January 8th, 2018

Why it’s so hard to lose weight

For many of us, that is.

There are those of you who are different. There are people who gain weight because they overindulge, and all they have to do is stop eating all that dessert or drinking all that beer or whatever it is they did to gain the weight, and off it drops.

And then there are those people regularly featured on cable TV who chow down to the tune of 20,000 calories a day and are enormously obese and get bariatric surgery because their systems are so awry that for reasons both psychological and physiological their appetites just won’t quit.

And then there are people like me, who’d like to lose ten or fifteen pounds and don’t eat all that much to begin with. It’s almost funny when I read an account from someone (usually a guy, but not always) who lost a formidable amount of weight by cutting out all the pizza and chips and candy bars and eating something like 1700 calories a day. I don’t eat pizza and chips and candy bars, and I doubt I eat 1700 calories on a regular basis when I’m not dieting.

And please do me a favor and don’t tell me to go paleo or Taubes or whatever. I’ve been on different versions of those sort of diets and (a) I don’t lose weight; and (b) I hate the food. And don’t tell me to exercise: I already do. Nearly every day I fast-walk three miles, and have done that for decades. And I can’t add lifting weights, although I’d like to, because doing so stirs up my chronic injuries.

Yesterday I found this Vox article entitled “The science is in: exercise won’t help you lose much weight.” I already knew that because upping my exercise has never caused weight loss for me—although reducing my exercise has never caused weight gain, either. I exercise for other reasons, but weight loss is not one of them.

That led me to another article that helps you figure out what your resting metabolism probably is, based on age and weight and gender: 1186 calories a day for me. Since resting metabolism is supposedly a certain fraction of your caloric needs, according to the site that means that I need somewhere in the range of about 1423 to 1700 calories a day. Let’s average that out and say it’s 1560 or so. That’s as much as I can eat every day without gaining weight, and that’s at a moderately high activity level. To lose weight, of course, I’d have to eat considerably less—but you can’t eat much less than that without being really, really, really hungry. In fact, I challenge you to eat about 1500 calories a day, day after day after day for the rest of your life, and not feel hungry.

It also means that if I were to go on a conventional restrictive diet of 1200 calories as I often do, I’d be losing at a snail’s pace (do snails lose weight?). And all it would take to stop my weight loss in its tracks (or slow it down considerably from its already geologic pace) would be a couple of extra pieces of fruit a day, or an extra serving of pasta (which I almost never eat anyway, although I like it). Dessert? Don’t make me laugh.

To top it all off I can’t stand artificial sweeteners, and some of them actually make me very ill.

Come to think of it, maybe I should be grateful I’m the weight I am and just go about my business. But I have reasons for wanting to lose weight that have little to do with vanity—although vanity is one of them—and have to do with various things like cholesterol that have crept up and up over the years.

By the way, I was never naturally thin, even when young and very active. I’m 5’4″, and when I was dancing I weighted about 105, but I was subsisting on about 1000 calories a day, and my natural weight was closer to 130 at the time.

But enough about me. What about you?

54 Responses to “Why it’s so hard to lose weight”

  1. MollyNH Says:

    Even though my tests came back within a normal range. I was eventually diagnosed with hypothyroidism. Looking Back seems like the only symptom then was no success at dieting, I didn’t have hair loss or dry skin or thinning eyebrows, just stubborn weight. Eventually my lipid profile (bad) & in ability to keep my vitamin D levels good despite RX supplementation pointed the doc to the thyroid again, she just kept doing the blood work and it eventually surfaced. Since on thyroid my weight has slowly tapered down to normal levels lipids are better, I still take vitamins& I have had to steadily increase my dosage of thyroid supplement. Being tested again at this higher dose end of February. (sigh)

  2. AesopFan Says:

    What about me? Quite a bit like you. In fact, I make almost exactly those arguments about my weight.
    I hit an adult low during the three years I was doing ballet for exercise 🙂 and added 40 pounds in the seven years since 🙁 without radically changing my diet.
    I have been working with a calorie spread-sheet to track daily intake, and I really do eat far more sweets and non-nutritious food than necessary, so will try to cut those back.
    I have noted the variance in daily maintenance calorie totals, and point out to my “handlers” that it’s absurd to suggest that a 5’0 person eating 1700 a day will have the same results as a 5’8 person eating the exact same things.
    I calculated once, using the food plate idea, that you couldn’t even get all your essential nutrients on less than 1200 a day.
    Best of luck to all of us needing to lose; maybe we should start a support group?

  3. Griffin Says:

    Well, I’m one of those men you referred to in your third paragraph.

    Briefly, I’m tall (6’4″) and for most of my adult life have been between 250-300 pounds which wasn’t too bad when at the low end and have lost weight a couple of times over the years but never stuck and then about five years ago I had drifted toward the high end of my range so…

    What started out pretty low key ended up pretty major thanks to discipline, moderation and routine. I started exercising much more regularly and I cut out all the bad stuff and I developed a routine that I actually stuck to and I actually lost around a 100 pounds in just over a year. I’ve always been able to lose weight fast when I tried so this wasn’t that shocking but the difference is I have kept the weight off for a few years now and have totally changed my metabolism. I can now have a day where I eat too much bad stuff and maybe gain a couple pounds but then have the discipline to lay off things for a couple days and immediately lose those couple of pounds. I weigh myself every single day also which plays into my mild OCD in keeping me in check.

  4. J.J. Says:

    Thyroid malfunction is a major cause of weight problems. My wife was diagnosed with hypothyroidism at age 35. She has been on supplementary thyroid since that time. (48 years.) However, she doesn’t do as well on synthroid as she does on Armour, which is natural thyroid. Synthroid is mostly T4, which is converted to T3 by the body. However, for some unknown reason many people don’t convert the T4 to T3 efficiently. That is where Armour comes into play. It contains both T4 and T3. The downside of Armour is that it is more difficult to get exact dosages and requires more frequent testing to titrate the dosage. Most MDs will not prescribe Armour because they learned in Med school that all people do well on Synthroid. To get Armour prescribed you usually have to go to a Naturopath. With Armour and a diet of 900 calories per day my wife can lose weight quite efficiently. She also has the willpower to stick to it when she decides to lose weight. Over the last two years she has put on some pounds because both of us have been dealing with medical problems where dieting was not v a good thing to do.

