Weight care isn’t an elementary school math equation. Yet diet culture tells us that it’s all about the energy in (number of calories eaten) minus the energy out (calories burned). And guess what? It’s a ridiculously outdated concept!
Sure, how much you eat and move are important. But this model doesn’t account for some of the body’s underlying biological processes. Here, we look at five evidence-backed truths about obesity—and bust some weight loss myths.
According to a 2017 study published in Perspectives on Psychological Science, people gain around 10% of their body weight over the course of 20 years. So if the calories-in-calories-out math were to hold true, that would mean people eat only a small number of extra calories daily.
But the researchers of the study debunked that idea: “Clearly to understand the development of obesity we need to look beyond the number of calories that pass our lips,” they explain.
For some people, obesity may instead be about a carbohydrate-insulin model, according to an article published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The idea is that highly-processed “fast” carbs—so common in many diets today—can cause hormonal changes that impact insulin levels and other biological processes. These changes promote fat storage, which triggers hormonal shifts that drive hunger and yet more hormonal changes, leading to a hard-to-change weight gain loop. A randomized trial updated in 2020 on the effects of a low carb diet and weight loss maintenance supports the theory that fast carbs set off a cascade of hormonal shifts that create a cycle of weight gain.
Cutting calories—carbs or otherwise—can also make weight care difficult. Our bodies are hardwired to avoid starvation (from way back in human evolution when food was often scarce). When your body senses a continued calorie shortage, a host of metabolic changes happen to try to prevent weight loss, making it tough to lose excess pounds, according to the research in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science.
Eating fewer calories can help with weight care in certain circumstances. But again, the concept is more complicated than calories in, calories out. And calorie reduction alone doesn’t appear to have much impact on weight, especially in the long term, according to the research published in Perspectives on Psychological Science. That’s because when you cut calories, you tend to compensate for them by eating more, even four days later.
And when you restrict calories over time, your muscles (which are usually more metabolically active than fat tissue) stop burning as many calories. This can promote fat storage and also lead to rebound weight gain.
Exercise has many health benefits. And it can be a valuable tool in the arsenal of weight care. But it’s not the only tool, and it’s not the ultimate solution to obesity.
There’s a nearly 60-year-old concept that burning 3,500 more calories than you eat will result in a pound of weight lost. (You’ve heard this a million times, right?) But this idea is fraught, according to a mathematical model developed about a decade ago and published in the Journal of Biological Dynamics.
Researchers have since put this model to the test. They asked: Would walking one mile a day(which burns about 100 calories) over five years result in a 50-pound weight reduction, assuming no extra calories were consumed? When they did the math, they found the answer was no. Instead, the walking would result in only a 10-pound loss. That’s because weight fluctuations over time also alter the body’s energy needs.
If activity were the ultimate cure for obesity, then more exercise should equal more calories burned. But that’s clearly not the whole story. For example: A 2016 study in the journal Current Biology found that although moderate activity led to increased energy burn, higher levels of activity caused a plateau in terms of calories torched, likely because our bodies metabolically adapt.
Again, we know movement is good for us (even though it may not be the ultimate weight-loss solution).
But it’s a myth that inactivity on its own leads to obesity. Environmental factors—such as exposure to pollution and hormone-disrupting chemicals, and a lack of access to green spaces and fresh produce—may also play a role in obesity. These factors could also affect how strong the link is between the two, according to 2018 research published in the journal PLOS One.
In fact, the relationship between inactivity and obesity may be the other way around. A 2017 study published in Cell Metabolism found that obesity could cause a lack of movement. According to the researchers, it’s possible that obesity leads to a reduction in dopamine signaling. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter made in your brain that’s known as the “happy hormone.” When it decreases, so can activity levels. The scientists also found that when mice with obesity had their dopamine signaling restored, their movement increased as well.
While research is ongoing, the evidence that weight-loss medication can help you reach your goal has been mounting for over a decade.
Obesity is not about a lack of willpower. It’s a chronic disease that should be treated like any other medical condition.
Science has come a long way since the diet pills that came out more than half a century ago. Weight-loss medications and other interventions are the new standards for treating obesity. And you deserve options that don’t reduce weight care to a simple fifth-grade calorie math equation.
The most current approach recognizes that obesity is a chronic, progressive disease that requires medical treatment combined with lifestyle changes. When you’re fighting against physiology and hormones, you need a comprehensive approach that includes evidence-based approaches, diet, exercise, good sleep, stress management, and ongoing support.
Found is among the largest medically-supported weight care clinics in the country, serving more than 200,000 members to date. To start your journey with Found, take our quiz.