Some of the most common advice I've seen here is to stay in shape and keep your weight in check. Well, I know there can be a lot of misinformation and fluff surrounding the subject, so I've decided to make a short guide explaining why we gain weight and how you can keep your weight in check.
In the US, 70% of adults are overweight or obese. If you have a BMI of over 25, you are overweight, and if you have a BMI of over 30, you are obese. You can check your BMI here: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/BMI/bmicalc.htm
If you want to increase your SMV or take care of your looks and you’re overweight, one of the most straightforward steps is to not be overweight or obese. When one partner say the other has “let themselves go”, 90% of the time, they’re talking about their weight.
The good news is that being overweight is 100% your fault, which means it’s 100% within your power to fix it.
How do I manage my weight?
Every person has what’s called a TDEE, or total daily energy expenditure, which primarily depends on their age, current weight, activity level, and sex. You can calculate yours here: https://tdeecalculator.net/ .
Your TDEE is how many calories you need to eat per day to maintain your weight. A calorie is a unit of energy. If you consistently eat more than your TDEE, you will gain weight. If you consistently eat less than your TDEE, you will lose weight. It doesn’t matter if those calories come from organic vegetables or ice cream sundaes. For every 3500 calories you eat below your TDEE, you will lose approximately one pound. For every 3,500 calories you eat above your TDEE, you will gain approximately one pound.
For instance: take a 5’4” woman who is 30 years old, weighs 180 lbs, and is sedentary (say, has a desk job and does not exercise). Her TDEE is 1,826 calories. So, if she eats 1,300 calories a day, she will lose approximately one pound per week. If she eats an average of about 1800 calories a day, her weight will stay the same.
Generally, women should not eat less than 1,200 calories a day. You probably need more if you’re tall or exercise regularly, and you definitely need more if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding (if you are, then you probably should ask your doctor before making any lifestyle changes).
What about exercise?
Exercise is great for your mental and physical health, and you should by all means try to make it a part of your life. But unless you pay attention to your diet, exercise alone most likely won’t make you lose weight. In fact, exercise is an appetite stimulant, so you’ll likely eat all of the calories you consume during exercise.
But...I could never give up [insert food here]!
You don’t have to. Weight management does not require the consumption of any specific food or product. Similarly, no specific food will make you gain weight. You don’t have to go vegan, eat keto, or Whole30 unless you want to. You just have to limit how many calories of food you consume. The reason people trying to lose weight eat certain foods is because they are much more filling than others. Most people can easily eat 700 calories of cake in one sitting (one big slice), but I have yet to see anyone eat 700 calories of broccoli (2 kilograms). Sugary, salty foods generally cue people to overeat, but you can still eat them while losing weight. Similarly, you can gain weight eating nothing but sweet potatoes, spinach, and avocado if you eat enough of it.
But..calorie counting doesn’t work for ME because....
NO. You are not a special snowflake. Your metabolism isn’t broken. You’re just counting your calories incorrectly or overestimating how much you exercise. Empirically, it’s been shown that the heavier you are, the more likely it is that you underestimate the amount of calories you consume or overestimate the amount of exercise you do. The machines at the gym that estimate calories burned often overestimate.
The metabolic variation in between individuals is very small, usually less than 100 calories. So it’s likely that the TDEE calorie calculator linked above will be quite accurate for you. And if it’s not....first of all, make sure you’re properly counting your calories and assessing your activity level. If you are, it’s possible you truly have a rare metabolic issue and should see a doctor, especially if you have other symptoms like lethargy, mood swings, and hair loss.
If you want to really know how much you’re eating, buy a food scale and download MyFitnessPal. You’ll see that the “tablespoon” of peanut butter you’ve been eyeballing is really three (90 calories vs. 270 calories). Remember that drinks, cooking oil, sauces, and taste tests all have calories. Even if you don’t track all your calories all the time, you’ll have a better idea of what an appropriate portion size is.
If you see someone who’s much thinner than you who seems to eat more than you do, remember that you don’t know their whole life. They might eat 4 slices of pizza but then not eat for the rest of the day. They might exercise a lot. Don’t use them to justify your own behavior.
I don’t want to count my calories! Too much work!
Calorie counting is the only surefire way to lose weight. Any other diet that makes you lose weight works because you’re also restricting your calories, whether you realize it or not.
If you don’t want to count calories, you can make sure to eat foods that are filling and nutritious for the amount of calories they provide, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains. I am vegetarian but that has nothing to do with weight management. You can be fat or thin on any diet, but it’s much easier to overeat some foods than others. Many modern foods---cake, chips, pies, soda, fries--are engineered to hack our taste buds and make us consume more than we truly need, which is why healthy eaters and people of normal weight don’t usually consume them in excess.
But this doesn’t work! I just gain it back!
People gain back weight because they go back to their former habits. Of course you’ll get back to how you used to be if you go back to the habits that made you fat in the first place.
Most importantly, be honest with yourself.
If you want to prioritize your comfort and overeating over your appearance, fine. But don’t pretend that you’re cursed with a terrible metabolism. If you’re overweight, it’s because you are consistently eating too much. Period.