Weight management is often presented in the following way;
Intake of calories – energy expenditure = X (maintain, gain, or lose weight)
Based on this equation, to lose weight you need to decrease intake and/or increase expenditure.
Let me illustrate the point;
2,000 intake – 2,000 expenditure (BMR + activity) = no change in weight
1,500 intake – 2,500 expenditure (BMR + More activity) = decrease in weight, if this is maintained, then a person would lose 2 lbs a week (there would be a potential 7,000 calorie deficit accrued during the week and each pound of fat = 3,500 calories, it is usually not that simple or linear, but for now let’s go with it)
This basic, or simple equation of weight regulation is TRUE. No doubt about it. If the balance of the equation is positive then weight will be gained, if it is negative weight will be lost. This is weight management 101 and most of you are saying “No shit!”. Anyway, this simple view is the basis for the typical recommendation to just “Eat less and move more”, again, most everyone will say “Thank you Captain Obvious!”.
But, there is a BIG problem with this simple view/approach to weight regulation. The problem comes from the fact that there is a whole lot of shit going on under the surface. This simple view is like the tip of an iceberg, doesn’t look so bad, but the big part is found under the water. Under the surface there are many physiological, social, and psychological variables that influence the in and out parts of the equation. The “eat less and move more”, which is true, is too simple and I think leaving it at that level would be similar to saying to someone with an alcohol or drug problem, “Just stop drinking or using drugs”. Well, obviously, but there are often a number of real reasons that a person is struggling with alcohol or drugs and stating the obvious is not likely to be beneficial. The thing is our eating behavior is actually more complex and likely more challenging because eating is a biological necessity. We can’t stop eating forever whereas we can stop drinking alcohol or taking drugs forever.
The basic in and out equation
The “eat less and move more ” recommendation
The MANY biological, social, and psychological variables that strongly influence our ability to modify the in and out aspects of the equation. These variables must be addressed if long-term changes in behavior and weight are to be accomplished.
Here are a few more illustrations to highlight my point. These are from the paper;
Zheng, H. & Berthoud, H. (2008). Neural systems controlling the drive to eat: Mind versus metabolism. Physiology; 23: 75-83
Here is the abstract from the paper mentioned above;
“With the bleak outlook that 75% of Americans will be overweight or obese in 10 years, it is essential to find efficient help very soon. Knowledge of the powerful and complex neural systems conferring the basic drive to eat is a prerequisite for designing efficient therapies. Recent studies suggest that the cross talk between brain areas involved in cognitive, emotional, and metabolic-regulatory functions may explain why energy homeostasis breaks down for many predisposed individuals in our modern environment.” (p.75)
Yes, many people need to eat less and move more. But, HOW is that accomplished (not the point of this post so you will have to read the book or other posts to find out)? Well, it seems self-evident that the simple recommendations are not working, at least not for a lot of people. Which leads to the point of this post, which is to highlight the fact that weight regulation is actually very complex and for the millions of people who struggle with maintaining a healthy weight a simple recommendation of “eat less and move more” is NOT likely to lead to any real change. Due to this fact a comprehensive approach to the problem must be used if the problem is to be remedied.