Weight loss isn't easy. The following weight loss plans: Atkins, South Beach, Green Tea, Low Carb, Low Fat all have one thing in common: they focus on diet. Why do all these weight loss fads all focus on changing what you eat? The answer may be simpler than you think: results. Changing what you eat is the quickest way to lose weight. Eat fewer calories and you will lose weight, all else being equal.
What does it take to burn 300 calories through physical activity? Likely, an hour of brisk walking or a 3 mile jog. What would it take to eat 300 fewer calories? Forgo the tortilla at Chipotle or the beef in your stir-fry. For many people, changing diet is more convenient and less challenging (mentally and physically) than becoming more physically active.
Keeping it Off
However, diets are notorious for being unsustainable. You may lose a few pounds at first, but then quickly gain back what you lost (and sometimes more).
If you are lucky you may have lost a lot of weight over a longer period of time. If so, you probably felt really good at first. But, inevitably (so it seems), the weight seems to start creeping back. Perhaps, you started exercising again...a little...it just doesn't seem to be working.
What's the deal?
The challenge of sustaining weight loss over the long haul may have something to do with the amount of additional physical activity needed to counter the calories we consume when we are at a lower weight. Say someone who weighs 250 pounds loses 50 pounds in the course of a year and half. They went from eating 3000 calories a day to 2000 calories a day and began walking 20 minutes, 4-5 times a week. If that same person continues to eat 2000 calories and exercise that same amount, they will no longer lose weight and may actually begin to gain some back. Why? Because that 200 pound person will expend less energy (a.k.a. calories) walking 20 minutes relative to the 250 pound person. The 200 pound person may actually have to increase their exercise to 25-30 minutes in order to burn the same amount of calories.
Furthermore, a heavier person burns more calories just at rest than a less heavy person. Bummer, right!!
This, I think, illustrates especially well the challenge of reaching and maintaining an ideal weight. Once you consume 2000 calories/day it will be difficult to cut back on what you eat much more. You can improve the type of food you eat (and I don't want to underestimate this fact for obvious reasons!), but this will unlikely lead to weight loss. Your only option is to incorporate more activity into your lifestyle. This could mean more gardening and house cleaning, likely it will mean doing what we all recognize as exercise (getting on a bike, walking, running, or playing a sport).
If you want to lose weight it takes equal attention to nutrition/diet and physical activity. Relying on physical activity alone can be frustrating since weight loss will come slow and be minimal-moderate. Relying on diet alone may be exciting at first as you shed some weight, but will be unsustainable over the long term without increasing calorie burning activity.
Don't get sucked in by the gimmicks.
There may be a way to lose a guy in ten days, but no good way to lose weight in ten days...
Note: Thanks to Dr. I-Min Lee who inspired this post through her lecture on Physical Activity and Health to our Obesity Epidemiology Class at Harvard School of Public Health (10/9/2009)