Excercise and eat less? Really, science?
July 19, 2011 1:45 PM   Subscribe

I understand that losing weight and getting fit comes down to exercising and ingesting less calories, yet I still have difficulty accepting that there are no tricks.

I feel like I'm being a sucker if I just exercise and eat less -- like there must be a better, easier way that I'm missing. Is "exercise and diet" still the best that modern science has to offer? There's been no progress? I can't stop feeling that at any moment there's gonna be a pill, or at least a real Tim Ferriss-style, "outsmart your body" shortcut that actually works. Or it's already out there and I just haven't found it which is an even more troubling thought. Meanwhile...I'm fat and have poor stamina.

This thought process is making it very hard for me to get started and commit to real changes, so I ask you: Am I missing something? A trick, a pill, a magic spell? Or is diet and exercise really the only way to go?
posted by The Dutchman to Health & Fitness (58 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Yes. Really. No trick, no magic, nothing. Eat less, move more.

My husband lost 30 pounds last summer by counting calories (literally every morsel of food or drop of drink that he consumed, every single day) and moving more.
posted by cooker girl at 1:47 PM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

There's definitely a trick to it, but it does involve diet and exercise, not a magic pill.

It's not JUST calories in/calories out. It's more like a game. What sort of calories are you putting in? How are you burning the calories?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:50 PM on July 19, 2011

don't you think that if there was some magic trick or spell, everyone would know about it and there'd be no more overweight ppl around?

diet. exercise. and yes, counting calories has been the only way in which i've ever been successful at losing weight.
posted by violetk at 1:50 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Anything that wrecks your appetite will make you lose weight. Hard drugs, a horribly stressful event, or a disease like cancer. Other than that, not much. I've heard people claim that some diet pills (the ones with a lot of caffeine or a little bit of speed) makes people lose their appetite a little bit, but not enough to enforce a lifestyle change.
posted by Melismata at 1:50 PM on July 19, 2011

If there was an easy way do you think it would be a secret? Either everyone would know and nobody would be fat or, if it was a pill or something, everyone would know plus someone would be a kajillionaire.
posted by ghharr at 1:50 PM on July 19, 2011

No, there are no hacks to make this happen. Anyone that says there is, is trying to sell you something.

The only partial hack I know is surgery (so gastric bypass or lap band type procedures, or liposuction). Even then, without building good habits you may end up in the same place eventually anyway.

You are sabotaging yourself and rationalizing it.

Start small and take baby steps in the right direction. Don't take steps so large that you will need to revert. Slow and steady changes long-term behavior.
posted by milqman at 1:51 PM on July 19, 2011

Best answer: Well, sure, there are actually a lot of tricks. The thing is, they're tricks that will help you eat less and exercise more. We've learned that some foods are more filling, so fewer calories of them will satisfy faster; we've learned that some people will enjoy different types of exercise more, so they'll be more apt to engage in them. We've built whole systems, like Weight Watchers, to minimize the guesswork and stress and effort of eating less in the first place, and we've learned a lot about how to eat less while remaining healthy (eg, don't just starve yourself.)

What we haven't done is come up with magic, because at the end of the day, all that matters is that you're expending more calories than you take in. It's like asking whether there are tricks to getting rich, instead of this boring business of "making more money" and "saving more of what you have."
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:52 PM on July 19, 2011 [6 favorites]

The only thing that I've found that has felt like a "trick" to me has been the no-carb/atkins/keto approach. It was pretty easy for me, since I'm not really into sugar or carbs anyway, so getting rid of them wasn't as hard for me as it might be for other people. Don't get me wrong, it's still HARD. But I lost 9lbs in one month from basically eating as much steak, bacon, and eggs as I wanted and sitting on my butt watching tv.
posted by katypickle at 1:52 PM on July 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

This whole topic makes me so cranky. Calories in, calories out is terribly reductionist and not all that helpful. Try this. They're not selling you anything, unless you really feel like you need a recipe book. Seriously. I did it in February, and now have a whole raft of startled and pleased converts being picky in restaurants with me. And I'm not carrying the 30 pounds the prednisone put on me - nor am I taking the prednisone. Or the nexium, or the Plaquenil.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:54 PM on July 19, 2011 [11 favorites]

If there are tricks then they're going to be pretty subjective. I find I can stuff myself with low calorie foods like Greek salads when I get cravings. Other people say a drink of cold water helps them. Others do Atkins or follow a formal diet. You just need to find out what works for you, but make no mistake, its still calories in vs calories out.
posted by damn dirty ape at 1:55 PM on July 19, 2011

I listen to the Marathon Training Academy's podcast-- and this isn't a plug or anything, but I found this episode insightful w/Robert Maki, a naturopath.

He sort of discourages calorie counting, and emphasizes eating the right foods at the right time (like a big breakfast makes way more sense than a huge dinner). A lot of what he had to say made sense to me.
posted by greenbean at 1:55 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

There are, in fact, diet pills. Half of them will corrode your central nervous system via some sort of ephedrine or amphetamine analogue and go off the market as fast as they get on it. The other half? Leaky anus.
posted by griphus at 1:55 PM on July 19, 2011 [4 favorites]

there are no tricks

False. The trick is dispelling pop ignorance and separating signal from noise. Don't get your advice from magazines. And be careful about anything extreme (Atkins, Good Calories Bad Calories, etc.).

Example: The calories-in-calories-out dogma is false. If you go this route, your body will eventually think it's starving and you will yo-yo. Look it up. This only works for a very small number of people.

Example: http://www.amazon.com/Shangri-Diet-Hunger-Anything-Weight-Loss/dp/0399153640

The above is sort of gimmicky, but it's one of many different strategies that can be put together. Not everything works for everyone because everyone is fat for different reasons.

