Losing Weight Is Hard. Because Math

If you’ve ever embarked on a weight loss journey, you’ve probably encountered several  folks who have attempted to provide tips and advice.  I bet you’ve heard – or even uttered – some of these gems:

“Oh…just cut back on the carbs/fat/sugar.”

“Eat less processed food.  That’ll do the trick.”

“Walk for an hour a day.  The weight will fall right off.”

“Drink more water.”

“Lift weights!  That just melts the fat away!”

“Don’t eat after 8 PM – those calories stick right to ya.”

I’m going to tell you right now that most of these folks are well-meaning (OK, maybe just nosy) – but entirely unhelpful.  Because while these tips are certainly useful if you want to incorporate healthier habits, they won’t take anyone from obese to svelte.  And they certainly won’t take twenty pounds off any female.

If losing weight were as easy as taking a daily walk, we’d all be in shape.  Yet nearly 35% of Americans are obese.  Let that sink in a minute.  THIRTY-FIVE PERCENT of us aren’t merely overweight – we’re obese.  And if you’re between the ages of 40 and 59, that figure rises to nearly FORTY PERCENT.  40% of that age group is obese.

Because I like pictures, here’s where all the fat people live:

<insert obvious joke about moving to West By-God Virginia so I can be the slimmest woman with the best – and most – teeth.  I’d be a freaking SUPERMODEL, yo.>

So now I’m going to tell you why losing weight is so dang hard.  And I’m talking about women – especially women over 40 – here.  (If you’re a dude, yes, I KNOW you can lose 5 pounds this week by replacing six of your french fries with a banana.  GO AWAY before I bite you.)

This actually came up in conversation this week while I was talking with my company’s CFO.  He mentioned his wife’s weight struggles, and his “helpful” suggestion of exercise.  (Fortunately for him, we have good dental insurance.)

Since he’s the CFO, I thought laying out the numbers might help him understand what women truly have to go through to make any noticeable dent in their weight.

We’re going to do some math here, folks.  Bear with me, though.  This is gold.

For my food and activity tracking, I like to use the free tool MyFitnessPal.  It has a huge database of foods and the calories they contain, and it syncs nicely with MapMyFitness, so my calories burned and calories eaten are all in the same place.

So let’s open up MyFitnessPal and see what it has to say.

I enter my age, my height, and my weight.  Next, I input my activity level.  I have a desk job, and a 45-minute commute, so I guess “sedentary” will cover it.

And my results….

To maintain my weight, I can eat 1450 calories a day.

<blink>

If you know anything about calories, you know that ain’t a lot.  I’m of pretty average height and pretty average build, and my daily caloric allowance to MAINTAIN my weight can be consumed in one moderate meal:

McDonald’s:  A Bacon Clubhouse Grilled Chicken sandwich (610), medium order of fries (340), and a small chocolate chip frappe (520).  (1470.  I didn’t even get any ketchup.)

Red Lobster:  a half-order of the Crab Linguini Alfredo (1030!! for half!!), a Cheddar Bay Biscuit (160), and a garden salad (70) with French dressing (180).  (1440.  I had to skip the drinks…I guess I could afford a lemon wedge in my water.)

These are not unreasonable meals.  I certainly know I can pack away a heckuva lot more in a day.  But by selecting one of these, I’ve spent my ENTIRE caloric allotment for the day IN ONE SITTING.  (And yes, I know there are better choices available.  The point here is that these are not inappropriately obnoxious plates of food, and if you’re not absolutely militant about knowing what you’re eating, the fat ninjas will jump you and tattoo themselves to your backside.)

Isn’t this FUN?!!  Let’s try going on a date.  How about:

Applebee’s:  Split an order of Spinach and Artichoke dip (980) and a Blue Ribbon brownie (1670).  Drink one light beer.  (Which is kinda pointless, right?  But that brings you to about 1430.)

