Eating less is not the answer for weight loss

Weight loss isn’t complicated.

Note, I didn’t say weight loss is easy, or weight loss is simple. It’s neither of those things because it depends on changing habits. It’s also neither of those things because the vast majority of advice available to people who want to lose weight is A) just plain awful, B) confusing, and C) designed to make you dependent on someone’s product to sustain it.

Conventional wisdom doesn’t help us either. Almost everyone assumes that in order to lose weight you have to eat less. That focus on quantity with no consideration for quality is one of the most common errors I see people making all the time. And when we’re not focused on simple quantity – as in how much should I eat? – we get stuck on trying to find a culprit behind our crisis. We demonize entire classes of macronutrients, or inflate the importance of others.

The low fat dieting craze ruled the roost for a couple of decades (and may actually have made us all collectively fatter and less healthy in the process). Then we decided carbohydrates were the villains of the story, or that removing gluten from our diets would somehow magically cause us all to be fit and permanently impervious to illness. Most recently you cannot throw a rock without hitting an article in a fitness magazine or blog post that says the key is maximizing protein consumption.

All of this stuff is pretty far off the mark.

I could write lots of paragraphs about this, and at some point your eyes would glaze over and you’d quit. And I wouldn’t blame you. So I have my friend and fellow coach Jen Dutrow to thank for sharing this clip from Alton Brown’s Good Eats with me. Have a look and then I’ll offer some commentary.


Video courtesy of the Food Network.

If all you did was watch that first bit where Alton talks about nutrient density versus caloric density, and took that to heart, you’d be ahead of the game. Stuff like donuts, cookies, crackers, bread, pasta, pancakes, waffles. fruit juice and soda isn’t inherently evil. It’s just that we tend to treat two food items that take of the same amount of physical space as if they are nutritionally equivalent, and that’s simply not the case.

I love his analogy of the car whose gas tank was just filled coming back to the station for more fuel when the tank is still full. That is, pretty much, literally what the average person does on a daily basis. It is what I did that landed me in the class of the clinically obese.

So, what do you do about it?

You have to change your habits. Not a temporary change, such as a conventional diet, but a wholesale change in what and how you eat. There are systems you can use to try to retrain yourself (I’m obviously fond of the Portion Fix) and any of them will work if you follow them.

That’s right. I said any of these systems will work. It has been shown again and again through research that any system that makes you more mindful of your eating will help you lose weight, and a good system that alters habits in the long term will work long term. Alton’s plan that he offers in this video will work. It obviously worked for him. 50 pounds lost and kept off is nothing at all to shake a stick at. I may quibble with a few of his rules, but the basic concept is sound.

You’ll notice though, this is not about “eating less”. Eating less is not the answer for weight loss. If you focus on food volume and do nothing about nutritional quality there is not only a very good chance you won’t lose any weight, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll increase your proportion of body fat to lean mass.

Let’s say all you did was instead of eating the whole donut, you just ate a quarter of it. Would you take in fewer calories? Yes. If you did this consistently would you lose some weight? Yes. But as grandma probably used to tell you, you are what you eat. Your body cannot make muscle tissue out of a donut. It also cannot derive the micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and enzymes) necessary to regulate other metabolic systems so that everything is working properly from that quarter of a donut either. Did you eat less? Sure. Did you eat better? Nope.

That’s where a system like Portion Fix or Alton’s lists helps. What I like a lot about his lists is that he requires himself to eat things his body truly needs every day, he limits stuff he doesn’t really need much of, and excludes things that basically have no value at all.

Now, if you are a marathon runner, or avid cyclist, someone who plays recreational sports or likes to do lots of weight lifting or other training then you need a more robust list than Alton offers here. But if you’re not doing any of those things, well, you could do worse than adopting his system.

If you are training, and feel like you’re stuck, click this link for my e-Book to guide you on how to plug the gaps in your diet.

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Well, what did you think?

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