    My own experience at weight loss has been from my days of competing in bodybuilding. (1996 – 1999.) My basal metabolic rate was 2100 calories. I ate 1800 calories per day and burned about 600 calories per day through exercise. That allowed me to lose a pound a week. However, if I stayed with the 1800 calories per day, my body would readjust my metabolism and my weight loss would slow. So, every third or fourth day I would up the calories to 2100. That apparently signaled my body that there was enough food around. The first year I went from 205 pounds to my 185 pound contest weight in five months. Yes, you have to be obsessed. Knowing that you are going to be in front of an audience in nothing but a thong does concentrate your mind.

    Over the last two years of medical tribulations I have gone up to 200 pounds (Doesn’t sound like much, but I am no longer bulked up. Muscle mass disappears with age. 🙁 I would have to go to 165 to be as lean as I used to be at 185. )and have developed a bit of a beer belly that I would like to shed. I am embarking on an intermittent fasting program. I hope to lose 20 pounds over the next six or seven months. I still hit the gym, but am no longer capable of the kind of calorie burning activity that I did 20 years ago. The exercise is now for my well being – not weight loss.

    Dieting is relatively easy for me. I set my menu, calculate the calories and eat pretty much the same thing six days a week with a break of eating out one day a week. It’s boring, but I don’t live to eat – I eat to live.

    Good luck to all who want to lose some weight. It ain’t easy, but the health benefits are worth the effort.

  5. neo-neocon Says:

    Griffin, J.J.:

    The kind of eating you do on a diet would be a big binge for me.

    Sigh.

  6. Frederick Says:

    A few things to keep in mind:

    1) Fat storage is not passive. Fat cells consume calories by existing. There’s a misconception that fat people have “slower metabolisms” but a fat person has to consistently consume more than a person of normal weight in order to support the extra poundage.

    2) Gaining a pound of fat means that you have metabolized 3500 calories in excess of that required to sustain a constant weight. But calories metabolized might be less, even far less, than the calories consumed.

    What does this mean for the dieter? If you have gained a pound over (say) 3 months, then at minimum you have consumed 3500 calories that you did not need to. But you might have to cut from your diet more than 3500 calories to take it off because you may not metabolize all that you eat.

    3) Exercise itself does little. 1 extra Krispy Kreme donut ~ 1 10-minute mile. If you exercise in a way to build muscle, which takes many weeks, then you may increase your resting metabolism, but people gaining muscles are generally gaining fat too and have to diet like anyone else if they want to take it off.

    4) Suppose you were never allowed to see your income or your expenditures, you were only ever allowed to see your net worth (counting only the dollars, not like your house). Just as with food, while you can see what you ate, you cannot see how many calories you actually use of what you are taking in. In this case your total indebtedness is a metaphor for obesity. You would go to the store, present your ID, walk out with the item, and your net worth would updated accordingly–just like you can eat what you like and you will never be stopped, but your weight will change will you or nill you. You would never be refused an item, but months or years after the fact you might be hauled into a bankruptcy court without warning. If our finances worked this way, we would probably have the same kind of problem with indebtedness that we have with obesity.

    Like your personal finances, your weight is the sum of many choices taken months or years earlier, with consequences coming long after the fact–without any external constraint on what you eat (poverty, or famine) it’s not surprising this is a problem.

  7. Philu Says:

    A while back, I developed cardiac arrhythmia around the same time I became my wife’s full-time care giver. The cardiac medications I take also lower my heart rate, which was low to begin with. I needed to lose around forty pounds so there was less of me for my heart to pump blood through. Going to the gym was out so I did some reading on weight loss. One article was by a Doctor who was a nutritionist and had problems keeping her own weight under control. What finally worked for her was getting rid of cakes, cookies, ice cream, candy and other treats along with minimizing pork and beef and increasing her intake of vegetables. I did the same and lost thirty pounds over a few months. I also found eating until you’re no longer hungry instead of until you’re full soon curbs your appetite. I’m quite content with this and now that the holidays are over I’m on track to lose another ten pounds or so.

  8. Ben David Says:

    I am male. Lost lotsa weight when I came out of long term depression in my late 40s. That was largely due to “diet and exercise” – which meant going from binge-fueled insomnia and a completely sedentary office job to a healthy low-carb diet and signing up for weightlifting and self-defense courses.

    After that extreme change I’ve gained it back and then some, although keeping some muscle, and have finally been scared into dieting by my doctors. In my mid-50s I feel it is “now or never”.

    My observations:

    1. Ignore all statistics. The variation in human metabolism and body chemistry swamps all but the most general trends.

    2. Most weight loss is diet. Much easier not to put it in yer piehole – our bodies were made to scavenge and store every precious calorie. You cannot outrun the biological legacy of scarcity or “burn it off”.

    3. That said, exercise is necessary. A lot of people talk about “keeping their metabolism going”. Strength training with weights is essential to maintain muscle mass as we age – and your body spends calories just to maintain that muscle. In addition, load bearing exercise is important to maintain bone mass. Not weight loss, but equally important fitness goals. Short, intense strength workouts should replace long cardio workouts.

    4. Taubes is on to something IMNSHO. If you’ve got a weight problem = your body is not burning all the calories you are eating. Carbs=calories and very little else, most of which can be gotten from other foods.

    Taubes is also on to something regarding the hormonal interactions – muscle mass gives off testosterone which influences sugar and fat metabolism. Fat gives off estrogen which influences insulin sensitivity. Eating protein, fats, or vegetable foods triggers a different hormonal response than eating carbs. I am following this closely because there is diabetes in my family, and it makes a lot of sense and reflects my own experience.

