Wellness Wednesday – The Problem With Calories

Whether or not it’s an easy thing to do, the generally accepted theory of weight loss is that the calculations are simple: eat less than you burn and you’ll lose. Calories in vs calories out and all that jazz. While actual numbers are disputed, you commonly find the equation of 3500 calories = one pound, so to lose one pound per week, you want a deficit of 500 calories per day. A simple equation that is often difficult to follow through due to many factors (often attributed to personal willpower). Setting aside that the whole willpower argument is complete bunk and that hormones, quality of food, and many other factors will influence how well a person can maintain a deficit, the equation is equally bunk. At least for some of us.

My weight loss journey began in 2009 but didn’t really get started until 2011. Something clicked that year. At first I fumbled around while still managing a little loss, and then I stumbled onto Sparkpeople and calorie ranges. I began counting calories for the first time in my life. (Well, except for counting “points” like on Weight Watchers.) For months, the equations and calculations all worked. I was never a fast loser, but I dropped 4-6 lbs per month for the first 8-9 months of 2011. Then I hit a wall.

Two things happened around that time. One of my stupid feet started acting up constantly, so my body began to deal with injury. I also developed severe insomnia. It’s impossible to say if either of these factors or if something else entirely caused my wall. But all of a sudden, despite continuing with deficits and healthy eating and the same amount/kind of exercise, my weight loss cut in half. My loss slowed to 2-3 lbs per month. (Note that this wasn’t because I’d dropped weight and so my deficits were suddenly less than before. My daily burn had been consistently updated to reflect my new weight.) This slow loss persisted for well over another year and another 40 lbs, until I hit the 100 lbs lost line. Then I hit another wall, and bam, no more weight loss, period.

Some might think that I’d hit my body’s ideal weight, but the truth was, by BMI scales, I was still overweight. Not by much, and I had enough muscle mass that I don’t really think I was overweight. But I still had a good 30% body fat. I was not overly thin. None of that mattered, though. I started tracking data very carefully, and while I was logging a weekly calorie deficit of 2500-4000, I could only maintain. I experimented – maybe I was eating too much and needed a push to get my body going, or maybe I was eating too little. When I ate less for a few weeks in a row, I gained weight. When I ate more for a few weeks, I maintained. My body simply said nope, not going to budge no matter what you do to me!

Fast forward to today. It’s been 3.5 years since back then, and I currently weigh 70 lbs more than I did then. I’m well back into the range of weight where I was losing easily. But my body hasn’t changed the way it reacts to calorie deficits. I’ve been trying to go slow, very very slow, and I’ve kept careful track for the last few months. In October and November, I had a total deficit equaling about 5 lbs of weight loss. You know how much I’ve lost? Nothing. I keep fluctuating within the same three pounds I’ve been at for the last nine months. I’d have to be off in my calculations by 300 calories per day – every day for two months – in order to explain the lack of change, and I know that’s wrong. I’m very, very good at tracking when I actually do it. Obviously, this calories in vs calories out thing just doesn’t work for my body.

So I’m back to the drawing board. I’m taking this data to my doctor (I think next week?) to see what he says. Maybe he can figure out what’s wrong or what needs to change in order to get me to lose. Honestly, I can imagine that there won’t be much – this is how PCOS works. But I’m not willing to give up. I’ll have to find some way to eat better for my body, and feel better when I eat.

About Amanda

Agender empty-nester filling my time with cats, books, fitness, and photography. She/they.
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21 Responses to Wellness Wednesday – The Problem With Calories

  1. I’ve had a lot of struggles with my weight for as long as I can remember! For other medical reasons, I was prescribed a variety of pills that favor weight gain and since then, I’ve been on a losing battle with the scale. I know it can be hard and sometimes discouraging but, as you say, we shouldn’t give up!