Don Pablo’s:  Eat no more than eight tortilla chips (191 calories for 13) while waiting for your order.  Split an order of Buffalo Wings (752) and a plate of Chicken Cantina Nachos (1059).  Drink two Slenderitas.  (211 each.)  It’s not a very interesting date, but you munched 1445 calories while listening to him drone on about beating his mother on World of Warcraft.

That’s an entire day’s worth of calories right there, folks.  IN ONE DATE.

Depressed yet?  Because there’s more.

Let’s now shift our focus to actual weight loss.

Remember, to MAINTAIN my weight, I get to eat 1450 calories a day.  That means that if I want to LOSE, I actually have to eat less.

But how much less?   Well, we know you need a 3500-calorie deficit to lose a pound.  So, to lose a pound a week, we’d need to cut 500 calories a day.  (3500 / 7 = 500.)

<beep beep> Back up the truck here.  I get 1450 calories to MAINTAIN my weight.

1450 – 500 = 950. (Or a medium Chocolate Xtreme Blizzard at Dairy Queen.  BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS YO)

But wait a sec….we’ve all heard the guideline that you shouldn’t eat fewer than 1200 calories a day.  Frankly, it’s extremely difficult to get the recommended nutrition you need on 1200 calories – not to mention most of us get dangerously hangry and will bite your head clean off the clavicle.

Let’s be real – for most of us, a daily allowance of 950 calories is just not gonna happen, at least not on a regular, sustained basis.  You might be able to keep it up for a week or so, but eventually, your body will force you into survival by shoving you face-first into a deep dish pizza.  So let’s try to be somewhat moderate here.

1450 – 1200 = 250.  250 * 7 = 1750.  So by eating 1200 calories a day, I can expect to lose a half pound a week.

Yippee.

If I have five pounds to lose, that means I have to stick to 1200 calories a day, EVERY DAY, for TEN WEEKS.  (Two and a half months.  Pretty much an entire season.)

I don’t think I have to explain the level of discipline required to stick to this for ten weeks straight.

But let’s interject some real life here.

How many of us have gone into the weekend with steel resolve, only to be swayed by the mental chant of “I worked hard all week, I deserve a TREAT!” on Friday night or Saturday?

Because we’re being moderate, let’s allow ourselves a small indulgence.  How about, after resolutely following our diets for six days straight, we have a little Saturday treat? You know I like ice cream – let’s get a two-scoop sundae from Culver’s.

There goes 1040 calories of the 1750 deficit.  (And it was delicious.)

So now, I have a 710-calorie deficit for the week.  (1750 – 1040 = 710.)

Which means it will take me NEARLY FIVE WEEKS to lose ONE pound (3500 / 710 = 4.93) ….and to lose five pounds?  TWENTY-FOUR AND A HALF WEEKS.  (3500 * 5 / 710 = 24.65)

Yes, folks.  If I eat 1200 calories a day, with the SOLE exception of ONE two-scoop sundae cheat a week, it will take me SIX FREAKING @#($@#$ MONTHS to lose FIVE POUNDS.

Oh, wait, though – I can add exercise!  Ooh, that’s gotta help!  Right?

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a runner.  Four days a week, I have a not-insignificant run of 3.5 miles. And I’m not slogging along, either – I’m doing a 9.25 minute mile.

So…3 miles at a jog, with a quarter mile warm-up and cool-down walk. Let’s put that into MyFitnessPal.

303 calories.  (1 1/2 Pop Tarts.)

So if I manage to get out of bed and DO this four days a week, I’ll have burned off the equivalent of one pint of Ben & Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk.  (Which, according to the label, has 1200 calories and is designed to serve four people.  To which I say HAHAHAHAHAHA)

In other words – if I run four days a week, I can eat 1450 calories a day + one pint of ice cream and MAINTAIN my weight…or I can lose ONE pound in just under three weeks by eating 1450 calories a day and RUNNING FULL TILT four times a week.

Are you seeing how freaking ridiculous this is? 