    4. Non-athletes can’t realistically lose more than a pound a week. Gradual weight loss also seems more permanent – whether through habit formation or metabolic change I do not know.

    The best plan I ever had for this was in a small book called Total Fitness in 30 Minutes a Week – gimmicky title for a great book by a physiologist who trained the astronauts. Basically:

    – scan your history for an adult weight at which you felt energetic, and which you maintained easily for a good while. Use this as the starting point to figure out your target weight.

    – Draw a chart: 7 days across the page. The vertical axis is weight – your current weight at the top left, one pound less below on the page. Draw a diagonal line between your weight today and one pound less at the end of the week.

    – Every morning, weigh yourself after bathroom but before you eat or drink. That’s your weight for the day. No fiddling or moving the scale. Mark it on the chart. I remember this quote from the book: “You’re not a hero if you’re below the line, you’re only a hero if you’re on the line.”

    -Ignore your scale’s inaccuracies or other things like “metabolism”. These will all average out over time. Act as if the only influences on that morning number are food and activity. If you’re above the line eat less and get more activity. If you’re below the line, you can eat a treat that day. Prepare for a dinner party by eating less the meal(s) before.

    -Forget about calories. Within 2 weeks you will know exactly how various foods and activity levels impact YOU. (Yes this part was very true…)

    Keep up this routine with a new weekly chart until you hit your target weight.

  9. neo-neocon Says:

    Philu:

    You write:

    What finally worked for her was getting rid of cakes, cookies, ice cream, candy and other treats along with minimizing pork and beef and increasing her intake of vegetables. I did the same and lost thirty pounds over a few months.

    But that’s exactly what I meant by:

    There are people who gain weight because they overindulge, and all they have to do is stop eating all that dessert or drinking all that beer or whatever it is they did to gain the weight, and off it drops.

    I literally cannot remember the last time I had a piece of cake. It might have been two years ago, and I’m sure I had more than a piece at that moment. Two years ago, I gave up all sweets for a year and a half and I didn’t drop an ounce. Not really surprising, since I already ate sweets so very seldom anyway—it’s a rare thing for me, and has been for well nigh on forty or fifty years. I eat plenty of vegetables, only olive oil and not a too much of it, have meat now and then but maybe once a week, etc. etc. etc..

    Of course, I don’t have forty pounds to lose. I’m curious if those last ten pounds will be easy for you to lose or difficult. I’m always trying to lose that last ten-fifteen, so I’m always in that zone.

  10. Susanamantha Says:

    I too have been frustrated by “expert” recommendations and diet/exercise regimens. With a food and calorie chart, exercise ratings for calories/minute/body size, I meticulously tracked my food intake and exercise output, a bit obsessively for months. I was walking 4-5 miles a day, riding a bike, exercising in the gym and, lo and behold, I stayed at the same weight. I finally relaxed about it all. Now, with a chronic medical issue, I finally have lost the 15 pounds I fought vainly to lose in the past.

  11. Philu Says:

    Neo, I’m 82 and 6’3. I had been a bike rider and walker until about six or seven years ago. I’m not sure how much difference that makes. I believe my current loss stems from my change in eating habits and a lot of resistance to temptation as opposed to dieting. I also weigh myself every morning and adjust my caloric intake accordingly. I’ll sneak in a comment when I lose that ten pounds.

  12. neo-neocon Says:

    Philo:

    As I wrote to J.J. and Griffin here, the kind of eating you probably can do on a diet would represent a binge for me. A 6’2″ man can eat far far more than a 5’4″ woman, all else being equal. Men are not only larger but they have a lot more muscle mass and more muscle mass allows them to eat more without gaining weight. It’s a common story on diet discussion boards that a wife and husband go on the same diet and husband loses a ton of weight while wife hardly loses any. The bigger the height differential the more extreme it can be.

  13. neo-neocon Says:

    Philu:

    As I remarked to Griffin and J.J. here, on a diet and losing weight you probably eat far more than I eat when I’m not on a diet. Men not only tend to be taller and larger (you are certainly much taller than a 5’4″ woman!) but they are also more muscular, and muscle burns more calories per pound.

    It’s a common story that a husband and wife will go on a diet together and he will drop a lot of weight and she will lose little or none.

  14. AMartel Says:

    Exercise works for me because it makes me less likely to eat. Not because of the threat of more exercise (because “more exercise” is going to happen no matter what if exercise is part of your life) but because it really acts as an appetite suppressant. Also, I hate the feeling after overeating. It’s just not pleasant.

  15. Griffin Says:

    The one thing I am very confident in saying is that there is no one fool proof way of losing weight. Everyone is different and I am very skeptical of anyone claiming to have all the answers.

  16. AMartel Says:

    Also, focus less on calories and more on cutting back on empty calories and sugar.

  17. neo-neocon Says:

    AMartel:

    Since I almost never eat empty calories and sugar, it’s a hard thing to cut back on.

    I’m sure it works for some people, but it doesn’t seem to work for me.

    Again, it may be because I’m not a naturally thin person and because I’m only very slightly overweight.

  18. Gringo Says:

    Some five years ago I realized I needed to resume walking to keep my weight down. Providentially, a neighbor acquired a dachshund around the same same time. Walking the dog- later to become dogs- kept my weight down, and the dogs made the walking more enjoyable. Several months ago, the neighbor and the dogs moved. I stopped walking.

    After putting off walking, I have now resumed walking. Time will tell.

  19. AMartel Says:

    I think Griffin’s got it – there’s no magic answer. You have to find what works for you. Which is a huge nuisance, that trial and error.

  20. AMartel Says:

    And on top of that, your body changes as you age so what worked in your twenties is not going to necessarily carry over seamlessly to your forties.

  21. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    As has been mentioned there are a number of factors involved for each individual. Given individual variations, I decided to look at the overall obesity of societies. So I did a brief search on the most and least obese societies. Not surprisingly, most of the least obese societies are poor third world Asian and African societies with one first world exception; Japan.