    • Amanda says:

      It’s awful when medical reasons cause you to need medications that worsen the weight situation. I know exactly how that is. I regained most of the weight I’d lost because of one particular medication. Sigh.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Michelle says:

    Girl, this has been my issue for the past five years, which also coincided when they upped my anti-depressant dosage. Since then, I am lucky to lose one pound a month – and that is only if I am very, very careful and diligent. The effort exerted is not worth the results. I have not talked about this to my doctor because I know I would hear the “you need to exercise more” chant or the suggestion that I go off the meds. Neither one are viable options for me right now, so now I am at my heaviest and don’t really know what to do other than accept my body for what it is.


  3. Alexx's Keto Avenue says:

    Great post. Does intermittent fasting work for you? I only ask because I do it and it seems to help when I can’t lose.


    • Amanda says:

      Unfortunately, I have PCOS, which means that while my glucose and A1C measurements are normal, I have really high insulin (insulin resistance is pretty normal for PCOS). If I do intermittent fasting, I end up messing with my blood sugar and causing a lot of problems, making the situation worse. PCOS makes the whole process so much more difficult!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Alexx's Keto Avenue says:

    Wow, you’re super strong to be able to deal with that. I didn’t realize that fasting had that type of effect with PCOS. Maybe everyone is different? They actually recommended it for my aunt so I thought it was safe.


    • Amanda says:

      I think that’s what makes PCOS such a difficult disorder to deal with – the symptoms manifest differently in each person. I have two sisters, both also with PCOS. One of them has severe insulin resistance despite being built tiny (under 100 lbs), the other has no insulin resistance but struggles with fertility issues. It’s a mess. I’ve been working with doctors for a couple years now to try to improve the situation, and so far nothing has helped.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Alexx's Keto Avenue says:

        That’s really amazing however that you haven’t given up and that you are willing to do whatever you need to in order live the life you wish to live! Please if there’s anything I can do to help or support you don’t hesitate to ask! I’m sorry to keep this going but I was wondering if PCOS is almost always hereditary or no? By the way, thank you for being so open and sharing! I will certainly be following you and looking forward to more great posts!


      • Amanda says:

        I don’t mind the questions – I try to be open here, because the more people who know about these kinds of things, the more attention we can call to science that’s falling through the cracks. PCOS is one of those places. Take your question about genetics. Despite about 10% of the female population having this disorder, they don’t even know what causes it. They think there COULD be a genetic component, but no one is sure. Certainly the example of my sisters and me is a good one, but even then, it’s hard to tell if this is because we’re related or because we all grew up on the same 1980s low-fat, high-carb, small-portion diets that tend to create longterm insulin issues. Since insulin interacts with various hormones – particularly estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone – it’s hard to tell if an imbalance in one is causing the imbalances in the other, or vice versa. In the two years since I was diagnosed, they’ve tried treating my insulin issues with Metformin (no change) and treating my low progesterone levels with different kinds of natural and synthetic progesterone (which both made things worse). The only thing that I’ve found to help is a paleo-ish diet, but that’s hard to maintain longterm due to other issues I have (like a high blood-iron disorder). Ironically, other than my weight and insulin (and insomnia issues), I’m in excellent health – perfect blood pressure, good cholesterol, and as fit and athletic as one can be at my size. It’s just all so frustrating.


  5. Kristen M. says:

    The most frustrating thing about weight loss is that we are all individuals, isn’t it? We can plug whatever numbers we have into the little calculators and apps but, ultimately, they are probably only ever accurate for a small handful of people and, for everyone else, it varies from close to not at all what you need. Keep working on it, science!


  6. Word Lily says:

    There are sources that have been saying, for at least a couple years, that the ‘calories in, calories out’ approach doesn’t work. Here’s one: http://library.crossfit.com/free/pdf/CFJ_2015_09_Calories_Cecil.pdf

    And another: http://healthyenough.net/calorie-counting/


  7. Word Lily says:

    My more substantive comment is held up in moderation because I put two links in it. :-/


  8. Pingback: WW: The Case Against Sugar, by Gary Taubes (audio) | The Zen Leaf

  9. theflogjournal says:

    I know your story all too well! Check out my site and social media 🙂 Much love for health! We should all be in this together!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Pingback: Wellness Wednesday – Do Calories Mean Something Now? | The Zen Leaf

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