And we haven’t even added any complicating factors.  Thyroid issues.  Hormones.  Water retention.  Leftover Happy Meal fries.  Muscle loss and the metabolism slowdown that comes with aging.  And the fact that the more weight you lose, the fewer calories your body needs.

Is it any wonder that so many of us struggle with our weight, and with food? 

So, fellas?  If a woman you care about is frustrated with her weight, don’t tell her to hit the gym.  Don’t remind her that ice cream is fattening.  And for the love of all that is holy and good, do NOT tell her that she is anything but absolutely beautiful.

Just tell her that you love her, no matter what.

And give her a hug from me while you’re at it.  Because I’m right there with ya, chica.

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23 thoughts on “Losing Weight Is Hard. Because Math

  1. A date with someone who brags about beating mom at World of Warcraft is headed south quickly, no matter where or what you eat. My wife says I can lose weight just by thinking about it. Pisses her off. And I do exactly what you say we should: I tell her she’s beautiful, looks sexy, and that she’s perfect, no matter what. She just scoffs and shakes her head. What she doesn’t realize is that I’m telling her the truth.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So here’s what has FINALLY worked for me…long term. I stopped thinking, counting and fretting over food and stuck with a simple formula that would prevent me from obsessing over every peanut I eat and every pound I gain or lose. #1 I don’t have a specific target weight, I have a 5 pound target range. When I first started trying to loose 15 pounds, I had my ultimate range in mind, but gave myself monthly target ranges. (For example..”by the end of this month, I want to be in the 135-140 range.”) As long as I was in that range I was golden..even if it was on the high end..I didn’t care. I would hit the range, park there for a while..and then give myself a new, lower, target range. Having a 5 pound range allows for the normal fluctuations that occur in life..everything from hormones to a birthday dinner. 😊) If I see that I’m marching towards the higher end of my range, I’ll make some simple adjustments…if I know I’m going to Savannah for the week-end, (lots of restaurants) I’ll try to get towards the lower end of my range before I leave. #2 I eat the same thing for breakfast every day: 2 pieces of toast with peanut butter or an egg on toast and coffee. I don’t want to think about breakfast- but I want to get my metabolism moving. #3 Either lunch or dinner is a light salad or light, healthy soup..I get to pick. The other meal is basically a normal meal..even with dessert or wine every so often.. if I choose. This way if I go out for a fancy-shmansy lunch..I just eat a salad for dinner and visa versa. I never feel like I’m denying myself..when I eat that salad it’s because I’m balancing out the other “real” meal. #4 I snack on fruit and popcorn.. but basically I try not to snack at all.

    For me a successful diet is based on a realistic “food framework” that I don’t have to think about-not even for two seconds. I lost 15 pounds in less than a year and have kept it off for over 5 years. I would say the way I eat is more about creating a daily (automatic) habit than exercising daily discipline…maybe that’s why it works.👍

    Liked by 2 people

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  6. Consuming 1470 calories in a single sitting (as in your McDonald’s example) is insane, and shouldn’t be done more than a few times a year as an indulgence/treat by anyone. But thanks to decades of clever persistent marketing, most of us think it’s perfectly alright. THAT is a big part of the obesity problem everywhere in the developed world.
    You’re right though, it’s not easy and there’s no simple solution.
    To me the most important thing though is to set realistic goals, and that doesn’t necessarily mean a specific one-size-fits-all number; Just find a weight where we can be happy, healthy and mobile, and most of all not to obsess or beat ourselves up over a few pounds.
    And of course as you say, be kind and encouraging to the ones we love 🙂
    Good post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s so incredibly EASY to pack a day’s worth of calories into one meal….(and delicious…haha)

      I don’t have the secret to not obsessing (obviously) – but I’m working on it.

      Thanks so much for stopping in! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I got one of those Fitbits and had the same reaction. The gadget told me the number of calories I needed to lose weight, and allegedly stay alive in the process. I was baffled as to how I could live up to it’s low expectations. Eventually I solved the problem by tossing the Fitbit in a drawer! Took care of those numbers, didn’t I?

    Liked by 1 person

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