    “Japanese dietary habits are healthier compared to other developed countries and they walk a lot. As a result, people in Japan are considered to be among the healthiest in the world, with higher life expectancy rates than most countries. Though much of this can be attributed to their healthy lifestyle, the Japanese government also spends about 10% of its GDP on healthcare services. Only 3% of Japanese citizens have a body mass index of over 30.”

    As for the difficulty in losing that last 10-15 pounds, there may be a corollary in the field of high end audio gear; in general, the closer you get to ‘State of the Art’ the more money that must be expended. It’s a logarithmic extension, so that last 10% can involve the expenditure of extraordinary amounts of money. So a $2500 pair of speakers might get you 75% of the state of the art but that last 1% has you looking at $50-100k…

    But unlike weight loss, wait 5 years and a current $2500 pair of speakers will provide 90% of the former state of the art. Which is why “Upgradeitis” is a widespread disease among audiophiles 😉 Anybody want to buy a mint condition integrated amplifier?

  22. neo-neocon Says:

    Geoffrey Britain:

    And you know what? Most of the most obese countries in the world are also third-world countries.

    Most Obese Countries by Percentage:

    Cook Islands – 50.80%
    Palau- 47.60%
    Nauru- 45.60%
    Samoa- 43.40%
    Tonga- 43.30%
    Niue- 43.20%
    Marshall Islands- 42.80%
    Qatar- 42.30%
    Kiribati- 40.60%
    Tuvalu- 40.30%
    Kuwait- 39.70%
    United Arab Emirates- 37.20%
    Federated States of Micronesia – 37.20%
    Fij i- 36.40%
    Bahamas – 36.20%
    Vanuatu- 35.40%
    Bahrain – 35.10%
    Saudi Arabia – 34.70%
    United States of America – 33.70%
    Libya – 33.10%

    See also this.

  23. Chang Yee Fong Says:

    This guy’s videos have helped me a lot at losing weight and keeping similar body strength.

    https://www.youtube.com/user/JDCav24/featured

    He also has one for women.

    https://www.youtube.com/user/womensworkouts

    Check out their videos to see what type of workout your comfortable trying.

    Also have you tried Keto along with intermittent fasting.

    https://www.ruled.me/guide-keto-diet/

    https://www.ruled.me/keto-calculator/

    https://www.dietdoctor.com/low-carb/keto

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=keSoSyu9m7c&t=116s

    FYI I don’t do Keto because all the studies from it showed either muscle loss or no muscle growth and I wanted to maintain my strength.

  24. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    neo,

    My mistake, I meant to say ‘most’ rather than ‘least’ obese. That what happens when you’re hurrying to finish when its time to start dinner 🙁

  25. Sarah Anne Says:

    I’ve been the same way my whole life, plus low energy. I eat very little and have gotten used to it I guess. I control cravings by eating very low carb plus I take a thyroid meds. My daughter has the problem too and I believe it’s a genetic/inherited predisposition to insulin resistance (IR) and glucose disregulation. Very hard to break through that. My daughter is trying a medication called “saxenda” which is essentially Victoza for diabetes, but at a weight-loss dose. Even at 1/4 the recommended dose, it allowed her to break through the IR and meet her weight loss goal. We are now weaning her off this medication (administered via painless daily injection) and are crossing our fingers that she can maintain her new weight. Wish us luck and we wish you luck:)

  26. AndyOH Says:

    Me?

    TL,DR; South Beach. It was developed by a MD specializing in heart health, in collaboration with a credentialed dietician, specifically focused on improving blood chemistry test results administered by that MD.

    In my early forties I was about 35 lbs overweight, had a hard time falling asleep at night, lower back pain, no wind and was developing joint pain which I attributed to early arthritis. My diet was almost entirely store bought pre-made and fast food. I attribute this to my stubborn refusal to acknowledge that I could no longer thrive on beer and pizza as I had in younger days. 35 lbs … that’s like carrying around 2 bowling balls at waist level …

    I did and do work outside all day every day for my job. Land Surveyor, no heavy lifting or extreme exertion per say, but I am almost always in motion, in all but the worst weather.

    I had never tried dieting before and randomly bought the South Beach Diet book. The complete regimen at the time consisted of 3 two week phases where you are restricted to choosing from a meal plan, differing slightly in each phase. Throughout the plan, you eat 6 times per day, so hunger was NOT an issue (I could only stand to eat 5 times per day, so decided to forgo the evening snack). Briefly; refined sugar of any sort (corn syrup is in a shocking number of food products, and counts as a refined sugar), flour products in any form, and any sort of starch such as potatoes (which require your body to manage insulin to process) are right out, verbotten. If you CANNOT ditch sugar and potatoes for 6 weeks, read no further.

    I discontinued strict adherence to the meal plan after 5 weeks, having shed 30 lbs, and have VERY loosely stuck to the 3rd week menu ever since. Within 3 days of starting, I felt enough improvement to strongly offset my inclination to cheat, and after a week, ALL of my above listed physical complaints either went away or were mitigated to a point they were moot.

    My take? If you already shop for and prepare all of your own meals (my biggest self discipline issue), this diet course would be dead easy for you. You won’t even feel like you’re dieting.

    Cheers all of you, best fortune in 2018.

  27. Sloppy Steve Says:

    I’m with MollyNH on the importance of a well-regulated thyroid. It controls the body’s metabolism so it has to be primed occasionally if it is running slow.

    I despise them for it – but can’t argue with the results – of the “juicers” at my local gym, by which I mean the steroid abusers.

    It’s not commonly known but in addition to the growth hormones and other anabolic agents these vain idiots take, the juicers also, because there is no point in having muscle if it is covered by fat, take drugs that speed up their metabolisms by targeting the thyroid.

    It does seem to work for them. They never seem to lift anything heavy but all have huge muscles and little fat – but they also all have acne on their backs so there is some justice.

    For us men I swear by HIIT running each morning. This stands for high intensity interval training and is the best thing for stripping visceral (ie. gut) fat.