You should never be hungry, you should never have low energy and have trouble thinking, you should never feel like exercising is a horrible extreme act of will, etc., etc., etc., etc. If you're burning hot all the time you may be doing it wrong (body is trying to slow down your metabolism because you're starving). If you're freezing all the time you may be doing it wrong (body is conserving energy). If your skin starts hanging off of you, you're doing it wrong (you're starving yourself. It takes energy to reduce your skin surface area. Go slower.)
posted by zeek321 at 1:58 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This thought process is making it very hard for me to get started and commit to real changes.

Interesting. To me, this is like saying:
"Why would I bother working hard to build my career, when I could potentially win the lottery, thereby making all my hard work a waste of time?"

It sounds like your real question is:
How can I focus on getting the hard work done instead of dreaming about an easier way?
posted by samthemander at 1:58 PM on July 19, 2011 [12 favorites]

Calories are the fuel units your body burns to generate energy. It stores the calories you do not use. If you expend more calories than you intake, you will lose weight. It's really that simple.

Healthy eating, though, is different and a little more nuanced - if you eat 2000 McDonalds calories a day, you will end up in worse shape (in terms of higher cholesterol, sodium, and fat levels) than if you eat 2000 calories of vegetables and whole grains a day.

The best thing you can do is to stop thinking and go for a walk. Keep walking every day, and keep note of how far you walk every day. In just a couple weeks, you'll be amazed at both how much further you can go, and how much better you feel at the end of your day's distance than you did the day, week, month before that.

It truly is that simple.
posted by pdb at 1:58 PM on July 19, 2011 [5 favorites]

(Also, near-daily long, gentle walks and plenty of non-processed food (minimize fast food, restaurant food, and supermarket prepared food, in that order of priority), a couple basic, high-quality supplements (an expensive whole-food multi and un-rancid omega-3s), and never, ever letting yourself be hungry or cranky-from-hunger may do magical things for you.)
posted by zeek321 at 2:03 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yep, there are lots of little tricks that help, like parking further away from things, drinking lots of water so you feel fuller, eating small frequent meals, filling up with veg, etc., etc. I think the real trick is finding an exercise you like and a way of eating that feels satisfying to you. Some people think the low-carb thing is the trick to losing weight; maybe, but everybody I've know who's done it couldn't stick with it because it was so hard.

Let me repeat what was said above: anybody who says they have a trick that makes it easy is trying to sell you something.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 2:06 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Have you check out The Four Hour Body? Tim has a bunch of tricks.

A supplement stack to burn fat

Slow carb diet.

Cheat day with tricks to prevent weihgt gain on that day.

Cold water baths.
posted by jefftang at 2:17 PM on July 19, 2011

Tim Ferriss is a goofball with absolutely zero qualifications to tell you about your diet or metabolism other than the fact that he once made (and perhaps still does make) money in the shady nutritional supplement industry in addition to pushing his bogus book.

The only "trick", aside from the science-based caveats noted by other posters (not all calories are the same, etc.) is finding a method of controllong your diet and activity levels that you tolerate well enough to be persistent in it.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 2:28 PM on July 19, 2011 [8 favorites]

Calories are harmful myth, with little or nothing to do with weight gain or loss. The only reason people still talk about them is that they are easy to measure, and because "everyone knows" they are the most important part of weight loss.

Bunk bunk and bunk, I say. It is time to dispense with the myth and get to the cause.

This guy's selling a book, true, but read what he has to say. http://scottabel.blogspot.com/2011/03/calories-myth.html

Here's another interesting blog post:

I've lost 20 pounds naturally simply by cutting out sugar from my diet. I eat a ton, I just avoid sugar. I never, ever, count calories.

Calorie counting only works to the slight degree that it does because it makes you pay more attention to what you eat. Full stop.
posted by Invoke at 2:36 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

funny you should say cutting calories, Invoke doesn't matter bc when you cut out sugar, you cut out a shit ton of calories. of course you lost weight.
posted by violetk at 2:40 PM on July 19, 2011 [7 favorites]

Sugar is almost pure caloric energy, invoke. You're right in that you don't have to obsessively count every single calorie, but you do have to know where your calories come from - this is what several people have meant when talking about "not all calories are the same".

Eat smart, eat small portions, exercise, and you will lose weight. Calories in action.
posted by pdb at 2:42 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes was an eye opener for me (it's not as simple as calories in v. calories out) as was The Bitter truth video (youtube)

The diet I follow is fairly close to the one here. I find it easy to follow and very satiating. (it is expensive though because I buy pastured meat.) I probably do eat fewer calories on this diet, but it's not something I have to do consciously.
posted by vespabelle at 2:44 PM on July 19, 2011 [5 favorites]

The trick is to find a sustainable system that works for you. Your brain can be your biggest enemy.

Counting calories would have been pure fail for me. Counting carbs - which still involved tracking what I eat every day - doesn't wig me out. Calories go down as a byproduct of keeping carbs down. I'm undisciplined about exercise and Ive still dropped 30 pounds since January. Our friends who live downstairs count calories and go to the gym a lot and have also lost weight. They found their "trick" and I found mine. That's the trick.
posted by rtha at 2:49 PM on July 19, 2011

There aren't tricks in the sense of the many ads and products designed to make you lose weight by emptying your pockets of money. There are strategies and techniques. There have been a lot of weight loss ask.mes. They often recommend:

Drink water, it helps you feel more full, and helps keep you regular.
Eat fiber; it regulates your blood sugar, helps you feel more full, and helps keep you regular.
Many people have fitness success with weight-lifting.
Some people have success with Weight Watchers.

There are a ton of diets. They often reek of snake oil to me. I like the No S Diet, the Hackers Diet, and the 3 Fat Chicks. I think you have to make a permanent change - eat less, eat healthy, get fit, stay fit.

