“Steve, why is it so dang tough to lose
This is the question that has consumed my brain for the past
decade of running Nerd Fitness.
“Just eat less and move more” is nice in
But it comes across as an insult to people who KNOW this, who
try their best, and yet the scale just doesn’t budge.
As a business owner in the health and fitness industry –
who also happens to hate the health and fitness industry – I get
to see both sides:
- A society full of people desperately trying to do the right
thing and feel better about themselves.
- An industry designed to prey on insecurities, make you feel
terrible, and take your money. Results? Probably not.
- Companies that try to razzle dazzle you with “exciting, new,
and innovative” when “boring, time-tested, old school” is
what actually works!
Today, we’re gonna deep dive – Scuba Steve style – into
nutrition and why it’s so tough to lose weight, and what you can
start to do about it.
WHY THE NUTRITION INDUSTRY MAKES ME SO ANGRY
I took this picture walking around Manhattan last
There is some SERIOUS, psychological warfare going on here,
and it hurts my soul.
For starters, they advertise as “THE” flat belly tea.
This means there are many other companies selling similar
products, which would ALSO lead me to believe this is a lucrative
product to sell!
They list every fitness buzzword and term every marketer uses
when it comes to selling health and fitness: gluten free,
“removes waste,” organic, “burn fat,”
Including some real head scratchers.
“Strengthen your colon?”
How the hell do you strengthen your colon?!
This reminds me of the brilliant Saturday Night Live skit about
“Colon Blow” cereal:
But I digest digress…
People are buying this stuff, even if they know it probably
Like buying a lottery ticket even when we know the odds of
winning are 0% – what we’re really buying is
- Hope that this will actually work – unlike the last 10
- Hope we can overcome 20 years of bad choices with a
- Hope that this product will give us the confidence and self
love we deserve.
Don’t get me wrong.
“Hope is a good thing, and no good thing ever dies.”
I just HATE when hope gets weaponized to sell you
expensive snake oil and pretty-packaged fluff.
This is what we are rebelling against here in the NF Rebellion: marketers
and companies who are crappy enough to prey on our hopes and fears
and sell snake-oil in a bottle.
We’re also rebelling against that voice in our head that talks
down to us, calls us failures for not getting in shape yet, and
berates us every time we break down and eat a cookie.
I say no more.
Let’s fight fire with fire science.
WHY CAN’T I EXERCISE MY WAY THIN?
There are a few generally accepted truths when it comes to
All of these are controversial, vary wildly depending on your
weight and body fat percentage, and will differ from person to
Setting all of that aside, I’m going to try and keep things
simple just to prove my point.
Let’s go with an (understandably) oversimplified look at
weight loss: a
pound of fat equals around 3,500 calories.
This would mean you’ll need to either eat 3,500 less calories,
or burn an extra 3,500 calories to lose 1 pound.
So…how long does it take to burn 3,500 additional calories
Let me answer a question with another question:
…How many hours do you have?
Studies show you’ll burn an extra 100 calories when
walking or running a mile.
So, you would need to be running/walking an additional 5 miles
per day, 7 days a week, to lose one pound per week.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t have time to run an
extra 5 miles a day. Nor do I want to.
Not only that, but as you’ll see below – this idea of just
burning an extra 500 calories per day to lose a pound a week only
works early on.
You’ll quickly run into speed bumps and roadblocks –
figurative ones, try to avoid the real ones on your run – that
slow down your progress significantly. Simply put, exercising
your way thin has proven time and time again not to work:
Many people develop increased appetites as a result of
exercise, which leads to no weight loss.
Time Magazine got in trouble for pointing this out – even
though they were right!
This 2011 study came
to the conclusion, “In overweight and obese populations…
our results show that isolated aerobic exercise is not an effective
weight loss therapy.”
study compared people who dieted vs people who only
exercised: “Body weight decreased by 10% in the diet group
and by 9% in the diet–exercise group, but did not decrease in the
exercise group or the control group.”
What I’m trying to say, and a
lesson we try to deeply understand at Nerd Fitness: “you
can’t outrun your fork”
…and the bad news isn’t done.
OUR BODIES RUIN EVERYTHING!
When you start to lose weight, your
resting metabolism slows down.
You might think this is some sort of evil sorcery worthy of
“He Who Must Not Be Named,” but unfortunately – it’s just
2nd grade math.
