Not Losing Weight Even Though You've Restricted Your Calories?
If you're not losing weight on a low calorie diet, many factors might be at play. Most weight loss plans purport to work by manipulating what's known as energy balance. A diet tries to get you to decrease the number of calories you consume and/or increase the number of calories you 'burn' -- presumably through physical activity.
But this approach assumes that you can manipulate "Calories In" and "Calories Out" separately. That you can starve yourself without changing your metabolism and that you can "burn off" calories without impacting your body's need for more calories.
These assumptions make no sense. Ever hear the expression 'working up an appetite'? Why do we have this expression? Because when we expend energy through physical exertion, homeostatic mechanisms drive us to replenish lost calories. In other words, when we increase "Calories Out" to create a negative energy balance to lose weight, the body compensates by making us hungry. It strives to maintain energy balance.
The mechanisms governing hunger and metabolism are intertwined. But we think of our fat tissue like a piggybank for calories. Add more calorie coins to the piggybank, and we'll get fatter. Remove calories coins from the piggybank, and we'll get thinner. If you are not losing weight, you must be doing the accounting wrong.
Doesn't that seem just a tad ridiculous? A little too simple?
Let's think about this piggybank model for a moment. On the one hand, we readily acknowledge that the human body is unfathomably complex in the mechanisms that govern things like temperature, energy use at the level of the cell, salt concentration in the blood, etc. But when we talk about what's going on inside our fat tissue, we envision that it's a piggybank for excess calories, or maybe a garbage bag. Why?
Okay, so point made. But can we find evidence that "Calories In" and "Calories Out" function as dependent variables? Can this view be validated?
1. Let's quote personal trainer Joseph Brandenburg about why so many of us are not losing weight:
"calories in and calories out are dependent variables. That is, they depend on each other -- if you meddle one, you meddle with the other. If you expend more energy, then you will get hungrier. If you use willpower to keep from eating, your body will find other ways to get its calories back eventually -- it can eliminate your spontaneous movement, reduce your body temperature and even break down your lean body mass."
2. Science journalist Gary Taubes lucidly explains and expands on this. See this article. Or check out this video about why so many of us are not losing weight. Or read pgs 297-8 and 357-8 from his book, Good Calories, Bad Calories, in which Taubes points out just how powerful our fat tissue can be. He quotes Julius Bauer, who in 1929 wrote that the fat tissue "lives for itself and does not fit into the precisely regulated management of the whole organism."
In obesity, the fat tissue essentially runs amuck. You can't pacify dysfunctional fat tissue simply by cutting calories or taking a run on the treadmill. To fix defective fat tissue, you first have to find out what's wrong with the fat tissue and then fix that defect. That should be the obvious solution, the null hypothesis. How could it not be? If you are not losing weight, it must because something is wrong with your fat tissue.
Taubes discusses an experiment in which genetically obese rats were starved on a calorie restricted diet. Instead of losing their fat tissue, however, these rats consumed their organs, lean tissue, and finally their own hearts until they died. They died with their fat tissue intact.
That ain't a piggybank, folks. That is something different.
And if our fat tissue isn't a piggybank, then the Caloric Balance Hypothesis about why we are collectively not losing weight must be thrown out.
Did you enjoy this article? It's been over 4 years since I wrote it or edited any of the other content you'll find on this site. :]
During this hiatus, I've had the privilege of talking about these concepts with many renowned authorities in the fields of diet and health, including Gary Taubes... as well as many of his critics.
After researching and thinking for four years, I came to a startling revelation about how to simplify the fat loss question. I call this concept "The Black Box."
I explain it all in a free (for a limited time) short report, which you can download via the form below. Check it out! It's a legitimately new idea, and a lot of people (including many respected obesity researchers) have found it compelling. Thank you! - Adam