The Calorie Myth: When Eating 500 Less Calories A Day DOESN’T Work (And What to Do About It)
We’ve all heard the advice from a site with supposedly reputable people like WebMD:
“Just eat 500 fewer calories a day, you’ll lose 1-2 pounds a week, and you’ll eventually reach your goal.”
But the frustrating truth is that when you try it, it never seems to line up that way (and definitely not in the long run).
Lolz, that’s 5 less oreos a day! This should be easy… not…
But what if it doesn’t work at all?
And what if this entire model is a myth that hasn’t even been proven to work in reality?
The “500 Calories Less” Myth
Why It Just Doesn’t Work in Reality
I want to quickly tell you about a study done in the New England Journal of Medicine – because they wanted to test exactly this idea.
Does this “scientific fact” of reducing calories by 500 calories a day really produce that systematic, predictable, linear weight loss we hope for?
And if so, how much?
In the original study, researchers suggested that a person walking 1 mile per day, and thus burning around 100 calories, will lose more than 50 pounds over a period of 5 years.
So that’s based on this supposed mathematical formula for weight loss:
However, when they tested it, it only came out to around 10 pounds lost.
Later on, these researchers commented that this model of calories in calories out is around 50 years old – and this original statement was based on short term experiments, that were also performed on men on diets of less than 800 calories per day.
So in other words, maybe these results were realistic in the SHORT run, but not in the long run.
Maybe that’s the rate men were losing weight during that short period of being starved to death, but maybe the body compensated for that severe decrease in calories later – and thus slowed the weight loss down (since reality didn’t reflect that this actually works long term).
So if this doesn’t work… what do I really do?
Here’s the thing: we know that eating less works, but only up until a certain point.
You can only reduce your calories so much before you start feeling like crap, have no energy, your metabolism decreases, thyroid functioning worsens, and more.
So what am I supposed to do?
I realize this is literally the LAST thing you want to hear, but by far, and I mean by FAR, the #1 reason I see my own students and clients fail is due to lack of patience.
When he sent me this email, he had lost ~25 pounds. He has since followed up twice, and is now close to 50 pounds lost (down to 82kg from over 100kg).
When I followed up with him, I wanted to know exactly what he did. I wanted to know what specific advice of mine he applied.
Here’s what he said: “I just kept doing the same stuff that worked originally but I was just more patient.”
“I stuck with the same principles and habits, which was at first frustrating because I plateaued for a few weeks and was wondering if maybe I needed to change the advice I was taking (or the program I was on), but I just kept being patient.”
So even though his weight loss slowed, he was still losing weight. And even though that weekly weigh-in he was doing may have not reflected tons of weight loss, the monthly one was showing weight loss.
At a high level, yes, eating less is going to work.
But at a certain point, there’s only a certain amount you can lower your calories before you start seeing negative health effects (e.g. the ones revolving around starvation).
I’ve had numerous conversations with people that spoke with me saying they couldn’t lose weight, and I found out they were eating starvation diets and exercising 1-2 hours a day. Having them eat more calories finally resulted in some weight loss for them.
Your Tiny Habit For Today
This might sound frustrating, but here’s the truth:
1. Be more patient.
People sometimes expect to lose the last 10 pounds in a month, but here’s realistically what that entails.
With 4-5 workouts a week, I would plan on 60-180 days to lose those last 10 pounds. And in some people, maybe it’ll take an entire year to lose those 10 pounds.
“Ughhhhh, are you serious?!?” Yeah I know. Sucks in the short run. But here’s the thing: at the end of the year, you’ve still achieved that lifetime goal. You’re still looking and feeling a heck of a lot better.. so who cares if it takes a few extra months than you planned?
Realistically, that’s what it’ll take.
2. Stop thinking so mathematically.
We’re not talking about increasing your salary here, getting a raise, or calculating how much money you’re going to make on your stocks. This is a more complex process which varies based on the person, hormones, age, stress, gender, and a lot more.
The more you think it’s going to be a pretty, linear math equation, the more you’ll be disappointed.
Instead, focus on getting 1% better each day – emphasize the process, and have fun so you can stay sane.