What is the Best Strategy for Losing Weight?

What is the best strategy for losing weight?

Eat less.

Sorry.  I know it's not very sexy and certainly doesn’t seem the most cutting edge.  It's also not very marketable.  There’s no money to be made off the idea.  But it's the truth.

At the heart of all weight loss success there is going to be an aspect of calorie reduction.  Reset diets, paleo, keto, warrior diet or otherwise, help us lose weight primarily because we're eating less.  When using these diets to lose weight and stay lean they are more so creative solutions to the question "how can I reduce my calories?" than they are magic formulas for weight loss.

Take the Paleo approach, for instance.  Many people who go Paleo lose weight.  Part of this is a marked improvement of overall health but a large part is that by going Paleo you’ve just severely limited your options for available food.  There are less things that you can eat.  Further, what you can eat is not high in calories nor is it addictive causing you to eat too much.  

But how do we know that the weight loss success of Paleo is because of eating less calories?  Because you can gain weight with Paleo too.  If you wanted to put on size and muscle with Paleo you could, though it’s harder to do. This proves the point that a Paleo approach might just be a creative solution for someone to eat less food.  If you're able to gain weight using a Paleo approach that means it isn't a magic recipe for weight loss.  The most causal variable remains how much you're eating.

(*An important aside in case it needs to be said - we are taking about weight loss here, not health.  They are two very different things.  You can eat two twinkies a day for the next month and you'll lose weight.  That says nothing about being a healthy person.)

Another place we can find a good understanding of this is the world of bodybuilding.  I don't entirely endorse the training and health philosophy of bodybuilding but bodybuilders are master manipulators of muscle and body fat.  That's all there sport is.  Build more muscle.  Lose more body fat.  How do they do it?  Well, when they want to put on a ton of muscle they eat way more food and a crap load of protein.  When they want to lose a ton of body fat they eat way less food and a crap load of protein.  (Did you catch that last bit about protein?)

At the end of the day the way to lose weight is to take in less energy in the form of food and drink and to expend more energy in the form of movement, activity, and purposeful training.  The problem is that people don't understand how much energy they are expending throughout the day versus how much energy they're taking in.

Here are some of the reasons we take in more energy than we expend:

  • we eat addictive foods causing us to over eat

  • we don't account for how much food we're actually eating in a day

  • we overestimate how much energy we're burning throughout the day

  • we underestimate how much energy we're taking in in the form of food and drink throughout the day. 

Now, I don't mean to oversimplify this issue.  This is a multivariate equation that has unique circumstances for each of us.  Things like rest, stress, hormones, and illness can all play a role in how our bodies use and store energy.  However, more times than not the prescription to lose weight is to eat less.  

So if that's your goal, now you have a starting point and a question to answer - "how do I eat less?".  Maybe it's using a creative strategy like Paleo or that whole intermittent fasting thing.  Maybe it's removing addictive food from your diet and replacing them with whole food sources.  In the least, you now know where to start.

Best of luck!

- Colin