Weight loss is a topic that can easily get contentious on ask.me.
posted by theora55 at 2:59 PM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

I promise I'll get tired of talking about this soon, but yes, there is almost certainly a way that will allow eating quite a bit and still losing weight without exercise, though we don't yet know about it in great detail: brown fat.

The most recent interesting work I've heard about was profiled in ScienceDaily on June 19:

Calorie-Burning Brown Fat Is a Potential Obesity Treatment, Researchers Say

A new study suggests that many adults have large amounts of brown fat, the "good" fat that burns calories to keep us warm, and that it may be possible to make even more of this tissue....

"We are now even more optimistic that brown fat could be used for treating obesity and diabetes," said Cypess, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston....

Now they have learned that brown fat cells lie in deeper fat, not superficial fat, and that the number of regions of brown fat varies by person, Cypess reported. They discovered this by measuring the expression of a protein found exclusively in brown fat, called uncoupling protein-1. However, even in those regions where many brown fat cells are present, they are mixed with white fat cells.

"It's a marbling at the cellular level," Cypess said. "We wondered: Wouldn't it be nice if you could grow more brown fat? The answer is yes."

In their new study, the researchers succeeded in growing mature human brown fat cells from preadipocytes, or pre-fat cells, that they obtained from a fresh sample of brown fat taken from the neck of a patient having routine surgery. The process took about two weeks in a laboratory dish but likely occurs more quickly in the body, Cypess said.

"Some of these preadipocytes may have the choice to become either white or brown fat," he said....

The "Related Stories" on that page are also highly informative.
posted by jamjam at 3:02 PM on July 19, 2011

Different systems work for people. As a general rule, yes counting calories works for most people. It's hard to maintain long term for most people, and for various reasons it's not effective for everyone.

It's easy to drop weight over the short term, but maintaining that for the longterm is tough. Be mindful of your calories, eat healthily, try to keep your intake of sugar low and you'll lose weight and keep it off.
posted by blue_beetle at 3:02 PM on July 19, 2011

Best answer: There's lots of methods out there that work for different types of people. Calorie counting is probably the most straight-forward, sensible, and safest way to lose weight, and it does not need to be 100% accurate. It also cuts much of the thinking out if you're disciplined enough to stick with it. As with any diet, people who deviate from what works, or who look for shortcut alternatives often fail.

I've lost a good chunk of extra weight personally using the phone-app version of MyFitnessPal which is partially a social app (friends can keep track of your progress or join in if you invite them) and partially a decent calorie lookup (no excuses for not knowing how much a serving portion of veal will cost you when dining out). Knowing the calories of foods is the biggest roadblock to this method being widely adopted. If you have a phone capable of running MyFitnessPal or similar lookup tools, you're good to go for dining out regularly.

The trick to the calorie counting method is finding the right balance that leads to weight loss and avoids starvation mode. Take on too many calories and you'll gain weight...take on too little and your body goes into starvation mode and stores more fat than it should. Calculators can get you in the right ranges. When you feel your stomach rumbling, that's fine. It's expecting more grams of food. You can use filler foods that are high in mass but low in calories to supress hunger (or other suppressants like tea, etc)

Exercise, while very helpful for "burning calories" is also a dangerous trap if you start rationing calories around it (eg. "It's ok, I jogged 1-mile today I can afford this ice cream now"). It doesn't necessarily work that way...and I would encourage against it...staying within your caloric limits regardless of exercise (unless its a sizable amount of exercise burning upwards of 400+ calories)

99% of this is in your head however. Your brain will ask these types of questions all the time...including whether any of it is working or if you need to look at a different method. Stick to it..it'll take over a month or two of being disciplined to really start noticing the results. If you make adjustments, make them slowly...once a month is a good rule of thumb..that way you can see if you adjustments accelerated the pace of weight loss or slowed it down. Always recalculate your upper and lower calorie limits after losing more than 5lbs.
posted by samsara at 3:08 PM on July 19, 2011

I have no idea whether the tricks mentioned above are credible, but if you are interested in getting your head around the eating less and exercising more thing, let me suggest Weight Watchers. It may sound a bit lame (and the meetings are) but the system does a nice job of quantifying what you eat, and giving you an incentive (weekly weigh-ins) to act positively. The system is fairly well thought out -- for example, they build in a weekly slush fund to allow for "situations' with out feeling like you failed -- and the on-line tools are fairly slick. And, to soften my meetings comment a bit, they can give you a real-world community of folks that are going through the same thing you are.

Its kind of working for me (I've been on and off for almost a year) and its the only program I've seen that does not tickle my bullshit sensors. Plus its supposed to be fairly effective.
posted by rtimmel at 3:14 PM on July 19, 2011

These threads make me want to tear my hair out. Here is your dog's breakfast of recycled opinions from the internet dressed up as science. You want my rule of thumb? It's "where's the citation?" If there isn't a citation you just read an opinion, probably by a person who has never done science of any kind. If there is a citation, go follow it and see what you think of it.

There is an article linked in one of the opinions above - go take a look at it, I want you to follow the multiple citations given under "Issue 2" with the paragraph that starts with "It is well documented". Do these citations really say what the writer says they say? To the extend that they describe an effect, do they speak to whether the effect would be significant with respect to weight loss? Does it not seem strange that so many of these citations are from research of caloric restriction as it affects the extension of longevity? As opposed to what the writer is talking about, calorie restriction as a method of weight loss? The writer of that article describes herself as a "Dancer, Choreographer, Writer, Speaker, [and] Fat Person". If a person had that on the door of their office at a clinic, would you go in and pay them money to tell you how to lose weight?