    For years I did the usual thing of jogging, (relatively slowly) ,for miles each day/night at a time, stressing endurance in the mistaken belief that further was better – but saw no appreciable fat loss.

    Now I run just 800 metres a morning – that’s only twice around an oval, so it’s not much but you must be sure to sprint in the space of each 100 metres for 20 metres. (ie 80 metre jog, then 20 metre sprint).That’s all it takes.

    It works very quickly indeed. You will see results on your belly in a week. The fat just falls off.

    If you take your shirt off you also get lots of wonderful vitamin D without burning – a goodie which many sedentary people lack.

    We all know, as intelligent people, that there are no magic remedies in life and so I avoid gimmicks but HIIT is proven.

    It has changed my life because it allows me to enjoy my Italian heritage by eating my beloved pasta, (and with parmesan cheese!), and by quaffing my beloved vino rosso to my heart’s content. (None of which were to be spied in Neo’s wonderful new fridge by the way. Perhaps they were hidden by all the mustards).

  28. HellNoWay Says:

    No pain, no pain ….

  29. J.J. Says:

    Griffin: “The one thing I am very confident in saying is that there is no one fool proof way of losing weight. Everyone is different and I am very skeptical of anyone claiming to have all the answers.”

    True dat. If someone had solved the problem, we would all be happily using it.

    At my age (84) I can do some HIIT and lift some fairly heavy weights, but nothing compared with 20 years ago. Exercising is now a way to stay healthy, not burn excess calories.

    Intermittent fasting holds some allure for me. I eat 400 calories per day on two successive days (Wednesday and Thursday for me.) and 1800 calories on the other five days. I eat nothing before 10am and nothing after 6pm – limiting my food intake to 8 hours each day. That provides 9800 calories per week – about 2800 calories less than eating 1800 calories every day would provide. That should allow a loss of a bit less than a pound a week. 🙂 The developers of the intermittent fasting diet claim that the 16 hours per day when the body not being fed helps with digestion and repair. I hope they’re right. 🙂

  30. Griffin Says:

    J.J.,

    I’ve do variations on the intermittent fasting also. Maybe once or twice a week I will have a Lean Cuisine dinner and a cup of cottage cheese which is like 400-500 calories and maybe a banana earlier in the afternoon and that will be it for those days. It’s kind of amazing how your body adjusts and I find those days I’m not hungrier or anything. At this point I’m just trying to maintain a stable weight of around 190 and this in addition to light exercise like walking and golf when the weather is nice do it for me.

  31. stu Says:

    I am currently beginning the second week of my “January Abstinence Program” consisting of no white stuff, no dairy and one alcoholic drink a week. I have, as I have gotten older (72), reduced my food intake as I rarely feel famished and smaller portions seem to satisfy me. The other side of the coin is that my metabolism seems to have come to a full stop. I work out in the gym on average 6 days a week, yet that does not seem to matter weight wise. A passion of mine is fine wine which I have consumed and collected for the last 40 years. Whenever socializing with friends, it is assumed I will supply the wine. My wife and I have not reduced the socializing, so it is somewhat trying to be in others presence and abstain while others are enjoying those beverages. I will soldier on until that great day, February 1. I will weigh myself after two weeks of the diet to see what I’ve accomplished and perhaps that will motivate me to complete the program. If anyone has a suggestion on how to boost one’s metabolism I would love to hear your thoughts.

  32. steve walsh Says:

    Exercise makes you fit, diet makes you fat or thin.

    I’m a low-carb guy and maintain a steady 160-ish lbs on a 5′ 10″ frame. My heavier friends and family call me skinny. My diet choices mean I follow the Paleo/Taubes method though that is not exactly what I do. I eat what I like and what makes me feel well (or more accurately doesn’t make me feel poorly), I just don’t like carb-heavy foods (bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, sugar) much. So they are easy to skip or avoid.

    What is abundantly clear to me is that the one size fits all approach to weight management is completely wrong. I’m no diet scientist but from observation and sharing experiences with others it is clear that what works for me doesn’t work for lots of people. You might be surprised to hear that many overweight people (their definition, not mine) like to talk with me about how I maintain my weight. When I tell them how I eat and exercise many of them tell me they’ve tried the same approach but it didn’t work, made them feel unwell, etc.

    I don’t count calories but would estimate I eat between 2500 and 3000 per day. I exercise every day but not the high intensity type: 100 push ups every day, occasional weight lifting, and, when the weather is good, a bit of running or bicycling during the week. Taubes says exercise makes you hungry and eat more – I have the opposite reaction.

    If I may offer some advise it would be to eat and drink in such a way that you feel best. Skip foods that make you feel bloated or unwell (heartburn and such). Also, you might consider abandoning the goal of achieving a specific weight – it’s just a number after all.

  33. Julia Says:

    Great comments, as usual.

    1. I’m with JJ- don’t let your body think that there’s a ‘new normal’ of lower calories. Otherwise, it will make adjustments to preserve itself.

    2. Exercise as weigh management? Nah. You can’t exercise your way out of a crappy diet (not saying you, but others – and even me at times). (And, YMMV on what is a crappy diet.)

    Calories burned by exercise = deception. Let’s say activity X for 45 mins ‘burns 200 calories’. But that’s the total, not the net. If standing in your kitchen and talking on the phone burns 90 calories in the same time, you only burned an extra 110 calories.

    That’s obviously not enough to make up for a half-way decent candy bar of 240 or 280 calories (my weakness, but I have a lot of them).

    3. I think that increasing your resting rate of calories burned is a good long term approach. I know you’re not interested in the diet aspect, but Mark Sisson (a primal advocate) delves into lifestyle as a means of weight control/health improvement. He dissects many studies that come out about weight, nutrition and exercise, and I find his commentaries very interesting.

    He advocates weights (not necessarily lifting in the gym), some HIIT, some cardio (although I disagree with his terminology wrt/cardio – he speaks as a former high level athlete and uses terms that mean something else to those who are not), and movement in general. I’d strongly recommend looking at his movement recommendations.

