Weight loss isn’t simply a math problem

I used to cite the simple math of calories in<calories out=weight loss as an argument for the ease of weight loss. I’ll be the first one to admit that I’ve believed and said some extraordinarily stupid stuff. It sometimes takes me a while, and I may never learn, but I have to get over my insecurity of admitting I was wrong and admit that this claim about weight loss was fundamentally naive.

Back when I was training for triathlons and trying to become one of the fastest athletes in the nation, I employed a coach to tailor a plan to get me to my goals. He knew me extremely well and fitted a structured training plan to my life and my abilities to better help me accomplish my goals. But no matter how thoroughly researched and prepared he was, I inevitably missed or ruined workouts. I would get dinner with friends instead of swimming or get stuck home by bad weather. Sometimes I’d get sick and sometimes I was just incredibly burned out and uninspired. The fact is, I wasn’t a robot, and inevitably things never went as planned.

This same reality holds true for weight loss or overcoming any bad habit or addiction. Like training for a triathlon, there are always hurdles and setbacks, moments when we find ourselves incredibly uninspired or overpowered by a side of ourselves we’re not as proud of. There are weddings and holidays, celebrations with friends, any number of incidents that make the challenge of weight loss far more than a simple mathematical equation. Making the argument that thermodynamics is reason for the ease of weight loss is comparable to saying running a 4 minute mile is easy because it’s only four 1 minute quarter miles. It completely overlooks the infinite other factors involved.

I’m not even close to fully grasping the complexity of helping a patient with lifestyle changes or how to provide support for a friend or family member with taking better care of themselves. But the first step is acknowledging that we’re not robots.

Hopefully we don’t all need to experience weight gain or other unhealthy habits to know how hard they can be to overcome. For me, I’m ashamed to admit, it took gaining 15 pounds to realize that being human is to be imperfect. But that overwhelming realization that losing even a small amount of weight can be an extraordinary challenge helped me understand that I shouldn’t be so judgemental. I’ll hopefully never know what it’s like to have an alcohol or nicotine addiction, or what it’s like to be obese, but I just hope that I can be sensitive enough with patients in the future to support them and embrace their challenge without being critical.

Grayson Cobb

Grayson Cobb

I am a long distance backpacker, triathlete, adventurer, climber, kayaker, and lowly medical student currently living in Norfolk, VA attending Eastern Virginia Medical School and getting out for adventures on weekends.
Grayson Cobb

2 thoughts on “Weight loss isn’t simply a math problem”

  1. maybe not simple to do but straightforward as to what you have to do. The complexity comes in that the equation changes over time and also if you are female. fat burning exercise is great but so too is weight training as it builds up muscle which then merrily burns calories as you sit down to watch tv. also, as you know, some calories in are differently metabolised to others. there’s nothing inherently wrong with glucose consumption…providing you burn it straight away..otherwise it quickly ends up on your bum. 🙂 joy. I’m at a good weight but losing it will make me faster…it’s a danger of losing muscle mass if I were to do that also it’s actually hard to lose weight even if you exercise a lot as it makes you hungry! very!

    1. Thanks for checking out my post! I was actually addressing the complexity of the individual in the equation, how that complicates the calculation. One of my friends actually shared with me a more advanced calculator: https://www.supertracker.usda.gov/bwp/index.html Unfortunately no matter how advanced our calculations get, we’ll still have our own challenges and barriers to overcome.

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