If you want science, go look for primary research or high quality secondary reporting of secondary research. If you want the best thing you're going to get off the internet, you might stumble on to some common sense.

I couldn't find a cite I really felt like I could get behind, but the numbers I did find all agreed that Americans spend at least tens of billions of dollars on weight loss every year. If there was a generally effective method that people would characterize as "easy" it would not be a secret, we wouldn't all be so fat and everyone would know the names of the company or particular billionaires who had exploited that method.

What isn't controversial is that eating better (more vegetables, more whole foods, less junk food (you don't need any damn science to know the difference between a fig and an oreo, okay?), less sugar, moderated and selective fats) is better for you. That exercising (as long as you carry it out in a way that doesn't injure you) is good for you. I bet you don't sit and mull over whether there is really a gas tank pill or some gadget you bung into your engine that will make your car go a hundred miles to the gallon, do you? If you never service it or get things fixed when they go wrong you expect it to fall apart faster, right? You know perfectly well what the answer to these questions are. There are all kinds of methods blah blah blah as everyone is noting but they all involve eating intentionally in a way that people generally find difficult, at least to initiate and sustain. And if stamina is one of your issues exercise is obviously a necessary part of a sustainable solution (though I'd go out on a limb and guess that sleep and stress might be significant as well). Magic doesn't work. Work works. If you don't want to work at it, accept that and its consequences. Don't go around asking strangers where they're hiding the magic.
posted by nanojath at 3:17 PM on July 19, 2011 [9 favorites]

You should never be hungry

Never? This is ridiculous. Maybe if Americans didn't have such a phobia of being hungry, they wouldn't eat so fucking much.

There's nothing wrong with being hungry. Being hungry often means you are doing it right. Hunger is a spectrum and while you want to avoid "starving and woozy," there's nothing wrong with peckish, or a good hunger for breakfast.

Recognizing that being hungry is okay also helps to separate physical hunger from mental hunger. Don't stick something in your face every time your stomach tells you to - sometimes your stomach is a liar.
posted by Squeak Attack at 3:18 PM on July 19, 2011 [7 favorites]

There's nothing wrong with being hungry. Being hungry often means you are doing it right. Hunger is a spectrum and while you want to avoid "starving and woozy," there's nothing wrong with peckish, or a good hunger for breakfast.

I'd go further and say that the key to losing weight in a pleasant and sustainable way is to actually learn to enjoy that sense of mild hunger.
posted by Sebmojo at 3:23 PM on July 19, 2011 [4 favorites]

Healthy eating, though, is different and a little more nuanced - if you eat 2000 McDonalds calories a day, you will end up in worse shape (in terms of higher cholesterol, sodium, and fat levels) than if you eat 2000 calories of vegetables and whole grains a day.

Twinky guy says no.

I know what you're actually saying, but the distinction between (crap food + minimum necessary actual nutrients) and (awesome diet of healthful deliciousness) is likely less than most people think, and that link is a useful mind-blower
posted by Sebmojo at 3:27 PM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

This is pure anecdata; it's only my experience.

I have one foolproof trick for losing significant amounts of weight effortlessly: get pregnant. For whatever reason, i drop about a pound a week while I'm pregnant, while sitting on the couch and eating all the cheese i can muster. As I'm significantly overweight, this doesn't bother my pregnancy care folks at all. however, I'm done having children, and i still have a lot of weight to lose. And sadly, after I give birth, I have to work my ass off just to not gain.

However, twelve days ago, I asked about increasing the intensity of my workouts, and got pointed to HIIT -- High Intensity Interval Training, specifically Tabata training. I've been doing those, and after a seven-month period of no loss, I've lost eight pounds in those twelve days. Obviously that's mostly water weight and isn't sustainable, but apparently it's still significant.

I also track my calories through MyFitnessPal, which is a website and smartphone app. I've discovered that my calorie goal is actually plenty of food, as long as I choose the right foods. it's when I blow 700 calories on a single package of ding-dongs that I get into trouble.

(As an aside: there are other measures of health than weight. When I was eating low-fat, my cholesterol was 269. Now that I'm eating low carb, my cholesterol is 194.)
posted by KathrynT at 3:42 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I feel like I'm being a sucker if I just exercise and eat less


But those are good things to do. You are being a sucker if you try to avoid exercise and not overeating.

This is a really bizarre way to approach this, and I am surprised nobody has called it out yet. The "sucker" approach would be to keep shovelling it in. Many fantasies are being trotted out but...yeah, less pie and potatoes in there, and you will be less fat. Even if there was a trick to get around that, do you really want to keep stuffing in the pie and potatoes at a level that normally makes one fat? C'mon. You probably know you didn't get fat by eating small portions and being active; there wasn't any trick there.
posted by kmennie at 3:52 PM on July 19, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: You know what, trying to lose weight has never for lasted for me, or felt right. What has really worked is to try to get more fit, to get stronger, to be able to do more. Not-so-coincidentally, it's led to losing some weight. But I'm getting bored when people talk about weight to me - it's just one factor in fitness, and not even the most important.

You don't sound like you want to lose weight. What do you want, truly, long term? To feel healthy? To be able to run a mile without hurting? See if you can't come up with a goal that helps you get healthier without being all about the number on the scale.
posted by ldthomps at 4:12 PM on July 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

The trick is that that eating less and better part is much, much more effective for dropping pounds, especially at first, then the exercise part. I lost 60 lbs (1/3 of my initial weight) with hardly any exercise (really!). And I'm not the only one. I'm not saying it's necessarily the healthiest way (you'd probably consider me skinny-fat now...) but you asked for a trick, and this was mine.

