5 Things That Make Calories In vs Calories Out Far More Complicated
“Just eat less and move more, and you’ll lose weight”.
This is offered so often as advice, but if it were so simple, why is there an industry dedicated to helping people transform their bodies? Why would we need personal trainers, online classes and home gyms if it were just as simple as that?
Whilst it is a broadly true statement, it isn’t a helpful statement to make and ignores the world around us and the fact that we are all more than one thing. We’re career people, we’re parents, we’re friends, we’re sons and daughters. Sometimes we feel lazy and other times energetic and it’s not a case of switching it on and off. We have emotions and feelings and these are influenced heavily by things around us.
To bring some context and help to this statement, here are five things you have to bear in mind if you want your fitness journey to become embedded within your life, and not fighting against it.
1. Illnesses and Recovery
We all fall ill from time to time but for some people, chronic illnesses can be a significant barrier to weight loss. This isn’t necessarily because the illness itself will encourage excess eating but rather our body and immune system requires an adequate supply of energy in order to function efficiently. When we’re in a calorie deficit and eating less than usual, we risk depriving our bodies of essential nutrients that would be beneficial at a time of illness.
Our bodies are remarkable in that biological signals will make it clear what we need for the best short term outcome. Quite simply, we’ll begin to feel hungry. During a period of illness, it can sometimes be in your best interests to eat a little more than usual and remain at maintenance or even in a calorie surplus. This will over time lead to weight gain, but it’s a balance between long-term goals and short-term damage control.
The most important thing is to ensure your health is managed. By not listening to your body when you’re not feeling well, you could prolong the illness which isn’t going to help in the long run.
Don’t be worried to take a break from your fitness goals if you need to. You’re human!
2. Genetics - Try to Compare Apples to Apples
Genetics generally won’t stop anybody outright from losing weight, but it’s certainly the case that some people find it much easier than others to move the scale in the right direction. Our genes control every part of how we’re put together and it’s an uphill battle trying to counter this. What we should take from this is that your progress is personal to you and comparing yourself to anybody else just cannot be a fair comparison.
A similar level of time commitment, identical nutrition plan and the same workout schedule will produce entirely different results for any two individuals.
- Don’t expect to see the same results as anybody else as that will only lead to disappointment if you need to work a little harder or wait longer to get where you expected to be.
- You’re unique, and that’s a positive. It means when you get to your goal, you’ll have learned a great deal about your body and what works for you. All that knowledge is what allows you to maintain what you achieved.
3. Work & Career
Our working lives tie up a significant amount of our life and even outside working hours, it’s not uncommon for the stresses associated with work to come home with us. Even the most dedicated of people will come home some nights and against their better judgement, open a bottle of wine to unwind.
It’s no surprise that this isn’t doing us any favours in the ‘calories in vs calories out’ game, but it’s very easy to lose sight of the end goal when you know that goal is months away and you’ve just had one of those days. You’re allowed to look after yourself and if your plan has no wiggle room for slip-ups, it isn’t a good or realistic plan.
Expect that you are going to slip up from time to time, and that’s a natural part of the process.
When you do slip up, put it behind you, and get back on track.
4. Social Life & Friends
Having a social life and pursuing even the most ambitious fitness and weight loss goals are entirely compatible. What isn’t necessarily going to help is if your social life revolves around eating and drinking, which we all know is very common and ingrained in society. Even with the best will in the world, a lot of guesswork has to go into estimating the calories in the food we order at a restaurant and the social pressure to indulge in a dessert can easily add 300 calories to your intake.
It’s not about cutting out the foods you enjoy entirely, but rather dialing down how often you have the ‘naughty’ foods. If you’re going to see some friends that you haven’t been able to catch up with in months, it’s ok to indulge and have a great time. You’d be surprised how much that helps your mind in the long run, which is what any fitness commitment needs to be successful.
Enjoy yourself. If you can achieve your goals in six months and be constantly hungry and disappointed the entire time, or achieve the same in nine months whilst enjoying your experience, what do you think is better for long-term sustainability?
Fitness and exercise should enhance your life. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, but that you feel it’s a part of your life and you want it to be.
5. Mental Health
Mental health and fitness does appear to be a rising topic and receives a lot of attention now whereas in the past it took a back seat. Our minds are complex and in most areas of our lives we’re constantly performing a balancing act of short-term wants vs long-term goals. This is true of our careers, family life and indeed fitness and wellbeing.
For anybody to say that ‘losing weight is easy, just eat less and move more’, requires a complete disregard of the realities of today’s society and that’s why it’s not particularly helpful in the fitness industry that suggestions we should sacrifice our mental health tend to make it to the front in social media platforms.
The way you feel and your long-term motivation depends heavily on your mental wellbeing and it should even be prioritised. This isn’t an excuse to just routinely collapse on the sofa instead of that 30 minute cardio session you promised yourself, but rather something to bear in mind when you’ve had two full weeks of good training and nutrition and a friend invites you out for coffee.
Your mind and body are not separate. If you want to improve one, you can’t leave the other behind.