Why Losing Weight is so Hard and Gaining Weight is so Easy

You just went away for the weekend and you came back to find that you gained 5 pounds over the course of 3 days. In your disbelief, you quickly curse the Weight Gods for being so cruel. Sound familiar? This was me last weekend. A little jaunt to Montreal, eating at decadent cafes, packed it on quick. This inspired me to discuss the seemingly unbalanced equation of weight gain vs. weight loss, the facts that surround the issue and how losing the 5 pounds feels so much harder than gaining them:

FACT 1 – It is Simple Math: To maintain your ideal weight, you need to eat as many calories as you burn in one day. The balanced equation looks like this:

Calories Eaten = Basal Metabolic Rate + Physical Activity

If what you eat equals more than what your body uses, you will gain weight. In the situation of a vacation, it is likely that you eat more unhealthy food than normal and possibly get less exercise, resulting in an imbalanced equation, with a higher number of calories on the eaten side than on the burned side. That imbalance over the course of a few days can easily represent a few pounds. (To assess an approximate of how many calories you need, click here.)

FACT 2 – A Pound is a Pound is a Pound: One pound of body mass represents 3,500 calories. Regardless, if you are trying to lose a pound or gain a pound, the pound will always represent 3,500 calories. So, if you eat 3,500 calories more than your body requires, you will gain 1 pound. Similarly, if you eat 3,500 calories less than your body requires, you will lose 1 pound.

FACT 3 – Exercise is Weight Discriminating: Whether you are 120 pounds or 175 pounds, you will gain one pound from eating 3,500 calories more than you need. Unfortunately, this doesn’t hold true for burning calories. How much you weigh actually dictates how many calories you burn per hour. The more you weigh, the more you burn, and as a result, the easier it is to lose the pound…sound crazy? It is true. Check out the Calories Burned Chart.

FACT 4 – Aging Contributes to Weight Gain: As if aging doesn’t contribute enough to unfavorable things, it also contributes to weight gain. As we get older, our metabolism slows down, requiring us to need less food and calories. If you don’t modify your caloric intake as you get older to reflect this change in metabolism, you will start to see weight gain.

The Bad News: Unfortunately, eating an extra couple of unhealthy snacks or drinking a few extra glasses of wine can happen in a blink of an eye. However, the time and energy required to burn off those calories takes a lot more effort. We have provided a chart on what 1,000 calories looks like on both sides in the chart below (remember, it is 3,500 calories that make up a pound).

Calorie Chart

The Good News: Whether it is rapid or slow weight gain that you have experienced, losing the extra weight can be tackled through two avenues (and should be): calorie reduction and exercise. Choosing to lose weight through both calorie reduction and exercise will accelerate the process. If for seven days you burn 200 extra calories through exercise and reduce your food intake by 300 calories each day, you will lose that extra pound. Further, it is a lot easier than trying to either reduce your caloric intake by 3,500 calories (which is physically impossible) or burning an extra 3,500 calories during exercise (which takes a ridiculous amount of time and energy).

What you Can Do: Assess whether your weight gain was a rapid gain due to atypical behavior (E.g., vacationing) or a longer-term gain. If it was a rapid gain, there is a good chance you will lose the weight by returning to your normal habits. You might have to be a little strict for a day or two, but you shouldn’t feel like a major overhaul is in order. If, however, you have gained the weight over a period of time, assess your habits and think about what has changed in your life. Have you stopped exercising? Have you let your eating habits go? Have you hit a milestone birthday? Once you can assess the reality of your situation, remember the equation…to maintain balance, burn the calories you eat.

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  • Calvin

    Why do I gain more weight the less i eat? It’s exam period and I’ve been rather stressed so I ate very little but when I got on the scale, I noticed I’ve gained 4 pounds over 2 weeks of eating very little. How and why is this possible? I’ve been trying to lose weight for half a year now and its all wasted

    • brettblumenthal

      You may not be eating ENOUGH. When you don’t eat enough, your metabolism can slow down because it thinks you are in starvation mode and as a result, uses less calories. You should really try to eat 5 times a day and make your meals/snacks all whole foods. Cut out high salt foods and processed foods. You should start seeing a difference. If not, you might want to see a doctor and get checked out. You may have a health issue that is contributing to the problem.

  • Ethan

    i have been trying to lose weight for about two years now, i’m a 5’4 female who weighs in at 170lbs. i’m on the brink of giving up, i’m getting so tired of trying to lose weight. i’ve tried several different plans and diets with daily exercise. i recently lost almost 10 whole pounds doing that but i slipped and gained it all back.

    i really don’t know what to do anymore, but i know i can’t just quit.

  • davee44

    It is much harder to lose weight today than 40 years ago due to inflammation related weight gain. We have over 100 million who have inflammation related obesity due to processed foods. Here http://desperateloseweight.blogspot.com/2013/07/what-can-help-me-lose-weight-answer.html

  • http://mylasercenters.com/ Linda

    I like your table. Very short, but informative!

  • sunshine teaxperiment

    good one!

    • brettblumenthal

      Sort of the point. Thanks.

  • Charlie Hills

    A simple way to look at it: It’s very easy to eat 4,000 calories in a day. It’s not possible to eat -4,000 calories in a day.

    • brettblumenthal

      You mean, not possible to “burn off” 4000 calories in a day (second sentence) right?

  • gogreengal

    Actually, gaining weight is very difficult for me. I am 5’5″ and worked very hard just to get to the 100 pounds I weigh now, but still have 5 to gain. I have to eat six meals a day, each meal with protein, starch, fat, and a fruit or vegetable, to gain weight. If I eat any less, I drop to 95 in the blink of an eye. Appreciate what you have, because the grass is always greener on the other side!

    • brettblumenthal

      gogreengal, you are definitely in the minority, but nonetheless, you face a challenge too. Have you spoken to an integrative nutritionist or a doctor about this? Are you sure it is strictly your metabolism at work here?

  • skye

    I have always had a tendency toward being a little heavier than I should be; it has been a life long struggle. But now that I am middle age, I feel like I can be almost constantly physically active and the fat just won’t budge. It is very frustrating. I like these articles also.

  • http://balancedlivingmadesimple Linda Pressley

    Great information in simple language that is easy to understand. Comparing the food to the exercise is eye opening.

  • DrEurope

    Hi, my name is Shanti Sherna from Ukraina. I’m 27 y.
    I just love to read this forum articles & topics discussed here.

    regards
    Shanti,

  • Vince Delmonte

    This is very hot information. I’ll share it on Digg.

  • brendajhowes@yahoo.com

    need to save site and read this article

  • Daniel C. Gallardo

    topic like this are very interesting to READ. W e really benefit and could enhance our cautiousness for our health.
    thanks for this article,
    Dan