Weight Watchers. Really. It worked for me and countless others, and most importantly it teaches you to be fully aware of every little thing that goes into your mouth, and how to live without being hungry.
posted by cgg at 4:21 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Here are my "tricks":

1. Squeak Attack and others are right. Hunger is fine. You don't want to be chewing-on-the-walls hungry (a situation I call "Hanger" because I get really moody and angry when I'm that hungry; frankly, I turn into a total jerk) but having a mild "yes I want to eat" feeling is actually good for you.

2. I've found bran flake cereal to be the most effective diet "trick". I eat one serving of bran flakes with eight small chocolate chips on top throughout the day when I am hungry. This clocks in at about 170 calories and is really satisfying. This is what I eat for breakfast and lunch when I'm trying to lose weight. If I'm still hungry 20 minutes later, I have another bowl and usually can stop there. This keeps me full all day, and the fiber is very good for dieting. Then, I eat a sensible and satisfying dinner that is full of vegetables, making sure to include some protein; this is about 400 calories, and I'm done for the day. I don't find myself miserable with hunger when I do this. I'm a really small person, so you might need to eat more bran flakes than I do to keep yourself full because you probably have higher caloric requirements than I do.

3. Don't drink soda or other sugary drinks. That's a huge hit to your daily intake of calories right there.

4. Use a Basal Metabolic Rate calculator (like this one) to figure out how many calories you need. Eat fewer than that. 3500 calories = 1 pound of fat, so try to cut 500 calories a day for weight loss of 1 lb a week. Your mileage may vary on this, since BMR calculators and calorie counts are not perfectly exact. If you're having a hard time, try to cut 250 calories a day for a loss of 1/2 a pound a week. Be sure to update your BMR as you lose weight; it will go down as your weight drops.

5. Don't reward yourself with food.

6. One night a week, I am allowed to cheat and eat whatever I want for dinner. The theory here is that I'm probably going to cheat anyhow, so building it in to my diet allows me to plan for cheating. If I want cheese fries on a Tuesday, I can hold out knowing that I get to eat my fill of cheese fries on Saturday night. This will slow down your weight loss, but I think it's worth it because it makes the diet bearable.

To be honest with you, dieting is really the only way to go if you're looking to lose weight. Exercise has minimal effect on weight loss. It's much easier to eat less than it is to burn off calories. That said, exercise has a lot of other benefits: it makes you stronger, helps you feel good about yourself, and will make you healthier in the long run. It will also help you keep off the weight you've lost.
posted by k8lin at 4:38 PM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

This recently published, long-running study found that certain foods were, indeed, associated with greater weight loss, and that "eat less, exercise more" probably doesn't capture the complexity of the human metabolism.

Foods they found were negatively correlated with weight gain include vegetables, fruit, nuts, whole grains, and yogurt (yogurt had the strongest correlation with weight loss). Foods that were positively correlated with weight gain include potato chips, potatoes, sugar-sweetened beverages, unprocessed red meats, and processed meats*. Make of that what you will; between this study and many others like it that have come out recently, it looks to me like reducing simple carb intake might be an easy, high-impact way to change your diet to help induce weight loss.

*and yes, they seem to have controlled for everything you're about to ask whether they controlled for. Memail me and I can email you a pdf of the study.
posted by dialetheia at 4:43 PM on July 19, 2011 [4 favorites]

You want a "trick?" Try The Shangri-La Diet (also linked by zeek321 above). Drinking sugar water to lose weight? It sounds crazy but it actually works. Unfortunately it's not a magic bullet. The sugar water suppresses your appetite so you can eat less, but it doesn't make you eat less as I discovered when I tried it. The appetite-suppressing effect is real, but there are all sorts of cues for eating beyond mere hunger - boredom, taste, satisfaction, being social, the pleasure of eating - so you're only controlling one variable. It's a big one but it's not everything. It still takes discipline.

Here's a better trick - find an exercise program that's so fun that it doesn't feel like work yet so demanding that you will be motivated to change your nutrtiton to excel. For me that's CrossFit + Paleo. I love CrossFit. I eat Paelo because it noticiably helps my CrossFit performance. Weight loss was a side effect.
posted by zanni at 4:53 PM on July 19, 2011

"Am I missing something?"

I was. I was missing an awareness of how many calories various things had and how much work it took to burn off X amount of calories. I had never known or cared and then had to move up just one waist size too many. Then somebody who was doing weight watchers explained to me how many points I'd get on the plan and how many points were in the giant fast food sandwich I was eating. It was more than I'd be allocated all day on the plan, just in one meal, not even counting the giant fountain drink or fries. That kind of woke me up. Turns out I was eating double what I should or even more.

A lot of it was insidious. A few little candies during the day seem like nothing but count as much as a full meal, pointswise. A thing of juice (healthy, right?) had loads of calories.

And then I got on one of those exercise machines and saw how much exercise it took to burn such a small amount of calories. I was horrified. There's nothing like that knowledge to change your perspective. When you can see an hour on the treadmill going into your mouth like it's nothing, you think twice.

Then when you see that you can have unlimited vegetables on the plan for zero points, you start to focus on vegetables to the exclusion of meat, carbs, and dairy, or at least you're willing to invest in vegetables often so as to save up points for fun things. You still eat those things but you're so much wiser in how much of them you eat and how often.

I see that some people here are saying calories-in/calories-out is nonsense and that it's the types of things you eat that matter. I don't know the answer to that but the effects are kind of the same. A weight watchers style plan steers you away from snacky stuff and breads and sugar and sodas just like that alternate theory does. And it steers you towards the things your body wants and needs for health and wellness and are often largely missing - vegetables. So either way, you eat less of the bad things and the pounds come off. I don't really care which answer is right so long as the pounds come off. 35 of mine did.

