I unhappily report that I am right about obesity and diet (Very long)

Trust me, I wanted and want VERY much to be wrong, but I have, depressingly, proved that I’m right.

These boards brim with threads about obesity and diet and what works and what doesn’t, and almost without exception these threads feature some contingent of people sneering and judging and insisting that all obese people “stuff their faces” and if they just stopped being such pigs they’d lose weight, alongside another contingent of fat people describing how they try, they can’t, it doesn’t work, they have genetic and metabolic issues… on and on and on. I’d venture to say that there are at least a hundred threads that include some of this.

And probably every thread that ever talked about diet is filled with people saying “it’s just calories in vs. calories out, it’s just that simple!” and in the purest possible sense, they are right: if you subtract enough calories over a long enough period of time, virtually every human being will lose weight.

But the question, the argument, and of course, the sneering ensues when we start talking details: how much are the fat people eating? How much less should they eat to lose? What about to maintain that loss?

And of course there’s almost always someone telling fat people who claim they don’t eat that much that if they aren’t knowingly lying to everyone else, they must be lying to themselves. And I dont’ doubt for a second that that is very frequently true.

I used to be a serious compulsive overeater, from my childhood through my mid-thirties. I’m 5’8", and my top weight prior to age 40 was 250 pounds, but over most of those years I was around 220. I looked very good at 165, and could fit in what was then, many years ago, a size 10. And through the years that I was traveling up and down between 170 and 250, I was alternately binging compulsively on a lot of food, and then dieting intensely to lose.

The serious compulsiveness has been almost entirely shed over the last 20 years or so, (really only popping up when I smoke a lot of pot, which happens about once a year: I totally remember what it used to be like, that real inability to stop myself and total obsession with food.) During that same period of pretty normal eating my weight crept up. In the early part of the century I hit a max of about 340. That was pretty miserable, and mostly a result of quitting smoking and spending a long time eating sunflower seeds as compensation, combined with a general lack of concern about controlling what else I ate - but not compulsive facestuffing.

Through various changes in my life, I got down to about 270 a few years ago. But then I didn’t monitor or restrain myself eating wise, I just ate exactly what I wanted, which included very self-indulgent food choices, doing all my eating at night, and making zero effort to curb anything: if I buttered my bread, I used exactly the amount of butter I genuinely wanted. And over four years, ages 48 to 52, I gained 30 pounds.

So about a month ago I realized I jsut wasn’t comfortable anymore and I wanted to lose just 10% of my body weight. Maybe more after that, but that was my only goal. They say that even that much makes a big difference to your health and the way you feel.

And I’m doing this for me, not anyone else. My knees are screaming, I have no energy, I know I can’t stay like this and count on a healthy life of a lot more length. So I have no reason or desire to do anything other than succeed, and bullshitting myself just wastes time - something I want more of and bullshitting myself doesn’t help with that.

Therefore I committed to being absolutely rigorous in faithfully and accurately recording every swallow of food and drink so I could really know what was working and what wasn’t, where I failed where I succeeded. I used the tools available to determine what my caloric goals “should” be (see next) and I’ve recorded every swig of juice, every nibbled nut. I’ve weighed and measured everything so that I would have a true accounting of what I was doing: eating nuts and seeds in the shell slows the consumption, so I’d grab a handful, weigh them, eat them and weigh the shells to get the true weight of the nuts consumed. I have been completely honest and careful with myself, not fudging a thing.

According to several different tools, ***to lose the widely recommended MAX of 2 pounds ***weekly, I should eat no more than 1,437 (webMD) 1,445 (livestrong.com) - 1,679 calories (1.5 pound loss weekly, per caloriecount.about) 1615 (mynetdiary.com, the tool I finally settled on) daily. This is an average of 1544 and all the calculations were based on age, height, sex, and an activity level described as “sedentary”.
Well, I am here to tell you that when you see my obese ass walking down the street and you are absolutely sure that I sit up nights stuffing my face with Cheetos and ice cream, think again. Because to my everlasting dismay, I now know for sure that in order to stay exactly as fat as I am right now, I only have to consume as little as 1,388 calories per day, which is 156 fewer than the average they say should result in a loss of 2 pounds per week.

The average suggested by the same tools for maintaining my weight is around 2450, making the reality 56% of the prediction. Assuming the ratio holds, it appears a 2 pound per week loss would only be possible if I reduced my calories to about 860 daily, almost a third below the number considered safe.

