Gavin Guard, Medical Director
Just "eat less and move more"?
Updated: Jan 23, 2022
But telling someone to “just eat less and move more” is the most unhelpful nutrition saying out there
Weight loss and health is a result of sustainable practices built over time
Taking a practice-based approach to your nutrition and health is better than adopting a “quick fix”
During my medical training, I heard doctor after doctor tell their patients that they were “overweight”, and the solution was to “just eat less and move more”. I remember one doctor, quickly leaving the room after suggesting this “advice” to one of his patients. It was almost as if he knew that this piece of advice was not helpful but wanted to just check off the box.
I’m sure you’ve heard of this saying as a potential solution to your weight loss goals or health concerns. On the surface, it seems like a practical solution, but does it truly hold water when helping you make lasting change?
Let’s investigate this piece of advice and explore a better option to lose weight, overcome diabetes, and reverse chronic diseases like high blood pressure, heart disease, and high cholesterol.
Before I get yelled at by “evidence-based” doctors and health experts out there, I totally understand that calories matter. One well-established law in physics states that energy is neither created nor destroyed.
This means that the energy (calories) we consume as part of our diet has to go somewhere; either to make energy to walk/run/pick up your kid, stored (muscle, fat tissue, etc.), or to generate heat.
With this said, the simple solution for someone wanting to lose weight would be to just eat less and move more, right?
But humans are more than a math equation
The answer is “yes and no”. In order for you to lose weight, you must expend more energy than you consume.
However, this misses the bigger picture of how to actually implement that and it ignores the fact that how much you eat affects how much you want to move, and vice versa.
For example, when you go on a “diet”, you inevitably want to move less. Perhaps you’ve experienced this firsthand. On the flipside, when you exercise more, you naturally want to eat more. Your body is constantly wanting to maintain balance and homeostasis.
I’m sure you don’t want your life and nutrition turned into a bunch of numbers; “just eat 1,500 Calories, with this many grams of carbs, this much protein, and this much fat”. This approach is not helpful for the majority of the population.
The last thing you need is to turn your dinner with your family into a never-ending game of calculus and math equations.
Most people do NOT need to track their food
I get tired of nutrition “experts” suggesting that people just need to track better and proving that calories matter by losing weight by eating pop tarts. I don’t find that this is helping the majority of people.
Most people don’t need to track better and proving that you can lose weight by eating pop tarts is not convincing a working mom of three kids of anything. She needs guidance; someone who can listen to her struggles and help her self-identify her own solutions by navigating her to practices that she can sustain long-term.
So what does a better approach look like?
A better solution to your nutrition
Imagine you brought your kid into a gymnastics class for the first time. The coach welcomed the girl into the class then told her to do a few backflips for a warmup before going into an Olympic-level gymnastics routine. Your immediate reaction might be one of “Are you kidding? You can’t expect that from her. She just started!!”
However, that’s what many diets and quick fixes are doing. They are attempting to take you from 0 to 100 in a matter of a day or two.
A good gymnastics coach would take the student through a series of progressions and practices that built upon one another. For example, the student might start with gaining enough flexibility to touch their toes. They might then do some summersaults. Then they might progress to a headstand, a handstand on a wall, then a handstand without a support. A good coach does NOT expect perfection right out of the gait.
In the same way, a sustainable nutrition and lifestyle program aims to build practices over a period of time.
For example, you might work on eating enough quality protein (suitable to your tastes and preferences) over a period of 1-2 weeks. Once that practice seems automatic and easy, you move on to another practice such as working on sleep hygiene so you can get good sleep and make better nutrition choices the next day.
As you can see here, this approach does not hold the high expectations as does following a particular rigid meal plan or diet does. It’s less stressful and yields long-term results.
What real guidance looks like
My goal is to walk my patients through making these diet and lifestyle changes, prioritizing the order of practices that will yield the most results, and making sure they stay on track amidst the bombardment of advertisements and health gurus trying to sell them on a particular diet or food plan.
As I learn more about nutrition and biochemistry, I have come to the realization that learning more about how to lead someone to implement the “healthy” practices is much more important for long-term health.
The thing is that pretty much everyone knows that exercise is good for you, sleep is important, and a healthy diet is comprised of whole foods. The problem is that many people have a hard time implementing those habits along with a career, family, meetings, and juggling the multitude of priorities that are inevitably in adulting.
Sure, knowing the latest clinical trials and biochemistry can be useful in giving patients the most up-to-date answers to common questions but how many of them really need to know the trivial details of the latest study? They want results. And that means that I need to help them be consistent, refine food quality, and engage in purposeful movement, sleep, and stress management practices that make everything else more automatic and easier to do.
There will surely be times where a more advanced dietary protocol may be implemented but I foresee this being a short-term approach for the most part.
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The Bottom Line
Let’s face it, when was the last time that “quick and easy” worked? For 99% of you, the answer is “never”.
It’s time to take a more sustainable approach to your nutrition. This entails a stepwise progression of practices that build upon one another that leads to habits that become automatic over a period of time.
I’m confident that this is the answer for those struggling with their weight or not knowing what diet to follow.
I hope you found this information useful and helpful in your journey back to a healthier and happier life.
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