If you struggle with your weight and someone (for god sakes I hope it’s not a trainer) says to you, ‘It’s simple, just eat less and move more’ tell them to fuck right off…for a few reasons…
One being that if it was that simple, everyone would be lean and my line of work wouldn’t exist. Two, I can almost bet with absolute certainty that the person that just dropped that ‘eat less move more’ pearl of wisdom on you (that I’m sure you’ve never, ever heard before) has NEVER dealt with weight issues themselves. Third being…
The ‘eat less move more’ adage is diametrically opposed to the way our physiology is set up. We’re wired to ‘EAT MORE AND MOVE LESS’ because if we didn’t have this inclination none of us would be here today…it’s a SURVIVAL mechanism. It’s not that you’re a lazy pig who loves food too much, it’s that food has been scarce for thousands of years and we have an internal ‘make up’ that’s kept us alive given the food environment we’re accustomed to!
Optimal foraging theory explains this concept really nicely:
-Calories yielded minus calories burned, divided by time. Meaning, we want to get as many calories in us as possible, while burning the least amount of energy finding it, as quickly as we possibly can!
For example: Marcus the hunter gatherer and his family have barely eaten in three days because he forgot to hit the grocery store and his fridge is completely empty…nahhh just playing, it’s because he’s been out hunting but has only yielded one small rabbit and two little potatoes for a family of four…not nearly enough calories to sustain their survival over time.
Now Marcus is aware that there is a luscious little vegetable field 5 km away but as we all know vegetables don’t yield very many calories, so walking 5 km there, picking the vegg and then walking back with as much as he can hold isn’t going to be worth it from a caloric density standpoint. Why…because he’s going to burn more calories getting those vegetables than they will provide…not a smart business transaction!
So he decides to stay closer to home and track a little bison herd that will yield a TON of calories if he can manage to get one. All that protein, fat, bone and cartilage will provide so much more energy for him and his family than low calorie veggies will. A few hours later, Marcus returns with his prey and a serious jackpot survival wise. The bison is going to yield A LOT more calories for Marcus and his family than he burned tracking and killing it, that’s a net survival positive!
Unlike Marcus and his hunter gatherer fam jam ages ago, we have a ridiculous abundance of food around all the time nowadays…the only kicker is that our wiring is the same and ‘optimal foraging theory’ still applies! We’re set up to consume as many calories as we can, while expending the least amount of energy getting it, in the least amount of time possible. Now I’m sure it’s becoming more and more clear to you why we’re running into large scale obesity issues.
We now have the ability to work from the couch at home on our computers and order food to our doors without even leaving the house…how’s that for minimal calories burned, a huge amount of calories yielded and in a ridiculously short amount of time! I understand that this is an extreme example and isn’t necessarily the everyday norm, however given the way our society and food culture is organized we’re all susceptible to this given our tendencies!
Hunter gatherer communities have been studied extensively and single individuals have been known to consume:
-Up to 5 pounds of meat in a sitting
-30 oranges that are current ‘grocery store size’ back to back
-Literally drink honey by the LITRE
You might be thinking for one, that’s gross…and two how are they not obese!? These calories provide them with the nutrition they NEED because they have to ‘get it while it’s hot’ in a sense. They may not come across much food for the next few days or even weeks so a huge excess of food is beneficial for them so they don’t starve! Additionally, they have much higher energy expenditures because they’re on their feet a ton more than we are…the Sidhu’s didn’t have access to modern day food storage technologies like fridges and freezers to keep food fresh for long periods of time so it was a daily dealio hunting and gathering. Also meal prep methods were done the old fashioned way, from start to finish…
Want a coconut? Go find one, climb the tree, crack that baby open and then enjoy.
A handful of nuts? Track down some peanuts and crack those suckers ONE by ONE…oh and these ones don’t come with added salt ;) Simply accessing food alone (or coming up dry) on a daily basis was a huge source of energy expenditure!
Animal protein? Go kill a furry beast, completely prep it for cooking, build a fire…you see where I’m going with this.
If you look at any other animal in nature they live by this same optimal foraging theory principal. A lion for example doesn’t hunt down its prey, eat it and then think ‘Now I’ve gotta burn 5000 calories after that furry binge I just indulged in.’ Instead it finds a shady tree and takes a nap…
So given this framework that’s been with us for thousands of years it’s not surprising that you may find it difficult to manage your weight…no need for guilt or shame, however at the same time it’s not an excuse to say fuck it and give up…so what CAN we do?
1. Food environment – keep what you want to eat around and get rid of everything else. It’s far too easy to crush the Oreos in the pantry if they’re 20 steps away…Oreos are super calorie dense and they’re going to yield a shit ton more calories than those 20 steps will burn…also it’s not a matter of IF you’ll eat funky foods that are around, it’s a matter of WHEN.
2. Favour whole foods – single/minimal ingredient whole foods are not only going to be a lot more nutrient dense but they’re going to leave you much more satiated per unit calorie than modern day refined foods. 300 calories from a baked white potato with a dab of butter is going to fill you up WAY more than 300 calories of salt and vinegar potato chips. Building on the point above, get all the refined foods out of your house and replace them with single/minimal ingredient ones that ya cook yourself. You WILL lose or gain weight as a by-product of your food environment!
Some of you keen folks might be saying “well that’s contradictory because meat is a single ingredient food and so are oranges and honey.” You’re right, but just try and eat 30 oranges back to back or drink that much honey...if you can do it I’ll eat crow. The reason we want to emphasize these foods is that they’re ‘aligned’ with our satiation signals meaning they let us know when we’re full…junk foods do the opposite; they’re designed to make us overeat by design.
3. Move – our society nowadays is set up to ‘outsource’ movement that our physiology has been accustomed to for ages. For example, planes, cars, elevators, escalators and even furniture are relatively new technologies…what the hell did we do before couches!? We need to set up systems and go out of our way to move or else we’re susceptible to all sorts of ailments. Walk to the grocery store, bank, or a friend’s house and aim for 8-10,000 steps daily. Find a sport you really enjoy playing, lift some weights if you like that sort of challenge, dance to tunes in your living room or even swim if it floats your boat ;) If ya don’t use it, you will in fact lose it!
As you can see the ‘eat more move less’ saying is true in a sense, however it’s just not helpful…it goes contrary to our evolutionary process. Implement the above tactics and I promise you you’ll feel, look and perform better…but I’m not going to lie, it’s going to take some additional awareness and effort. 200 million years of evolution doesn’t unravel itself quickly!!
Lastly, ditch the guilt...feeling guilty for wanting to eat all the ice cream is like feeling guilty for being human, it’s the way we’re wired.
Check out Robb Wolf’s book ‘Wired to Eat’ if you’d like to learn more about this stuff. Stephan Guyenet’s book ‘The Hungry Brain’ is also an amazing resource around this topic and dives into more of the science in a super accessible way. I originally learned the above concepts from these two geniuses and they do a much better job of explaining it in a ton more detail than I did here!
If books aren’t really your jam and you just wanna ask me questions personally, please do and if you’re reading this…thanks for making sticking with me!!