To those saying exercise isn't the issue, I agree in part and disagree in part. Or rather, I know that based on the amount of calories I expended exercising vs. the number/kind of calories I avoided while watching what I ate, the watching what I ate was the much greater factor. But on the other hand, your body needs exercise. It's the answer to so many problems. So whether it's got anything to do with weight loss (and I still think physics makes a strong case there), you need it and should do it. Better sleep, lower anxiety, a clean-feeling brain and mind, lower cholesterol and triglycerides, a healthier heart, better overall health, lower risk of multiple types of disease. Have at it.

If you can develop an awareness of what you eat and track it, you'll surprise yourself. It's hard to be disciplined when you don't really understand the impact of what you've been doing in the first place. Once you can see it in black and white, it's empowering. Not easy, but empowering, and it gives you a roadmap and a constant understanding of tradeoffs. You start to change your lifestyle and thinking, not just go on a diet. I recommend getting an app for your phone to record, track, and calculate what you eat since your phone is always within arm's reach. I haven't found a great replacement for the old WWCalc on the Palm platform but I keep looking.

I put much of my weight back on over time, but then gradually have been shaving it back off at a much slower pace than before. A downward trend long term is what you want. Whether you backslide or not, the real value is in developing the awareness of what all you eat and the impact of it. So much of it we do mindlessly. That awareness will stick with you and help long term.

It's so worth it to lose the weight. Good luck!
posted by Askr at 5:51 PM on July 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

No, there are no tricks. There are diets that are easier for people. There are exercise plans that are easier for people. But there is no way you can live the life that got you fat exactly as it is and still lose weight. There are no fat loss pills.

I am part of a fitness forum that has a LOT of regular people logs on it. There are successes, and there are failures. To the one, everyone who has succeeded at their goal has done so by tracking their food, eating less calories, and exercising more. This is whether they've lost 5lbs or 200+lbs (and there are quite a few of those on this forum). Stall-outs are generally due to slacking off.

We are trained in America to think there is always an easy way, a get-rich-quick scheme, a Cinderella story waiting around the corner for us and that will fix our problems and make us happy. It doesn't exist. There's work, and there's commitment. That's it. I'm sorry.
posted by Anonymous at 6:33 PM on July 19, 2011

Diet and exercise is not the only way to lose weight:

One way is amphetamines. If you feel like exercising is for chumps and eating less is too much of a drag, the trick for you might be hard drugs. Meth or Ritalin or such things will cause you to loose weight especially if you take more than is recommended more often. Cocaine will also accomplish this and definitely heroin. Prescription amphetamines won't cause you to lose as much weight as illegal amphetamines. Your cheapest option may be crack cocaine. You ever seen a fat crackhead? Ever seen a crackhead exercise? These drugs will take care of the fat.

You'll also die prematurely with very poor heath, but you outsmarted your body. Smoking cigarettes isn't a surefire way to lose weight but it will contribute to weight loss and could facilitate the other weight-loss shortcut: extreme illness.

A wasting illness is logistically harder to get than hard drugs (unfortunately?) but you could spend some time ingesting raw pork and rainwater than has pooled in the street in hopes of getting a parasite that will devour your insides, reducing your overall body weight. Ending up on feeding tubes or on life support will cause you to loose pounds.

Those are the only "trick, a pill, a magic spell" ways that I could think of to lose weight. Really, losing weight and getting fit requires lifestyle changes.

Seriously though:

1. Stop drinking sweet sodas completely. Never drink a soft drink again except for seltzer water.

2. Stop drinking beer completely. Wine too.

Not a magic bullet but it will make a noticeable difference. The only safe way to lose weight is discipline.
posted by fuq at 9:29 PM on July 19, 2011

Calories are harmful myth, with little or nothing to do with weight gain or loss.

This is a stunning assertion and is so far over into the quackery side of the scale that I feel like it has to be pulled out just so nobody reads it and is fooled into misinformation. There are quibbles one can make with the calories in, calories out formulation. Not all calories are necessarily processed in exactly the same way. And so on. But the idea that, basically, there are no such things as calories is absurd!

I absolute-friggin-lutely guarantee anyone reading this thread that if they eat 5000 calories a day of any foods they want (carbs, no carbs, no fat, all fat, all protein, no protein, whatever) they will pile on the pounds very quickly unless they are training for the Olympics or hiking Antarctica or something.

OP, it's very simple. Note "simple" and not "easy". Track how many calories you eat. All of them. Yes, even that small little snack you snuck at 1:00am. All of them. Then do the following:

1) Are you losing weight? If so, good! If not, proceed to step 2.
2) Cut 200 calories from your diet. Goto 1.

Keep doing the same level of exercise throughout this process. The nice thing here is it doesn't matter if your diet is full of carbs or no carbs. Maybe you'd have to eat 1500 calories a day if it were high carb but could eat 1800 low carb. Who knows. The point is, if you track what you eat and cut stuff out until you are losing weight, you will lose weight.

But jesus... no such thing as calories? What the... I don't even...
posted by Justinian at 9:51 PM on July 19, 2011 [8 favorites]

Oh, I forgot! You need to track your weight over several weeks to tell if you are losing weight because the daily fluctuations are such that you need a big enough sample to overcome it.
posted by Justinian at 9:52 PM on July 19, 2011

I suggest using the common sense approach. Is it common sense to lose weight by eating 1200 calories worth of, say, grapefruit or diet cookies a day? No. Will you lose weight? Yes, but you will feel like shit, and gain it all back. Is it common sense to instead eat a balanced diet of healthy whole grains, lean protein and fruit and vegetables (you know, the kind of crap people ate before the obesity epidemic)? The answer is yes. Don't be afraid to check in with common sense from time to time. It's there for a reason.

