How Focusing Strictly On Weight Loss Could Actually Hurt You

In today’s world, there is an abundance of energy-dense and highly palatable foods. 

These types of foods make it super easy to overeat. It’s what your brain craves. Thats why when you eat these types of foods it’s tough to stop and you just want to keep eating them. 

Not to mention calorie-dense type foods do a terrible job of keeping you feeling full. 

So not only does your brain crave these tasty calorie-dense foods, but it also doesnt add much food volume so you dont ever feel full. 

Combine this with the environment that is becoming more conducive to sedentary behaviors, and you have a recipe for disaster. 

All of this makes sticking to a calorie amount that either maintains or decreases your weight very challenging.

In a recent podcast episode on Revive Stronger, Dr. Ben House discusses how this affects certain people more than others, in particular those who have low energy expenditures. 

For example, let’s compare someone who is 6’2 and weighs 210lbs, is very active (10k plus steps per day), lets call them Pete and compare them to someone who is 5’2 115lbs and is very sedentary (3k steps per day), we will call this person Cindy. 

Petes estimated maintenance calories are around 3,000-3,300 per day. 

Cindys are around 1500-1700. 

Petes are literally double. 

So if are on the smaller side and you are sedentary your maintenance level calories are very low. You can easily eat 1,500 calories in one sitting. Hello, pizza. 

Side note: Remember these are ESTIMATES, also maintenance is a range not one small number. Some people have a larger range than others (based on genetics). For example, Pete may be able to maintain his weight on a caloric amount of anywhere from 2,900-3,500. For some people, it’s smaller, and could be closer to 3,100-3,300. 

To get these numbers I used the Legion Athletics macros calculator. HERE

Now of course someone who is smaller probably isn’t going to have the appetite of someone who is much larger. 

However, this doesnt change the fact that calorie-dense and highly palatable foods are all around us. 

In the podcast, Dr. Ben House mentions that if eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables that get your caloric intake around 250ish calories or so.

And then if you eat lean meats to get your protein then we are talking another 400-800 calories. Leaving Pete with 2,000 calories leftover and Cindy with 750 (these are just estimates). 

Again as you can see, one person has much more flexibility than the other on what they can eat. 

Literally, a few pieces of pizza puts Cindy over her caloric amount for the day, whereas for Pete a few pieces of pizza doesnt do much. 

Im bringing this up because a smaller body expends less energy. It makes sense right? You are carrying less weight overall so each movement just burns less energy. 

What do people automatically think they need to do when they start getting into fitness/nutrition?

Lose weight. 

As I always state, some people need to lose weight, as this will make them healthier. Especially if you are in the obesity or above BMI weight status for your height.

However, focusing on getting to a smaller weight at all costs can be detrimental and is probably partly why people can lose weight, and then they see it come right back on and then more. 

Why?

Two points here:

  1. Because its just too hard to moderate your caloric intake in todays world, especially the smaller you are and the less energy you expend. So to lose weight at small body weights you literally have no flexibility with food choices. 
  2. The other thing I want to go over is losing weight at all costs and it being detrimental. 

It’s detrimental because when people only focus on weight loss they go straight into restrict mode. They cut out all their favorite foods. When they do this they go into a calorie deficit and then see weight loss, because they cut out all of the calorie-dense/highly palatable foods. 

This is usually accompanied by excessive amounts of cardio (which actually makes your body more efficient with its energy, so you burn fewer calories for every movement), low protein (which causes you to lose lean body mass) and little to no weight lifting (which combined with an energy deficit also causes muscle loss). 

What happens?

Your energy expenditure is much lower than it was before because you are smaller and your body is more efficient with every movement. Oh and your body composition looks worse because some of that weight you lost was lean body mass (the less body fat you have the more likely this is to happen). 

Let’s say Cindy did this and got down to 105lbs because she wanted to be “skinny” 

Her estimated maintenance calories are now closer to 1400-1500 just to maintain her body weight. 

But now she is 105lbs and not happy with her look because she lost lean body mass along the way. Does she keep trying to lower her weight? If she does she will have to drop her calories even more to lose weight AND then if she does get down to a lower weight her calories will be even lower than that to maintain. 

Not to mention the mental stress she is going through by restricting her favorite foods. Oh, and her brain is craving tasty foods because she is in an energy deficit. 

This is the cycle people get themselves into. 

Then people say screw it and then gain a bunch of weight, BUT it mostly being body FAT. 