And how do you suppose that will operate on my metabolism?

For the record, this is what an 860 calorie day would look like for me:

Coffee with milk
1 banana
1 cup low fat cottage cheese
3 oz of turkey
6 oz broccoli
3 oz chicken with a light cornstarch dusting, sauteed in a tablespoon of olive oil
2 slices of bran bread.

And that’s it for the whole day, no additional dressings, flavorings, sides, beverages…that’s all of it.

If I am ok with losing less, I could add up to another 200-400 calories: a few more ounces of turkey, an apple, maybe a little mayo on the bread to make a sandwich.

And of course, this is entirely possible to do. But for how long, and how completely food-obsessed is one likely to become when restricted to this extent over long periods of time?

And yes, exercise can and should be added…which studies have repeatedly proved does not actually boost calorie use by that much AND is certain to increase the hunger and appetite, making it likely that any gains in calories used will be lost in calories consumed.

But again: CAN be done. And again… almost no one has ever claimed it was genuinely not physically possible to do. But just because something is technically possible doesn’t mean it’s simple, or easy, or even not-that-hard. Something which is technically possible can be insanely difficult, agonizingly so. And while almost anything is possible over short periods of time, sustaining it over long periods, over one’s entire life, really, is something else altogether.


So don’t mistake me: I’m not saying I’m special, I have a glandular problem or anything else. Quite the reverse. I’m saying I don’t. I’m saying what I’ve always said, what I knew was true, and what I now know for sure is true: being obese, and dieting, in and of itself lowers the metabolism, making it harder and harder and harder to lose weight and keep it off, and that decades into the cycle the degree of control and management required to attain anything close to a healthy weight and maintain it is a much, much, much higher bar than simply cutting out the face stuffing - exponentially more difficult for someone like me than someone like, say, a man or women who was a healthy weight throughout their childhood and young adulthood, and just found the weight creeping up in middle age until they woke up one day and needed to lose 50 pounds. If that kind of person pays attention and applies themselves. the degree of deprivation and control is going to be much less severe and much more attainable.
Which is all to say this: weight loss and weight maintenance is NOT the same for all people, and in fact, the fatter someone is, the longer they’ve been fat, the less likely it is that what it takes for them to lose weight and keep it off looks anything remotely like what it is for you or people you know who have battled occasional pudge, babyweight, or middle age spread. So until you really have walked a few hundred miles in their shoes, you are not in any position to know or judge what their failure really is: a failure to control gross overindulgence, or a failure to consistently restrict consumption to a bare subsistence level, or something in between.

So those who are absolutely sure that people fighting obesity are deluding themselves about what they eat, are lying to others, and that they must be eating unreasonable amounts of food in order to be so fat: You are wrong. Not always, but a lot more than you are probably willing to believe. And since you don’t know when you’re right or wrong, maybe you should just embrace a little more compassion and a little less judgment across the board.
As for me, I’m going to keep plugging away and recording and tweaking and adjusting, and I’m definitely going to apply myself to weightlifting and other exercise to try to boost my basal metabolic rate. Because I will find the point that works and I want the benefits of even a small loss. But it’s hard, very hard. Always hard. A hundred times harder for me than for most people. So if I succeed even a little, that’s a good thing. And if I don’t completely transform into a relatively normal weight person, that’s not a terrible thing I should feel shame about. (In fact, ftr, I don’t even want to; I’ve been so fat for so long the skin issue if I lost all the weight would be intolerable without surgery, something I wouldn’t do even if I could afford it. So the best case scenario for me would be to get as fit as I can and hope I can still look and feel pretty decent at 225 or so.)

And Finally, My Theory About Why So Many are So Obese Now:
It’s multiple factors, the most obvious being the fast-food junky eating lifestyle, the lack of activity, the huge portions.

But during the same period that we’ve all gotten so much fatter something else has also happened: our cultural standards for what constitutes beauty and a healthy weight have not only become incredibly stringent, they are imposed earlier and earlier in life.

So, where I was pretty unusual among my peers 30-40 years ago, little mes are being created all the time now: instead of emotional compulsive eating,it’s normal to eat the Big Gulp and your half-pound muffin… and unless you can proudly walk down mainstreet in a string bikini, your washboard abs rippling in the light, you’re fat, so when you aren’t stuffing yourself with Big Macs, you need to starve yourself.