    4. Can we keep ignoring the role that the microbiome plays in weight? While still pretty new, it’s a fascinating area of research. Your bacteria critters play a huge role in hunger, metabolism, and so forth. It’s astounding, and new information is published constantly.

    With my limited knowledge, I reasoned that if I wanted to have my critters work with me and not against me, I’d have to change my diet regardless of the calories. So I started with eating as I had been, but adding in a lot more veggies to feed more of the good bacteria (as opposed to the ones who love sugar). I then slowly started to cut back on the bad stuff.

    Some time after that, I saw that it reported that food composition was important in changing the balance of bacteria in your gut. Did it contribute to my weight loss? No idea, but it made sense to me.

    5. Finally, something pretty exciting to me. I was invited to take part in a huge study (via 23andMe – the DNA company) evaluating health interventions. It started this week and runs for 12 weeks.

    I had to answer a questionnaire then got to choose which of the 3 groups I wanted to be in: lower carbs, lower fat, or a control group. I chose lower carbs. I read that others had the choice made for them.

    You get dietary guidelines on a weekly basis, and you track portions (e.g. how many servings of non-starchy veggies did you eat last week? with answers ranging from 2-3 a day, to 2-3 a week, to none at all). There are also questions on the frequency and intensity of the various exercise types performed.

    While I don’t agree with some of the dietary recommendations given, I will comply with it for the 12 weeks.

    This is pretty exciting research!

  34. expat Says:

    We should all stop worrying. When Oprah is elected, she will make Michelle Secretary of Food and Exercise, and we will all be told what we can eat.

    Of course, we will all die early of transmittable diseases because Secretary of Healthcare, Jenny McCarthy, will outlaw vaccinations.

    Why should we waste all our time thinking for ourselves when Oprah’s friends are willing to do it for us.

  35. DNW Says:

    Why weren’t people fat in the 1940’s to 1980’s?

    Yeah, there were some stout women plodding along in floral dresses. And Joe Sixpacks too, with bellies protruding their Ban-Lon polos or their bowling shirts. But it was not typical.

    Maybe almost universal cigarette smoking did work.

    Actually I have no advice for others since I know nothing whatever about dieting.

    I have noticed that not drinking mixed drinks every day, and eating a more meat rich diet – in place of pastas, and those cheese and crouton and bacon loaded mixing bowl sized salads, seems to work.

    Two weeks of deer hunting in the hills will drop three notches from your belt too.

    I recommend that Neo take up goat hunting in Wyoming.

  36. DNW Says:

    Here you go. Normal people back when.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpBv1-iNdFM

  37. Mel Williams Says:

    I’ll be 64 in a few months and am in decent shape but like most others I know at this age the vital signs are creeping up. I’ve basically made it this far without doing much about it.

    But the time has come.

    I’m 5’9 and 5/8″, around 195 lbs (ranges 190-200). I think I’m blessed that the weight goes on evenly (though that is a curse, too, as one can put on 15 lbs and have no obvious reminder that you put on 15 lbs), but I have thickened in the middle, and it’s most noticeable from the side view. It’s not a beer gut, but it’s there.

    I’ve never done a serious diet. But this January I am cutting back on all the bad things – chips with lunch, the occasional soft drink, almost all sugar, cookies, the usual culprits – and adding some time to my exercise. My wife and I go to the gym maybe 5 out of 7 days and I do a pretty vigorous workout for about 45 minutes, and since I live two miles from my office (and I live in sunny California) and I go home for lunch, I am walking 3 of 4 of those two mile stretches (bike 1 way). So that’s 6 miles/day at a 4 mph clip (2 miles in a half hour).

    Last week #1 I walked 24 miles in 4 days.

    Eating . . . I eat steel cut oats at work every day with maybe a little applesauce to de-bland it and am a green tea sipper during the day. Lunch is a sandwich, tamale, or whatever – but minus any crap. Dinner is a pretty healthy dinner – my wife is Chinese and cooks a lot of vegetables and soups – and I don’t eat afterward, though I will eat fruit – apples, oranges. When I take my daughters (I’m an old father) to In’n’out burger, I’ll just have to pass, though the smell of their fries is torture.

    And I may add a 20-30 minute swim 3 times a week if I can find the time.

    I don’t pay that much attention to the scale. My pants and even shirts and the mirror tell me the progress. My face is at that point where jowls are starting to form, and excess weight doesn’t help that, so I’ll be looking for dimples.

    My goal is to simply lose some of the loose flab that accumulates all over – I can grab a bunch under the arm pit – yuck. Mostly, the side view in the mirror will be my guide.

    I’m guessing a healthy weight for me is 180-185, but I doubt I’ll reach that without starving myself. And also, since I am working out pretty hard, I expect that exchanging some fat for muscle will take place. Hence the mirror rather than the scale.

    One thing . . . two years ago I landed in the hospital with atypical pneumonia with sepsis (Neo, your posts on that were great), and I lost about 20 lbs. Despite the bad things happening to me, my blood pressure fell. Since 175 was what I used to be (or, more accurately, it’s a weight I passed through in my 30s), that tells me that blood pressure is – for me – mostly a function of how much fat my circulatory system has to contend with.

    Neo, you should do a Feb 1 post to see how folks have done.

    Thanks!

  38. Lucille van Ommering Says:

    All I can say is “welcome to my world.” 🙁

  39. Richard Aubrey Says:

    I’ve talked to a couple of guys who train for Iron Man and similar events. Toward the end of their training, they’re eating 6k calories a day–“easily”, one skinny guy said.
    Stands to reason that, at that regimen, if they didn’t eat that much, they’d lose weight and die.
    Problem is, between time, motivation, and joints, not many people can do that.
    But exercise will use up calories. Physics will not be denied.

  40. Jayne Says:

    Great question and interesting comments. Recognizing that you are not interested in keto, just let me first say that it worked fast in my case. Fast, in the beginning, that is, but I keto on hoping to lose more but delighting in the way this diet kills my appetite and cravings.