The focus needs to shift from the obsession with weight loss/the number on the scale to an emphasis on all-around healthy living. Obviously there are people out there who do need to worry about the number, and need to get that number down. But even -- especially -- for them, the most important thing is to establish a healthy lifestyle that can be maintained as easily as possible and long enough to lose the weight and keep it off. That means no gimmicks and no crazy restrictions. You're trying to live a healthy, happy life, not win a race.
posted by imalaowai at 12:50 AM on July 20, 2011

The only way I've lost weight without diet and exercise was from being sick for a month and also from taking one of my medications for narcolepsy.
Exercising never seemed to help me... including 5 months training for a marathon.
Oh, atkins type diet did help but I love carbs.
posted by KogeLiz at 2:56 AM on July 20, 2011

There are very few approaches to weight loss that are one-size-fits-all. I've had success in the past with low-carb approaches, but I also recognize that they don't work for everyone.

In the end, there is no secret to weight loss. You will have the best chance at success if you modify your eating habits and modify your fitness habits.

Finding an approach to food and an approach to fitness is a very individual thing, but anyone who tells you that you can lose weight without some sort of change to your lifestyle is lying.
posted by DWRoelands at 6:21 AM on July 20, 2011

I absolute-friggin-lutely guarantee anyone reading this thread that if they eat 5000 calories a day of any foods they want (carbs, no carbs, no fat, all fat, all protein, no protein, whatever) they will pile on the pounds very quickly unless they are training for the Olympics or hiking Antarctica or something.

That's a wonderful strawman there. Of course someone gorging on 5k will gain weight.

The essence of the 'calories don't matter' argument is that the macro splits are waaay more important than simple calorie counting, to the point that emphasizing calorie counting is generally detrimental to American eating habits.

Consider the ever popular Nabisco 100-calorie bags of snack food. Pure garbage in a little bag and the only 'redeeming' quality is that they are 100 calories. Are they healthy or a good choice for any diet? No way. But saying 'calories don't matter' in this case is 100% accurate, even if it makes 1980's-style dieticians get woozy.

The point of 'CDM' isn't that you can gorge yourself eternally. It's the idea that counting calories leads to a healthy diet, which it doesn't.
posted by unixrat at 6:30 AM on July 20, 2011

It's the idea that counting calories leads to a healthy diet, which it doesn't.

And that's not the question asked by the OP. The OP asked about losing weight.

Cutting calories has, does, and will lead to losing weight, if the OP and others are consistent and persistent. Low-fat, low-carb, low-sugar, smaller portions... almost all "diets" involve cutting out calories.

We can all agree that healthy food is important for a healthy life. But to lose weight, calories have to be cut, one way or another.
posted by aabbbiee at 9:04 AM on July 20, 2011

It's the idea that counting calories leads to a healthy diet

I generally agree with your points, but the above is a straw man also, one that I feel like is getting frequently and unfairly leveled at those who advocate calorie restriction as a primary tool for effective weight loss. Are there any serious nutritionists or dieticians out there really advocating that only how many calories you consume matters, not how you eat?

I certainly think you are in trouble if you are getting your primary dietary information by paying attention to how food manufacturers are marketing their merchandise, but I'd dispute the idea that even in the case of the 100 calorie snack pack calories genuinely "don't matter". It's pretty basic for most people that they do not want to completely eschew their favorite junk food. Controlled, convenient portions make complete sense in this context, as opposed to opening the jumbo bag and guesstimating on the couch. Obviously if you eat ten of them, or if they comprise 90% of your diet, this tool will not assist you.

It's worth digging in over these points because of people, frankly, like Gary Taubes. Their analysis usually starts out well, asking some astute questions about simplistic calorie in/calorie out assumptions (that honestly do treat the vast complexities of the human metabolism as if we were a simple engine and food an easily fungible and measurable fuel). But then you find yourself reading that everyone in America has a metabolic disorder that means if they eat carbs they will get fat no matter what and there's not really any option but to switch to an all meat and fat diet and then you can eat without paying any attention to calories but if you don't lose all the weight on that, you know, it's probably because that bad old metabolic disorder just won't let that fat go. Yes, yes, I am now making a straw man of Gary Taubes but this parody is not that far off the mark of what he actually says. He basically abandons scientific rigor when he gets to his own unsupported pet theories and solutions, slaps a layer of "more study needed!" all over it but the bottom line is that he's selling books with controversial advice that many have real concerns about (stuff like fat not mattering, or the basic principle with eating meat being "all you can eat").

And any time diet comes up here there are people lifting up Taubes as the rational, science-based guy, as if there are not serious scientific objections to his assertions.

I wholly agree that the statement "calories are harmful myth, with little or nothing to do with weight gain or loss" is just flat absurd. The person who made that statement offered as evidence a blog post by a body building trainer who's self professed focus (see here for example) isn't strength or fitness but body sculpting for appearance and competition. His second piece of evidence is a blog post by a fat acceptance advocate. Nothing against this, personally, I think there are a lot of valid points coming out of that. But this person has no formal basis at all, they are just another "self taught off the internet" person who is advocating an ideology that generally holds that NO form of intentional weight loss is effective, healthful or necessary.

Calories might not be the best measuring tool for everyone to use when working on their diet. Science like what dialetheia linked definitely makes me think that being selective in how you reduce calories (favoring obvious targets like empty sugar and starch sources) is likely to give you more bang for your eating less buck. But to completely reject the utility of calories as a ready, accessible method of assessing food as part of a diet strategy with weight loss in mind doesn't make sense.
posted by nanojath at 9:24 AM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

The big problem is that your weight isn't as related to your health as our society seems to think. If health isn't your goal, I suggest you make your goal.

I used Sparkpeople.com to start off and it has taught me so much about what foods actually have in them. I was able to track calories, and nutrients to ensure that I'm getting the right stuff everyday to make my body feel the best it can.
posted by Gor-ella at 11:11 AM on July 20, 2011

It's the idea that counting calories leads to a healthy diet, which it doesn't.