And the ping-ponging is doing to others what it did to me: making people MUCH fatter than they would have been otherwise, because every diet that starves them lowers the metabolism, so when they go back to “normal” eating they are more efficient than ever at storing every calorie, making them fatter, more miserable, more likely to hate themselves and try to starve…which is too hard and collapses into binging, and on and on… until you have an insanely high number of people who are 200, 300, 400 pounds by the time they are 40 who, in order to lose weight, HAVE to nearly starve and continue to semi-starve NOT to be so fat.

And since that’s insanely difficult for most normal human beings, we just cut up and rewire their internal organs instead.

How long has this 1544 calorie experiment been going on? (you said you decided to lose weight about a month ago, but I missed it if you explained how long you implemented the plan) Every time I’ve dieted, it’s taken at least two weeks before I’ve seen the scale move at all which is pretty discouraging.

Gary Taubes’ new book “Why We Get Fat - And What To do About It” is out now. His first book, “Good Calories, Bad Calories”, was remarkable.

This is a heartfelt ad no doubt difficult post, and I really do appreciate you making it.

That said, portion control is a harsh mistress. The raw truth is that you really don’t “get” a lot of food a day. I’m 5’6" and 120 lbs. I don’t watch my weight, but I do pay attention to what I am eating and shoot for around 1300 calories Today I had

A small bowl of unsweetened oatmeal with blueberries
A banana
A piece of beef the size of a deck of cards and a bunch of broccoli (my big meal)
A 1/2 bag light microwave popcorn
An orange
A veggie salad with a ping pong ball sized scoop of chicken salad with a tablespoon of dressing
Two small pieces of chocolate

Really not too far off from your 840 calorie diet. It’s totally doable, but your right that it doesn’t leave much room for extras or much enjoyment. The unfortunately truth is that a “normal” day’s food doesn’t really amount to much.

I highly recommend The South Beach Diet, which is more of a plan for addressing metabolism than an actual diet. My doctor practically begged me to read it, appealing to my intellect and our shared interest in the science of the thing. If I’m understanding the blurbs I just scanned about the Taubes book referenced upthread, it’s a very similar idea - basically the most important thing to know about what you’re eating is the carbohydrate content or glycemic index. You want to re-train your body to prevent insulin spikes and must avoid carbs to do so. (South Beach allows limited re-introduction of certain carbs after a couple of weeks; I don’t know about the Taubes book).

I can attest to the efficacy of the South Beach plan myself; after finally reading the book (which is not very long at all, especially if you skip the end-of-chapter “success stories”) and paying more attention to what and when I was eating, I’ve lost weight over a couple of months and am on my way to losing more. Though I do agree the hardest thing about it all is portion control. Even when eating healthier foods, it’s important not to each too much. (South Beach does not emphasize calorie-counting, but does stress portion control).

Good luck with your plan.

And no, I’m not hungry all the time (though sometimes I do let myself get mildly hungry- if my stomach growls at night, it won’t kill me to wait until breakfast) or in any way obsessed with food. I’ve incorporated some small tricks into my life (eat off salad plates, eat individual portions of snack food and put the rest away, never snack while doing something else) but mostly it becomes habit to intuitively understand that a big lunch means a small dinner, or that a snack in the AM means no snack in the PM. I don’t think about it much, but the awareness is there. I guess it’s like someone who isn’t on a budget but also doesn’t have infinite resources- you keep a eye on how much you are spending and adjust things accordingly.

I’m the reverse of you - my whole life long, every time I decided to get serious, I’d drop very fast immediately, then level off. It was always referred to as “water weight”.

When I was all of about 190 pounds in high school and I joined weight watchers I dropped eleven pounds in 7 days!

Among the many reasons is because I WAS compulsively overeating virtually all the time back then; I was, in a manner of speaking, working very hard to be fat, so any brakes at all were going to immediately produce results.

Now, I don’t work so very hard to be fat to begin with, so pulling back isn’t a big change, so my body isn’t saying “whew! Now that we aren’t being asked to process 5,000 calories a day dropping weight is a breeze!”

I actually intended originally not to restrict myself at all, and just to record what I was eating, but I found that very hard to do- the very fact that I was making it a point to record it just made me be a little more judicious. But I bring it up to say that I know better than ever that no, I haven’t been crazy out of control… because it’s clear how little it takes for me to gain weight. An extra few hundred calories over maintenance is nothing at these levels, and that’s all I need to add an easy 30 pounds in a year, forget 3 years.