When you start to lose weight, there is less of you to
In other words: your metabolism doesn’t have to work as hard
to fuel all of your bodily functions, has less weight to carry, and
thus it will burn significantly fewer calories compared to when you
were much bigger.
Here is the daily resting calorie burn (“sit on your ass
all day”) of a 35-year old male nerd at 3 very different
- 300 lbs: 2,600 calories.
- 250 lbs: 2,300 calories.
- 200 lbs: 2,000 calories.
WHAT THIS MEANS: Unless you adjust your calorie intake as
your weight decreases… your previous calorie intake amount
becomes less and less effective at weight loss, until you hit an
Put a different way: this person could eat 2,300 calories
per day and over time, lose 50 pounds (from 300 pounds to 250
pounds), but that’s where he’ll hit equilibrium: calories
burned equals calories consumed.
In order for him to lose the next 50 pounds, he’ll need to
decrease his caloric intake even more, and then STAY at that
calorie consumption to keep the weight off.
In economic terms, this is called “diminishing marginal
And then it gets even worse!
There are buckets of anecdotal evidence of a bodily feature
Which has nothing to do with the band Genesis – though feel
free to listen to “Invisible Touch” right now:
It might soften the blow while you learn about “adaptive
This term refers to the process in which our bodies will adjust
based on how many calories we burn – and do whatever it can to
body fat we have.
Our bodies WANT to maintain the extra body fat we have (“I
don’t know when I’ll need this, better save”), and are
actively working in unison to preserve it – so even after a few
pounds are lost from running, it’s going to be a persistent
challenge to keep the weight off.
As pointed out in this article above:
“In long-term studies of weight-reduced children and adults,
return to their previous weight percentiles, while studies of
those successful at sustained weight loss indicate that the
maintenance of a reduced degree of body fatness will probably
lifetime of meticulous attention to energy intake and
This is why so many people can LOSE weight, but can’t seem to
keep the weight off.
- You can’t exercise your way to weight loss.
- Your metabolism slows down when you lose weight.
- Your body will try to keep its fat stores.
- Even when you lose the weight, your body wants to keep the fat
- If you lose weight, you have to keep working on it or you’ll
put the weight back on.
This is all terrible, horrible, no good, very bad
I know, I know.
However, there is HOPE!
And here at Nerd Fitness – and in the Star Wars universe –
rebellions are built on hope.
We have thousands of success stories from people who thought
they couldn’t lose weight…until they
People HAVE lost weight, and kept it off. People who are older,
bigger, have more children, less money, more illnesses, and bigger
hardships than you.
It’s a constant battle, but one that’s absolutely worth
And this means that you are not broken. You don’t have
metabolic damage. You are not doomed. Sure, you’re flawed.
But so are your heroes .
You might be playing life on “Legendary” difficulty, but
people like you have succeeded.
It starts by using all of the tools at our disposal, because the
forces working against us are doing the same.
Let’s get nerdy.
SCIENCE IS THE BEST. EMBRACE IT
YES, it would be awesome if you could drink a tea, or wrap
yourself in plastic, and it would somehow magically make you lose
weight or fat.
YUP, it would be amazing if a 30 minute bootcamp class was
enough to still allow you to eat junk food all day every day and
not gain a pound.
YEAH, it would be amazing if you could take a magic pill that
reversed the past decade of damage you’ve done to your body.
It would also be cool if superheroes were real and I could
Well, not like that.
Come on, Aquaman. People can see you.
We live in a world of science, physics, and thermodynamics.
This means we should ALWAYS look at life through the
Occam’s Razor: The simplest explanation is PROBABLY
the correct one.
Law of energy: Energy can’t be created or destroyed,
Reality: If it sounds TOO good to be true, it probably
Let’s apply this to our waistlines:
If we are overweight…
It’s not because we have “toxins” in our body that need to
be flushed out.
It’s not because we didn’t spend enough time in the
“fat-burning” zone during our “muscle confusion”
It’s not because we picked the wrong ‘fat burning’ product
These are all pseudoscience buzz terms to sell products, and
have no truth to their claims.
Occam’s Razor dictates the simplest solution is
PROBABLY the right one.
So what’s the simple explanation to why we’re
Every day, we consume food that gets transformed into
This food must either:
- Fuel our bodily functions: fuel our organs, regulate our body
- Pass through as waste: pee and poop.
- Get stored as fat: saved for a rainy day.
