Happy New Year!
It’s that time of year when, again, so many of us promise that we’re going to shed excess weight by eating righter or better or less – nah, nobody actually commits to the latter – and exercise more.
As a gym owner, you might think I would be one of those who’d be happy about all the new clients and customers making said resolutions and engaging my services to help them accomplish their renewed weight loss goal. Alas, STEPS Fitness has never seen that new year bump in business, and maybe it’s because people have learned that short term resolutions are not the answer to long term physics, as I wrote about here.
You know, Isaac Newton’s 3 laws of thermodynamics as you learned in high school physics class. The first and most relevant is the law of conservation of energy: that is, energy cannot be created nor destroyed in a closed system, like your body. In other words, if you consume more energy, your body will either use it for movement or store it for future purposes…as fat.
The next two laws of thermodynamics are more complex than any discussion of calories, exercise and weight management allows, though they are relevant. So I’ll skip to Newton’s other laws.
These are the 3 laws of motion, the first of which is that an object will stay at rest or in motion until acted upon by a force that makes it move. (For you science geeks, this is an over-simplification to help folks understand how physics applies to weight management.)
Think of it this way: if you are sitting around a lot watching TV or playing computer games, you are not going to move unless something, some force, acts upon you and changes your state of sedentariness – like having to go to the bathroom or needing to get another beer from the frig.
Another way to look at this is that your weight is going to stay the same or go higher so long as your activity levels stay the same or go downward.
Which brings up the third law of motion: for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction. This means that if you eat more than your body needs to function, it will apply those extra calories toward non-functional systems or processes – like fat storage. Of course, it could also mean that if you eat and make your body use those calories via movement or exercise, you’ll get an opposite reaction – you’ll actually lose weight and build mechanisms and systems to better use those calories.
What prompted this exposition of scientific gobbledygook is an article a friend sent me from Mother Jones magazine. It proposes that some people become obese because of a viral infection they got way back when. Along with similar tales of microbiome distortion from a typical American processed-food diet, this and other scientific findings as to why some people are overweight and/or have a hard time losing weight are intriguing…at most.
You see, when I read stuff like this, I wince. Not because there’s no reason to believe such a virus or whatever may correlate with excess fatness but because, as the end of the article affirms, it validates what physics has demonstrated time and again: losing weight comes down to eating less and moving more. I have written many blogs on weight management that basically boil down to this same model, here, here and here.
Every diet and every weight loss program simply tries to manage the appetite surges people feel that undermine their efforts, called willpower, to control intake. Then they all offer advice on adding movement, oft to no avail since few people even in our gym-centric, exercise-video laden society actually take the time let alone the energy to do as much movement as needed to actually lose weight.
It’s like that great Youtube video of the trainer with his friend running on a treadmill up a grade whilst he eats pizza: you can’t run off the food we tend to eat. Unfortunately, I can’t find it. But I did find this that will give you some idea as to how hard it is to run off excess calories.
My point is, despite what genetic, biochemical, hormonal or immunological events that contribute to weight gain may exist, there still has to be more calories consumed than used for you to add weight.
And while some folks will always have a difficult time regulating weight according to what medical let alone social standards suggest, if weight loss is the agenda, it will require some more or less strict monitoring of food intake and regimented physical activity to lose it. That’s just physics.
Now maybe 3 times as many overweight people have this viral infection as mentioned in the article in Mother Jones. But I’d bet that there are other lifestyle variables that differentiate those who are obese from those who are not and that those tend to be more controlled diets and/or more active lifestyles.
And good genes.