Trouble losing weight? You might have a caloric handicap.

I recently came across an interesting blog post on NPR called Losing Weight: A Battle Against Fat and Biology.  You should check it out – it brings up an interesting concept called a “caloric handicap” that helps explain why it so hard to lose weight and even harder to keep it off once you do.

Basically, the premise is that your body fights your attempt to lose weight.  Weight loss always comes down to taking in less calories than you expend.  The problem is that once you go into a state of less coming in than going out, your body takes that as a sign that starvation is on the way and starts sending out hormones to not only slow down your metabolism but increase your appetite.  (Unfortunately, these systems developed at a time when starvation was a real possibility – if our early ancestors had fast food drive throughs and 1400 calorie Frappa-lattes, we’d all be better off right now.)

So, to use NPR’s example, a person who weighs 230 pounds and loses 30 pounds cannot eat as much as someone who has always weighed 200 pounds.  The difference in the number of calories that the dieter can eat vs. the number that the naturally thinner person can is that dieter’s caloric handicap – and it can be up to 500 calories a day.

None of this information makes it easier to drop those pounds and keep them off, but at least it lets you know that it isn’t just a matter of will power – so give yourself a break.  The other take home point is that exercise is the key – no matter what type of diet you do, without a good 30-60 minutes of exercise per day, it most likely won’t last. 

So hit the RPAC, park farther away from your building, take the stairs, do whatever you can to burn those calories.  I know it’s a lot easier said than done, but you gotta keep trying.  If you ever need help, come in and talk to our nutritionists – they can give you some great advice.

John A. Vaughn, MD
Student Health Services
The Ohio State University