    A modification for you, neo, could be to go this direction really hard, but temporary. When the book, Strong Medicine, (available as a PDF here: http://supremexen.com/strong-medicine-blake-donaldson/strong-medicine-blake-donaldson–ro-oysterz-20140102.pdf ) was recommended by youtube giant keto/ intermittent fasting guy, he cautioned that it had old fashioned, very non-pc content (I adore non-pc so that didn’t deter me).

    But it was fascinating in the results this doctor saw in his patients. Astonishing, if true!

    In a nutshell, wake up, walk a half hour before breakfast (it must be at least a half hour), eat only steak, for each of your three meals, and have black coffee at breakfast then drink only water.

    So take a peek at that severe regimen, neo, and think about using it on a fast but temporary basis.

    And I wanted to chime in to support the whole HIIT idea. Surprise your muscles!

    Or consider adding in a regular zero calorie water only day of fasting.

    Finally, I don’t see that anyone has talked about sleep. Also, I don’t know whether you, yourself, burn the midnight oil or are in bed with the sunset, but I read and have experienced that getting to sleep earlier has been show to help weight loss. I can’t even begin to imagine the mechanism for that.

    Good luck!

  41. neo-neocon Says:

    Jayne:

    You probably haven’t read my previous posts on the subject, but let me reiterate—it’s not a lack of interest on my part, it’s a lack of results. A complete and total lack of results.

    Over the years I’ve been on diets like that at least three times. They are dreadful for me in several ways, just dreadful. The first is: no weight loss. I do not lose weight on even the most severe of them, essentially no carbs.

    In addition to the lack of weight loss, I feel dreadful. Feel sick, lots and lots of digestive problems the details of which I’ll spare you.

    Then there’s the fact that (as I mentioned in the post) I hate those foods. The idea of eating meat and nothing but meat three times a day fills me with revulsion mixed with boredom. If that was all there was or I would starve, I suppose I would eat it but I would still feel sick. I’m not a vegetarian and I eat meat, but I seldom crave meat or want all that much of it at a time.

    So a diet like that makes zero sense for me in every way.

    In addition, I once wrote a post (it’s somewhere, but I don’t have time to find it right now) mentioning that I cannot fast. I am subject to migraines, and fasting will trigger them.

  42. neo-neocon Says:

    Richard Aubrey:

    Probably extreme exercise will usually do it. But that’s not what most people are willing or able to put in. For moderate exercise of the more usual type, it doesn’t seem to matter much for a lot of people.

    Of course, there are some people who say they just started walking 2 miles a day and the pounds dropped off. But I don’t think that’s common. Certainly never happened to me.

    Plus, I have a feeling there’s something different about most people who do Ironman competitions to begin with. They’re not exactly a random group. Did they start out fat or thin? For heavier people, there is evidence that for many of them if they increase their exercise they also increase appetite to keep pace with the exercise, and don’t end up losing much weight.

    You don’t see a lot of heavy Ironman competitors, that’s for sure. But I once watched the finish line of the Boston Marathon in its later stages, when people who were not elite runners were finishing. These people train for marathons and were in good aerobic shape. But quite a few were heavy. Not obese, but definitely significantly heavy. I thought that was interesting. That was quite some years ago.

  43. Ymar Sakar Says:

    Humanity has lost control over their metabolism. Used to be, Adam’s descendants could live nearly 1000 years. What changed?

    Junk food… seriously doubt that. The food isn’t so much the problem as merely more additional gunk in the EM field’s works.

    Vegans and fruitarians are a recent trend, although it is often associated with the homeopathic new age Leftist movement, which is not the same politics or ideology.

    The thing that is on the edge of spiritual awakening and human body mortality, is that on fruit juice, sun em rays, and water alone, people have often disconnected from their body’s cravings and instead seek for spiritual food alone, not physical food. This is no mere euphemism but an actual fact.

    This is the spirit sublimating the body to the Will of the source, rather than the spirit and mind being subjugated to the body’s desires and cravings.

    When the body is near death, the spirit awakens to its greater abilities and knowledge. This has often been seen in warriors like Miyamoto Musashi, as well as people who have fasted to death or nearly fasted to death.

    That has little to nothing to do with weight loss, because weight loss is like adding another accessory to your smart phone. No matter how many leather cases you add or remove, the phone is still the phone.

    I’ve verified these results myself, as well as have observed other people’s testimonies concerning how they just got disgusted with eating after brushes with death, near death experiences, surgery, etc.

    Organ transplants, however, often report a new and different craving for foods they didn’t like before. This makes perfect sense since you are transplanting another person’s neural system and body, into your own. Your spirit is overlord and player and login user, of your own body, and it just connects, like a USB cable, to the organ’s nerves and genetic memories.

    The things that humanity do not know greatly outnumbers the things they see as unknown.

    I calculated once, using the food plate idea, that you couldn’t even get all your essential nutrients on less than 1200 a day.

    People expect to go hungry when fasting or on a diet. I wonder if they have ever entered the spiritual stage where they just stopped even “wanting to eat” physical sustenance. They and I know that the body needs food to live, but there is no hunger, not for the 2nd day nor the 3rd. As for calories, what are the worth of 1-2 cherries a day?

  44. Ymar Sakar Says:

    For warriors, the way to spiritual advancement and enlightenment is facing death and getting near it.

    For priests and ritual seekers, prayer and fasting is the other option.

  45. Ymar Sakar Says:

    But I have reasons for wanting to lose weight that have little to do with vanity—although vanity is one of them—and have to do with various things like cholesterol that have crept up and up over the years.

    That can be more directly countered by the internal neigong breathing used in Tai Chi and other Eastern medical lineages.

  46. Uncle Bill Says:

    I have struggled with my weight for years, and over those years have read much about the issue. My conclusion is: it’s complicated.