But the thing I didn’t even get into was the relative “issues with food”. In your world, you are just “shooting for” 1300 a day, and you have a rhythm. It’s not as thrilling as you’d like, but you don’t express any deep distress or discomfort with it.

And that’s not true for me and a lot of people with food and weight issues. While I don’t compulsively overeat anymore, I’m not casual about my attachment to food, either. Food and the pleasure it gives me are very important to me. And when I am being indifferent to the effect on my weight, it is an important, but not obsessive part of my life. I look forward to a yummy dinner, a satisfying dessert (and severe portion control can, in many circumstances, make eating just a little worse than going without altogether!) without being obsessive. I can and I am relatively sane about it.

But if I have to severely restrict? THAT makes me obsessive and makes my eating completely disordered psychologically if not practically, and that’s essentially what becomes required: sign up for the mental processes of an anorexic: constant calorie counting, exercise, recording, measuring, dreaming about the foods you can’t have… it turns food from a big but relatively managable part of my life to an overwhelming “thing” that permeates every minute of the day.

It’s a bitch.

Thanks. I’m hip to South beach, the glycemic index, Atkins… I incorporate it into my choices as much as possible. I can actually be kinda happy on an all-out high protein regiment like Atkins, and in the past it worked for me.

But it tires my palate… I like variety. I love meat and fat, LOVE it. But after I’ve had a nice meal of “fatty meat” I LOVE something sweet. And while I am a fan of fruit, fruity sweet isn’t quite the same as sweet-sweet. So I struggle a lot with that.

My food issues would be so much easier if I wasn’t a borderline “supertaster”- I could do a lot more replacing and be happy with it. But as it is, eating fake things (sweeteners, fats) just makes me even more uncomfortable than eating less of the good stuff.

Hey, speaking of replacing, one of my favorite foods on earth is simple fresh ground beef. Love it. Love a burger, a taco, meatloaf, meatballs… I recall once trying a meat extender that was really pretty good, as long as it was kept under a certain ratio. It was made from soy, I think, and was sold dry. This was a long time ago… does anyone know of anything available these days?

That’s quite a post Stoid and well done. I’m one of the guys who contributes to various weightloss threads from time to time and hopefully I don’t sneer at anyone or do anything but provide encouragement and some honest (and I hope, useful) advice.

Like elfkin477 asked, how long have you been sticking with your current method? I ask because for most of us it didn’t take 6 months or even a year to put on the extra pounds and so it may well take just as long to make it go away. It is not easy to make big changes in what and how much you eat as well as how active you are and then stick with it for months or years. These are permanent lifestyle changes.

I’m one of those who took off 40+ lbs and has kept it off for many years (Weight Watchers, in my case). I’ll say it was “middle age spread”. I also know plenty of people who have lost 50-100(+)lbs and likewise kept it off for years. It takes a lot of time (whenever someone gets bummed because they “only lost a half a pound” in a week or whatever I remind them that that’s 26lbs per year, think long-term) and there’s ups and downs - I step on a scale every morning and even if I think I did everything exactly the same from day to day, my weight still varies within a few pounds +/- every morning.

Anyhow, none of the folks that I know who lost large amounts of weight did anything other than what you’d expect - they began to eat healthier, they watched how much they ate and they got more active (which is a positive feedback cycle, being active helps you lose weight which makes being more active easier). They also viewed it as a very long-term project (frankly, the rest of their life) and they’re very doggedly determined and ride out the inevitable ups and downs.

Good luck!

Honestly, I don’t see a whole lot of mean-spirited sneering in those threads. There are people who will argue vociferiously with folks who say “Exercise doesn’t work!” or “Dietary changes don’t work!” or “Losing weight is complicated!” They might even get frustrated at the arguments that people put forth to defend those statements. Several will get frustrated at the reasons that people give for not exercising. Most of them don’t sneer though, and people generally agree that losing weight can be difficult indeed, even though the principles are simple.

I’ve been on both sides – on the side of the overweight, and on the side of the physically fit. I’ve seen the mistakes I’ve made, and I’ve seen the excuses that I gave. For this reason, I’ve learned not to get upset when people emphasize that the principles of weight loss are simple, even though the psychological struggle can be difficult. It’s largely a matter of adopting the right mindset.

I’ve been tracking my eating for a little less than a month. My calorie intake has been between 1350 and 1700, average 1388.