If we are overweight, we are consuming too much ‘energy’
every day. Our body doesn’t need all of it, so too much is being
stored as fat consistently.
Which brings us to the main point of our nutritional
If weight loss is our goal, we must consume FEWER calories than
we burn on a consistent basis.
By doing so, our body HAS no choice but to dip into that
“rainy day” fund of fat stores to still get all of its bodily
tasks done each day.
Do this consistently, and that’s how we end up with a lower
number on the scale and a smaller pants size.
“Steve I know I should eat less. It’s doing it
consistently that’s the tough part.
Have you tried CAKE?!”
And yes, cake is awesome.
But we have to start somewhere.
And it starts here: we need to eat fewer calories, but it ALSO
has to be sustainable and enjoyable, otherwise we’ll never stick
And temporary changes produce temporary results. We want
permanent weight loss!
Just saying “eat less” doesn’t factor the crazy
biological, physiological, and/or emotional challenges we face
We might eat when we’re stressed, depressed, or bored.
We can’t eat just one potato chip without eating an entire
We absentmindedly grab a handful of Peanut M&M’s when
visiting Kevin in Accounting.
Not only that, but even when we pay attention to what we eat,
studies show that we often underestimate our calorie consumption by
Crap. This just keeps getting
What’s a smart nerd like you
supposed to do in this scenario!?
If we KNOW we overeat without realizing it, and we KNOW
restricting calories is tough to stick with long term, then the
only path forward is to attack the problem differently.
Not with fit tea.
Nor with body wraps.
Not with “muscle confusion.”
But with science, math, and psychology.
CHOOSE YOUR FOOD WISELY
If weight loss is the goal, we need to shift our food choices
to foods that give us more “bang for our buck” – healthy,
filling, nutritious foods that fill us up and makes us less
likely to overeat calorie-bomb foods.
These foods allow us to feel full, but still keep us under our
calorie goal for the day:
- Protein like meat, fish, eggs, and so on.
- Fruit like apples, bananas, berries.
- Vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale.
- Quinoa, legumes, oats, rice, and potatoes (in moderation).
These are foods that take up a lot of space in our stomach and
make us feel full.
Compare this to foods that don’t fill us up, but are loaded
with calories – thus making it very easy to overeat without
- High calorie, easy to overeat foods like bread, fries,
- Soda and juices and sugary coffee beverages.
- Candy, cookies, crackers, etc.
To really HAMMER this point home…
As we point out in “Can
You Burn Fat and Build Muscle at the Same Time?” Here’s
what 200 calories look like, thanks
Which ones do you think will make you feel full, and which ones
will make you eat more than you realize?
Can you get yourself to stop after 2/3rds of a bagel or a small
handful of pasta?
Of course not!
One more example – here’s 200 calories of
“Steve, that is an absurd amount of
Yup. It’s also the SAME number of calories as 2/3rds of a
bagel (which doesn’t even include the calories from the cream
cheese or butter).
Now, it’s insulting to say “You should eat more broccoli
and less bagels. There’s yer problem.”
I’m merely pointing this out to emphasize the difference
between energy (calories) and volume.
Depending on what you eat, you could feel “OH SO FULL” after
your meal or “Why am I already hungry again? NOM NOM NOM.”
If you can start to make even SMALL changes, substituting
nutrient-dense, calorically-light foods like protein, fruit, and
veggies, for junk food – even occasionally, it’s going to shift
the energy balance back in the right direction.
You’ll become more likely than not to eat fewer calories than
you burn, moving you beneath your daily equilibrium.
Do that consistently, and you start to pull from those fat
And we end up the holy grail: sustainable, non-miserable
This is actually the secret sauce for ALL popular diets these
As we point out in our
“Perfect Diet” article, all the popular diets get you to
eat more REAL food and less junk food. They just all have their own
unique marketing spin to sell cookbooks and podcast episodes
Let’s look at each of these diets in a nutshell:
Paleo: cut out grains and dairy. Consume only meat, veggies,
fruits, and nuts
Keto: cut out ALL carbs. Consume only meat, veggies, nuts, and
Intermittent Fasting: cut out an entire MEAL every day.
Mediterranean Diet: focus on REAL foods, with whole grains. Cut
out processed foods.
Source: FS – All-FitnessBlogs
“Why Can’t I Lose Weight? Here’s the Truth.”