your diet does put a strain on your body at first so make sure you’re in good health to begin with and that you’ve discussed your plans with a healthcare provider.
- Exercise is still important. Physical exercise still plays an important part in your weight-loss plans. You still have to keep your metabolism rate at a high level, you still need to keep your muscles toned, and you still have to encourage your body to burn fat instead of muscle. Exercise does all these things so it’s critical that you work in as much as you can.
How have I used this information? Well, here’s the diet that I try to follow (notice I said “try” because honestly, I do occasionally cheat). I try to follow the “reduced calorie” routine for as many days as I can during the week. It doesn’t always work out that way but I try to follow it as many days as I can. On weekends, I eat whatever I want but obviously try to keep from undoing all my progress.
My “Reduced Calorie” Diet
Breakfast: One 8-oz Protein Shake (I use Syntha-6) with one small banana or 2-3 strawberries mixed in. Calories: about 150
Lunch: One cup (about 8-oz) of soup. I love Campbell’s Chunky Healthy Request (not the “condensed”) soups, especially the Beef Barley. Keep in mind that most cans of soup contain 2 portions so make sure to read the label! Calories: about 150
Dinner: Another protein shake. Calories: about 150
So during the week, I try to get by on around 500 calories per day (more or less). Am I always successful? Of course not. I occasionally throw in a snack in between lunch and dinner that probably adds another 100-150 calories. The key is to make sure that your “snack” is a wise choice like a piece of fruit, some nuts, or a granola bar. It’s critical that you stay away from sugary “empty” calories.
Again, this diet is not for everyone – and not everyone will be able to stay on it for long. Make sure you are in good health before starting ANY diet (or exercise) plan and discuss your plans with your doctor or healthcare provider. That being said, use your head and take things slow and easy at first. Like I said earlier, it does get easier once you get past the first week.
Now 500-600 calories per day isn’t much, but then, I’m a little guy (5′ 10″) so don’t take the actual number of calories as gospel. Simply take what your normal diet is and try to get buy on half. Do that as many times as you can during the week. If that means you do it every other day, that’s fine. If you can only do it on Wednesdays, that’s a good start. The point is to start. Once you do, you’ll find that adding an additional day gets easier and before you know it, you’ll be getting by on much less food.
Make sure you keep up your exercise routine. In fact, when you start getting hungry, go out for a brisk walk instead of reaching for the chips. Drinking lots of water will also help to keep your stomach from grumbling.
So to sum up, “token” dieting doesn’t work since your body simply adapts to the slight changes in food intake. The end result is that you end up weighing exactly the same. To lose weight, you’ve got to make a radical reduction in the amount of food you eat – on the order of 1/2 to 2/3 of what you’re eating now. Drink plenty of water, get plenty of exercise, and above all, use common sense and check with your doctor along the way. I think you’ll be pleased with the results you start getting.