What to do instead?

Again for some people, they need to lose weight. 

But for a lot of people, weight loss isn’t needed and they would instead benefit from keeping weight around the same (maybe even go up a bit) and focusing on building muscle. 

Why?

Because this will keep your weight the same, so you won’t be burning fewer calories overall. 

By building muscle you also do see a small uptick in energy expenditure (albeit a very small one). 

AND your body becomes less efficient with its movements when you lift weights. Meaning you burn more calories for every movement. 

Let’s say Cindy instead decided to not focus on just losing weight and instead focused on lifting weights and keeping weight around the same or maybe even let it go up slightly and increase her overall activity levels from 3k steps to 8k steps. 

Just at 120lbs and a little more overall activity, her estimated maintenance calories go to 1,800-1,900 per day. 

The best part? Her look is MUCH better because she added muscle, and maybe even lost some body fat. 

If you want to read more on how to bulletproof your metabolism in today’s world, read this blog HERE

With online clients, we do track body weight, but we also focus on measurements and progress pictures. 

That way if weight doesnt move much but measurements and progress pics are improving, then we know we are headed in the right direction. 

How to trick your brain to eat less

Lastly, I wanted to end with some things you can do to trick your brain to eat less. Again, this is super important in today’s world with the abundance of calorie-dense foods available. 

In a study by Holt and colleagues, they looked at 38 different foods in 240 calorie portions and fed that to subjects and then analyzed data to see which food properties were most strongly related to feelings of fullness. 

Let’s look at what they found:

Eat higher food volume

These are foods that have higher volumes of food per calorie. 

My favorite example is Oreos vs chicken breast. One serving of Oreos is 160 calories and is three cookies compared to a chicken breast serving which is 120 calories and is about 4 ounces. Which one is going to keep you feeling fuller?

They found that higher food volume helped increase feelings of fullness because if the brain senses more food in the stomach, it will send the signal thats it’s getting full. 

There is a limit though, as you cant just eat lettuce and get full, at some point your body does need some calories. 

Make sure at least 1-2 items in each meal are of high food volume. 

Eat less highly palatable foods. 

Palatability is how tasty food is. High food palatability means it’s very tasty, low food palatability is the opposite. 

They found that the tastier the food was, the less filling it was. 

Your brain views these foods as highly valuable so it makes sense that it turns down the satiety signal when these foods are being eaten. 

Sticking to the 80/20 rule can help here. Meaning 80 percent of your diet is from less palatable foods and then the rest is from more tasty foods. If you are dieting for fat loss you may bump this to 90/10. 

Limit added fat

Fat as a whole is great and you should not completely cut out fat from your diet. 

However, you can get yourself into trouble when you add fat to meals. 

Things like butter and oil are very calorie-dense. Increasing added fat from things like butter and oil makes your meal lower in food volume and higher in palatability. 

You are increasing your caloric intake without increasing fullness, and if anything you are lowering your fullness level. 

Fat that is found naturally in foods like eggs, avocados, dairy, nuts etc. does a much better job at keeping you feeling full, so just limit added fat from things like butter and oils. 

Eat higher fiber foods

The authors found that the more fiber that was in the food the more filling it was. 

You should aim for around 15g of fiber for every 1,000 calories. 

Some examples of higher-fiber foods are vegetables, fruits, avocados, beans, oats, popcorn, sweet potatoes. 

Eat foods with high protein content. 

The authors also found that the more protein that was in the food, the more filling it was. 

Protein is more filling than carbohydrates or fats. 

Aim for around .8-1.2g per pound of body weight per day in protein. 

For even more fullness, aim for lean sources of protein like turkey, lean cuts of steak, lean ground beef, chicken, fish, etc. 

If you are suffering from high hunger chances are your diet quality is way off. 

Time and time again when a client complains of hunger it simply comes down to the fact that they are snacking too much and eating too many highly palatable foods that make getting full tough. 

Conclusion

As I stated multiple times, some people really do need to lose weight. 

However, my main goal with this blog was to show you that sometimes losing weight isn’t the answer (it may still be for you) and you need to instead be OK with keeping your weight the same or maybe even seeing it slightly go up and just building some muscle. 

It really is the best thing we can do to have more flexibility with our nutrition in today’s world. 

If there was one thing to take away from this it’s that you shouldn’t just focus on your scale weight or weight loss in all circumstances.

If you need more guidance and structure with your training and nutrition fill out the link HERE and let’s get to work.

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