First, the question wasn't about eating a healthy diet, the question was about losing weight. Second, to eat a healthy diet you have to examine both calories and the type of foods you eat. You can eat the healthiest sorts of food on the planet but if you eat 4000 calories of them that's not a good thing.

It is true that it is much more difficult to eat a couple thousand calories of vegetables than a couple thousand calories of ice cream sundae.
posted by Justinian at 11:58 AM on July 20, 2011

I should have added that my 30-pound-losing husband cut out nearly all sugar and refined carbohydrates and started eating whole foods and a nearly total vegetarian diet. I assumed, incorrectly and naively on my part, that that information would be a given.
posted by cooker girl at 3:50 PM on July 20, 2011

Drive less, walk & bike more.

Eat whole foods.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 9:14 AM on July 21, 2011

I'm amazed at all the people who discount exercise. My husband and I are both in fields that requires a high level of physical stamina and none of our coworkers are fat. None of my military friends are fat.

Here's why that Why Exercise Won't Make You Thin article is wrong and why you should be getting exercise:

WEWMYT: "The survey ran from 1980, when only 47% of respondents said they engaged in regular exercise, to 2000, when the figure had grown to 57%. And yet obesity figures have risen dramatically in the same period: a third of Americans are obese, and another third count as overweight by the Federal Government's definition."

If 43% of Americans aren't engaging in regular exercise, then it's pretty amazing that only 1/3 of us are obese. Furthermore, the definition of regular exercise varies from person to person. I know a few people that go for a few walks a month and consider that 'regular' exercise. Also, types of exercise varies. My huabsnd's friend went to the gym regularly and was overweight until he did more crossfit aerobic type exercises.

WEWMYT: ""In general, for weight loss, exercise is pretty useless," says Eric Ravussin, chair in diabetes and metabolism at Louisiana State University and a prominent exercise researcher. "

Actually, the quote is, "“In general, exercise by itself is pretty useless for weight loss,” says Eric Ravussin, a professor at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La., and an expert on weight loss. His research has shown that people who eat poorly and exercise tend to eat more to compensate for the calories lost during exercise. The result is a “wash” when it comes to calories burned vs. calories consumed each day; this leads to no weight loss or even weight gain in some cases." [emphasis mine from here]

While I know people who eat poorly and exercise it off, most of us require good diets in order to lose weight.

WEWMYT: "Earlier this year, the peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE — PLoS is the nonprofit Public Library of Science — published a remarkable study supervised by a colleague of Ravussin's, Dr. Timothy Church, who holds the rather grand title of chair in health wisdom at LSU. Church's team randomly assigned into four groups 464 overweight women who didn't regularly exercise. Women in three of the groups were asked to work out with a personal trainer for 72 min., 136 min., and 194 min. per week, respectively, for six months. Women in the fourth cluster, the control group, were told to maintain their usual physical-activity routines. All the women were asked not to change their dietary habits and to fill out monthly medical-symptom questionnaires...On average, the women in all the groups, even the control group, lost weight, but the women who exercised — sweating it out with a trainer several days a week for six months — did not lose significantly more weight than the control subjects did. (The control-group women may have lost weight because they were filling out those regular health forms, which may have prompted them to consume fewer doughnuts.) Some of the women in each of the four groups actually gained weight, some more than 10 lb. each. "

So excerise doesn't help? Not if you ask the author of the study. "Dr. Church refers to this phenomenon as compensation. The group that worked the hardest was suddenly eating more and moving around less when they got home....What he actually believed was that virtually all people who lose weight and keep it off are exercising." Cite. Remember, the women were asked not to change their dietary habits.

There's no evidence that exercise was producing the "ravenous compensatory eating" WEWMYT claims it does. It could be that the people are eating bad food as 'rewards' for working out, not realizing they are sabotaguing their diets.

WEWMYT: After we exercise, we often crave sugary calories like those in muffins or in "sports" drinks like Gatorade. A standard 20-oz. bottle of Gatorade contains 130 calories. If you're hot and thirsty after a 20-minute run in summer heat, it's easy to guzzle that bottle in 20 seconds, in which case the caloric expenditure and the caloric intake are probably a wash.

As I said, my husband and I both work in fields that require a high level of physical activity. Both of us eat healthy diets and don't have this 'ravenous compensatory eating'. Yes, we get hungry after/during exercise, but we find healthy foods enough to satisfy our cravings. The only time my husband ever craves junk food is when he's been sick. I do drink a lot of Gatorade in the dry season, but I also don't gain weight. Probably because I'm also drinking a ton of water and eating healthy snacks (homemade trail mix) while I exercise.

I could go on, but I won't. Just read this rebuttal or go through and look up what experts actually say instead of what opinion pieces report.

From the LA Times rebuttal: A practical response to the claim that exercise makes you eat more and gain weight is to look around. If this were the case, wouldn't those who regularly exercise be the fattest? Obviously, that isn't the case.

A lot of the other articles linked here fall into the pseudoscience I see whenever weight loss is mentioned. Before believing anything you see in an online article, go find the actual scientific studies and read them in detail. Better yet, when you see people who've lost a lot of weight, ask them how they did it.
posted by avagoyle at 9:20 AM on July 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't think very many people are saying that exercise doesn't contribute to weight loss; what people, including me, are saying is that exercise by itself won't usually lead to weight loss. You must combine it with calorie restriction. And that's essentially the quote you include above, from Eric Ravussin.

You can lose weight with just calorie restriction. You can lose weight slightly faster and in a more healthy fashion with calorie restriction and exercise. But exercise alone usually doesn't lead to significant weight loss.
posted by Justinian at 11:23 AM on July 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

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