    But I will say two things: First, I have known three men who both consumed huge quantities of calories, and never gained an ounce. Two of them started gaining some weight when they hit late middle age, but the other never did. So there is something about some people’s metabolism (or whatever) that protects them from weight gain. It’s unfair, but there it is.

    Second: exercise does not cause you to lose weight, except possibly in a few extreme cases, like lumberjacks.

  47. Sergey Says:

    I happened to be naturally thin all my life without any effort for this. But after a major abdominal surgery a year and a half ago I have a new problem: how to keep my weight at least not much lower than before, now when my small intestine is almost 1 meter shorter than it used to be. Even with the most nutrient rich meals 6 or 7 times a day, it is not an easy thing to achieve.

  48. Jayne Says:

    Oh wow, no, indeed I had not seen your earlier posts on the lack of results from your change in diet. That sure is maddening!

    For me, the keto diet helped me lose fast, for about four months. Slowed way, way down to barely a trickle for this past 5 months. The reason that I stick to it, though, is first, hope to keep the direction downward, but the second reason is the freedom from cravings and intrusive thoughts of food, as well as decreased hunger. In fact going this diet has disconnected my very relationship with food, moving food way down in priority in my mind.

    Just it clicked for me in its way. However, really wish I had discovered this diet when I was a young woman.

    Yes, I can understand your frustration. Good luck

  49. neo-neocon Says:

    Jayne:

    Thanks!

    By the way, the first time I went on the diet I was a very young woman—in my early twenties. It was called the Stillman diet at the time, and it was very similar to the way keto is described. I had the previously mentioned problems with it, including not losing weight.

    But I wonder: did you have a lot of weight to lose at the outset? I never had all that much weight to lose. When I first went on the diet, I was 5’4″ and weighed in the high 120s or maybe 130. I wanted to get way down because of ballet. I ultimately did lose weight (ended up at 105 for a few years) but only by basically starving, eating 900-1000 calories a day for years. I doubt that at this point in my life I’d lose all that much weight, even on that, but I wouldn’t be able to starve myself like that anyway. Which is probably a sign of health.

    I’m also curious—on such a restrictive diet, why don’t you have cravings, if only for more fruits and vegetables? When I was on that Stillman diet I used to dream about vegetables—literally, to have dreams about eating them. I had tremendous cravings that never stopped!

  50. Richard Aubrey Says:

    neo
    Point is, physics is in charge. Doing work, in the sense of physics, requires energy. That means using up calories in the body.
    The sloppiest couch potato uses up calories reaching for another donut. That’s physics.
    I swim half a mile three times a week. I don’t particularly care for it, but it’s not interfered with by weather, and it doesn’t impact the joints.
    According to the tables, it uses up about 1000 calories a week. That’s not much, but it might be an average lunch. So whatever my weight is, it would be worse as if I’d eaten an extra lunch each week if I didn’t exercise. If I wanted to take more time, five times a week, maybe a mile instead, I’d probably be losing weight instead of not gaining.

  51. Jayne Says:

    Neo, yes, I was way overweight. In the first 4 months my body dropped 10 lbs a month. In the following 5 months with pretty much the same program, I have dropped about 10 lbs. Big difference. So 50 lbs and I feel like a new person.

    I cannot even explain why that I don’t crave food or why I have pretty much completely stopped thinking about it , when it used to dominate my thoughts. Something about fat burning versus carb burning at the cellular level. I think that lower carbs flips the switch and once that switch gets flipped my cells see that their fuel source, fat, is available from both food and fat cells. Don’t really know why, but I view it as a tremendous gift.

    Yes, your situation truly is so different because you are way close to where you want your weight to be.

    I do follow a FB group about the keto diet. It involves lots of cooking beyond just meats and eggs. There many, many people are delightedly posting before and after photos and some are losing huge – and regaining normal lives – yet there are many also who are whittling off the 10-15 lb range. Lots of enthusiasm among them all.

    So, clearly you aren’t interested in keto, but there is a friend of mine who drops all forms of dairy out of her diet completely when she needs to whittle off a few pounds. Is that something you might try?

  52. neo-neocon Says:

    Jayne:

    I eat very little dairy as it is.

    I appreciate your trying to think of something that would work for me, but I have come to believe everyone is very very different, and that in my case I’m probably the weight my body very much wants to be, and it’s not such a bad weight. I still keep trying, though.

    One good thing is that as hard as it is for me to lose weight, it seems nearly as hard for me to gain it past a certain point. Of course, I’ve never tried stuffing myself day after day after day, but what I mean is that when I diet strenuously I only lose a couple of pounds, but when I eat sort of normally (which for me isn’t so very very much food, and occasional desserts rather than regular desserts) I only gain a couple of pounds. Over the years, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gained weight compared to when I was young, maybe a total of 15 to 20 pounds over my earlier setpoint (not over my dancing weight, which was much lower), and that’s the weight I’d like to lose.

  53. Jayne Says:

    Neo, heh, my weakness, a flaw indeed – trying to think up fixes for people who maybe aren’t seeking fixing. And not recognizing that subtle difference Lol.

    And that your body weight doesn’t fluctuate up is so interesting. I find it amazing that sometimes weight gain/loss seems completely untethered to diet, calories, micronutrients, and activity, while at other times the connection is clear.

    That book, Strong Medicine, (with the old fashioned U.N.-pc views) struck me as so amazing in that the Doc could predict to the patients exactly how many weeks it would take them to lose the required pounds. That was so fascinating.

    Funny, also, dr Donaldson, the author, reported that other docs asked him why he wanted to work with overweight people as they as such liars!

    http://supremexen.com/strong-medicine-blake-donaldson/strong-medicine-blake-donaldson–ro-oysterz-20140102.pdf

  54. Watt Says:

    I have found that dark chocolate kills my appetite. Of course, it’s not based on a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, but it happens fairly consistently. Sometimes I feel like a snack when I come home from work in the evening, so I have a few small squares of 85% dark chocolate. An hour or so later I realize I have no appetite for dinner.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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