I actually lost 2.5 pounds (or appeared to lose - I have a doctor’s scale that’s pretty precise but I know from years of experience that my weight can fluctuate in a 24 hour period as much as four pounds) Then I gained it back. So basically over the past month I’ve maintained on 1388 calories daily.

If you have a 4 pound margin of error, maybe you need a larger sample before coming to a conclusion.


Using Livestrong, I’m eating about the same as you quote there, actually a bit less.

I’m dropping about a pound a week, with calorie restriction and exercise, at 1444 cals per day, currently, scaling it back as I lose weight.

So my experience says you’re wrong. And it’s been my experience now for about a year and a half.

So I call BS, sorry.

It’s not the pounds, it’s the time. I know how my body works, and the fact that I can appear to gain or lose a couple pounds overnight doesn’t mean I’ve actually lost six or eight and my body just failed to register it yet, that’s not how the big (occasional) swings work, they are just one or two day blips that resolve to reality within another day or two.

It is what it is, what I’ve known for along time: my metabolism is awesome.

Unfortunately I’m not living on the savannah.:frowning:

I don’t know what you are calling BS on, do you? My point was not “no one can lose weight eating more than 1388 calories.” - and that is the only thing your experience would prove to be an untrue statement or assertion. I would never make such an assertion, since I have in my own time on earth lost weight eating a much higher calorie count than that, even double, when I was on Atkins (and decades younger and thinner and more fit in general.)

How old are you, how fat are you, how many years have you been how fat, what is your sex, how many times have you dieted and how much did you lose and regain each time… and how does your current reality differ from your prior? All those things are pertinent to any disagreement with my point, and even if your personal reality matched mine in every detail except your success with 1444 daily resulting in 1 pound a week lost, it still wouldn’t disprove my point: it takes a whole lot less food and fewer calories than most people would dream to maintain morbid obesity.

Since you are only losing a pound a week on 1444 calories, a few hundred more would have you gaining, and I don’t think anyone could call a steady diet of 1800 or 2000 or even 2500 calories a day anything like being a pig. While it is in fact “overeating” if it leads to weight gain, it’s not the sort of stuffing one’s face that so many assume the morbidly obese must be guilty of in order to be morbidly obese.

Stoid, have you considered seeing a registered dietician/nutritionist? When I decided to lose the weight I immediately went the 1200 calories a day route for a couple of weeks before seeing the nutritionist. When I told her at may appointment how I had changed my diet, she immediately told me I was doing it wrong; that I was eating half of what I should be for my size and age. It might be worth your while to see a professional, at least to verify that you are in fact “doing it right.”

In addition to the weight loss efforts I’m making (via SparkPeople), I bought smaller dishes to help “reset” my idea of what is an appropriate portion size. I highly, highly recommend the science-filled but very readable book Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink. It cites a lot of careful research that shows all the things that cue us to eat more - or less - and also feel more or less hungry, and how even people who understand these effects get taken in by these eating cues every time.

I love food. I understand, it sucks.

Oh, and I think you’re thinking of TVP, textured vegetable protein. It’s sold as dry bits or in reconstituted packs. There were some links to it in a recent CS thread about Taco Bell’s taco meat, when the discussion seemed to be considering whether soy fillers were part of the mix.

I suggest moving the goalposts. You’re obsessing on weight, but the ability to gain or lose weight is in direct proportion to things that are different in lots of people.

Your problem is partially pain produced in carrying around that extra weight. It’s been said that excercise is counter productive to losing weight because people will typically eat MORE because they exercised, but if you’re looking at your caloric intake the way you are, you might also benefit from light to moderate exercise. More muscle builds more basal metabolic rate, but it also feels better…it is also something to do.

I’ve found several times when I’ve come home from work absolutely famished, that 20 minutes of exercise not only takes care of that desire, it also consumes 20 minutes of time where you’re not thinking about not eating.

People are different, and what works for a 115 Asian won’t work for a 375 Samoan. If the goal is to fit into skinny jeans, them perhaps the goal should be ‘get to the point where my knees don’t hurt’ or ‘get to the point where a flight of stairs has me looking for the NEXT flight of stairs to climb’

Damn…I REALLY need to go get on that elliptical. :confused:


I think you’re getting too bogged down by the numbers. Forget the precise number of calories vs. precise amount of weight loss. Fact is, you can lose weight. And you do it by eating less. If you’re not losing weight, it simply means you have to eat less than whatever you’re eating now.