The answer to this is easy! It is simple math. But, if you think the equation is 'calories in' versus 'calories out', then you are part of the majority of people that will never keep the weight off. It's time for some new math.
Calorie counting is derived from the core belief that in order to lose weight, you need to eat less calories than you use.
Move more eat less. This is what has been taught to us for as long as I can remember. This is what I was taught before I learned more about our how our bodies actually work. If you continue to believe this and continue to count calories, you will never ever keep your extra unwanted pounds off once and for all.
I said the answer was simple math and it is.
The reason that we can lose weight for a period of time and then we gain it back, is because of the 80-20 rule. Most of the articles and literature I read say that, weight loss and fitness is 80% nutrition and 20% exercise.
What does this mean? This means, your weight loss results are 80% tied to what you eat (calories in) and 20% to your exercise (or calories out).
Are you starting to see how the 'calories in' versus 'calories' out may not be telling us the whole story here?
There is an organization called the National Weight Control Registry (which I participate in), which studies people that have lost more than 30 pounds and kept it off for more than one year. They are trying to figure out how people lose weight and keep it off (because so few people can). Before I figured things out for myself, I was a yo-yo dieter. I would lose weight and it would come back. To get off of the weight loss roller coaster or break the yo-yo pattern, you have to understand the 80-20 rule and why 'calories in' versus 'calories out' (calorie counting) does not work.
Let's first look at 'calories in' versus 'calories out'.
If you do a hard workout (say 45 minutes), you are going to burn between 300 and maybe 600 on average (depending gender and fitness level). I don't know about you, but I can eat 300 calories in a second (ok maybe 10 seconds if I chew). So, at the highest level, it takes 45 minutes of kick-butt work to burn what you can consume in a matter of seconds. This is just a side note and something to keep in the back of your mind.
Now, to the real reason why we cannot keep it off.
Our body is in control of our weight. What? Yep! We tend to think of our bodies as this empty vessel that we have full control over. We think our body composition is determined by how much we put in our body versus how much we expend. Unfortunately, our bodies are a little more complex than that.
Our bodies were designed for survival of our species. For millions of years that was the main function. To survive. We did this through eating (to stay alive) and having lots of sex (to reproduce). I am not sure if the early man had lots of sex or not. But before we get to distracted here, let's refocus on the food part and why it is so important.
Our bodies were designed for survival. For millions of years, before all the luxuries we have now, survival was not an easy task. Our bodies had to have mechanisms in place for survival. In times of famine, it had to have go into a survival mode and function off of few calories. Certain times of the year, it made sense to store energy for later (in the form of body fat). During pregnancy, a woman's body changes to assure the survival of her baby. These survival mechanisms are not consciously driven by us. We take our signals from our bodies and do what comes natural to us at the time. The point is, our bodies have had to be smart enough to act differently in different situations and function differently in order to survive.
So you see, the human body is not an empty vessel that responds strictly to 'calories in' versus 'calories out'. The body manages what we eat differently to fit our situation.
We are not going to go into a biochemistry lesson here. The bottom line is, this is all driven by our hormones (which drive us). Our hormones ultimately determine our body composition.
So why can we lose weight, but just not keep it off?
The reason is that we have this thing called 'will power.' My most recent analogy of this relates to Las Vegas (ok, I think I need a vacation). You are probably saying, how in the world is Las Vegas in any way related to our hormones and why we cannot kept weight off? Well, besides the obvious, let me share my thoughts.
Consider your body (or specifically your belly or wherever you store body fat) is a Las Vegas casino. Your will power is the amount of money you bring into the casino with you and the casino odds are your hormones. Anyone that has gambled, knows that the odds of a casino are slightly in favor of the casino. That is how they stay in business (and a big business it is). The casino (your belly) does not care if you apply your will power (your diets, your exercise) because it knows over time your bank roll (will power) will run out. The odds are in their favor, so over time they will win and they know it.
Over time, one of two things are going to happen in this casino scenario. 1) you are going to hit the jackpot (meaning you reach your weight loss goal) or 2) you are going to run out of money (your will power and you are going to give up). Let's look at both of these scenarios individually.
The obvious one is you give up. You cannot take it anymore and you just go off the diet and you find excuses not to workout anymore. This is exactly what your body wants and what your hormones have been driving you to do. But, you have been resisting through your will power. Our bodies only have so much will power to give, just like most people have a limited amount of money to gamble away. Eventually, it will run out.
Now let's look on the bright side. You win (winner winner chicken dinner)! You hit your weight loss goal. That is awesome! If you're in a Las Vegas casino, maybe you get upgraded to a suite and get some free goodies and encouragement to stay and play some more. I mean you hit it big, right? You can afford to gamble just a little of your winnings. You say to yourself, "Yes, I deserve it! I worked hard and I can afford it! I can have just one cookie, that is not going to hurt." Right? I have done this more times than I care to admit (not the Vegas thing, the cookie thing). I hit my goal and I let the gas off on the 'will power' thing. I may even go back to some of the foods I ate before. I tell myself, "I am eating good. I am working out, so I deserve a treat." But believe me, it is one treat here and another there and, before you realize it, you have gained all the weight you lost.
Why does this happen? It's that darn casino host (cupboard)! With all those goodies and treats, right? Nope, it's your hormones (the casino host's (cupboard's) goodies are not helping of course).
You see, you cannot beat the odds of a casino and you cannot beat your hormones (when they are working against you).
So how do people do it? How do they reset their hormones and their biochemistry so the odds are in their favor?
Could you imagine gambling in a casino where the odds were in your favor? Wouldn't that be nice?
If you are still counting calories, you have not yet figured out how to set the odds in your favor. You are fighting against your body and while you might win here and there, over time you will lose that battle.
I have spent a lot of time on this casino scenario for a very simple answer. If you want to reset the odds in your favor, you have to focus on that 80% (the food part). If you are eating right for your body, the odds will reset themselves in your favor.
The reason why we have such a problem with obesity and chronic illness in this country is because of what we are eating. What we are eating is wrong for our bodies. It is messing with our biochemical system and setting the odds against us. Some of the things we are eating are so bad for us, the odds are not slightly off, they are WAY off and not in our favor. As a society, we fix this through drugs (aka: medicine, pills, etc.), which often (biochemically) make matters even worse (meaning making it even harder to get your biochemistry back to its normal working order).
I would venture to say, people are eating about 80% of the wrong things and about 20% of the right things (and I would say I am being very generous here, too). I would also venture to say that most people spend about 80% of their time on exercise and about 20% on their nutrition (and again, I would say I am being very generous here as well).
To sum this up, we are spending 80% of our time on something that is going to give us 20% of the results we want and we are spending 20% of our time and effort on things that will give us 80% of the results we want. I know, this new math is crazy, right?
Don't gamble with your health; reset the odds in your favor! Exercise is important and is part of a healthy body, but it is not 100% of the equation (which is what we have been led to believe).
To do this, all you need to do is focus on a whole foods diet (that is right for your body). Stay away from processed foods and food that you do not know what is in it. Over time, your body will reset itself so that the odds are in your favor.
The really cool thing is, once you tip the odds in your favor, it snowballs. Your body will drive you to make healthy choices. Your body will drive you to want to workout. When you are on the other side, it is very natural and you do not need will power anymore. You can save your will power for the sex part (see, I just could not let that one go). It's the hormones, I am telling you. You can't beat them! So join them!