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Why It’s So Hard to Lose Weight

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Why It’s So Hard to Lose Weight

Tired of exercising and counting calories?
Marcelle  Pick
Marcelle Pick More by this author
Aug 26, 2013 at 10:00 AM

Do you want to know the real reason why it’s so hard to lose weight, and why, when we do lose it, most of us gain it all back within two years? It’s because we keep trying to solve the problem with simplistic, one-size-fits-all solutions. But you can’t fix an individual problem with a one-size-fits-all solution.

Creating a healthy, lean body depends on how well your body copes with the demands made on it. This is very personal: what works for you may not work for your friend. The important thing is that you understand what works for you.

A well-functioning, balanced body will naturally maintain a normal body weight without requiring epic demonstrations of discipline and deprivation. But most popular diet plans today are still touting the outdated, oversimplified equation: calories in = calories out.

In other words, to lose weight you must decrease your input of calories and increase your output of energy. This may have worked well for you in the past, when your body was younger and your metabolism was in high gear, but not so well now. You may be one of the many women I see who, at midlife, are eating very few calories but still gaining weight. There are women who overeat, don’t get me wrong, but in my experience there are many more who don’t—without seeing the smallest dip on the scales.

In the reductive atmosphere of a laboratory (that is, where things are reduced to the simplest of equations), if a test subject uses up the same number of calories that it takes in, there is a zero net; there aren’t any calories left over to store in muscle tissue or fat cells, so, voilà, no weight gain. This has been the golden rule of weight loss for as long as I’ve practiced medicine, and it has meant more miserable women dragging themselves to the gym at 5 A.M. than I can count, not to mention a ridiculous amount of time spent counting calories.

Now, it is true that if you consistently eat more calories than your metabolism can burn, the extra will be stored as fat and you will gain weight. But everyone has a different metabolism that burns at a different rate, and some may be genetically predisposed to burn one nutrient or another more efficiently.

Some of you may have seen the movie Super Size Me!, in which a young filmmaker, Morgan Spurlock, spent 30 days eating all of his meals at McDonald’s, keeping physical activity to a bare minimum and never turning down an offer to “supersize” his meal. At the end of the experiment, Spurlock had gained more than 20 pounds and his cholesterol had skyrocketed, in direct contrast to his mood, which had plummeted. More seriously, he was on his way to clinical liver damage—in just a month.

Spurlock’s experience inspired another researcher, a man named Fredrik Nystrom at Linkoping University in Sweden, to conduct a similar experiment of his own, using a group of 18 college-student volunteers.¹ These students were asked to double their usual caloric intake, eating anywhere from 5,000 to 6,000 calories in junk food a day, and to avoid physical activity as much as possible.

Based on the film and our current ideas about weight control, you would probably expect all the volunteers—after doubling their caloric intake and reducing their caloric output—to be well on their way to obesity, like Spurlock. But that wasn’t what happened at all! Now, each of the volunteers did gain some weight. Some gained almost as much as Spurlock, others only a few pounds, and at least one gained half of his additional weight in muscle. More surprisingly, many of the subjects saw no change in their cholesterol levels (one student’s actually went down), and none of them had liver problems. What Nystrom discovered was what I’ve been telling you: everyone responds differently!

The bottom line is, most of the science telling us that input must equal output—or that “a calorie is a calorie is a calorie”—doesn’t adjust for a person’s individual metabolism, nor does it take into account the various other physical and emotional factors that may be creating obstacles to weight loss. The truth is actually quite simple: a calorie is a calorie is a calorie . . . until it enters your mouth.

What happens next—the way your body burns, stores, or excretes that calorie—is specific to you, and specific to where you are right now. A woman’s physiology isn’t static; it’s a reflection of her biochemistry, her nutrition, and all the things she’s doing, thinking, and feeling—consciously or unconsciously—at a particular time in her life.

When you toss out the one-size-fits all mentality and learn to work with your body and not against it, you will restore your core balance and shed those toxic pounds once and for all.

About Author
Marcelle  Pick
Marcelle co-founded Women to Women in 1983 with a vision to change the way in which women’s healthcare is delivered.In her practice, Marcelle undertakes a holistic approach that not only treats illness, but also helps women make choices in th Continue reading