You just have to love some headlines, eh? Such as this one: Why Some Olympic Athletes Need to Gorge. The answer is obvious, right? They need to eat thousands of calories because they burn thousands of calories. Well, duh.
On the other hand, these athletes are the ultimate example of what I mean when I talk about exercise and nutrition and “healthy” foods vs. “unhealthy” foods. I’ve heard people say nutrition is the primary element to key to weight control. I think that’s too strong of a statement. I think nutrition is the primary element for fundamental health, but weight control is as a subset of that is a different beast.
Nutrition or diet by itself can work, of course. But diet can only do so much in the timeframe people are usually willing to focus on. Without exercise expanding your calorie budget, staying in your calorie box for that long is really, really hard. (This is the operational foundation of the human body that the article is based on–the athletes have not only expanded their budget, but they have no weight to lose, so they MUST eat those calories merely to be able to perform again). I don’t think most people have the kind of self-discipline it takes to make changes based only on diet, but I do think most people can walk for 30 or 60 minutes a day in some way. And then once they get fit, those people can add some intensity and at that point their calorie budget is such that they can get away with eating “some” of the rich foods they crave so much and still lose weight…and then things just get easier.
In addition, I suggest exercise should be the focus of weight loss efforts whenever physically possible because its influence can be considerably greater. By this I mean you can’t affect your daily balance with food beyond your base metabolism rate–you really should not eat any less than your base metabolism rate (let’s say 1500 calories). But you can always decide to prioritize more exercise. It may not fit in your life until you restructure things, but it’s possible to decide to work out for 60 minutes rather than 30. Or two hours rather than one. And hence your calorie budget can be as high as you decide it will be … all the way to the limit that’s shown by these Olympic athletes … all the way to the point where you almost have to heat a ton of bacon and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s every day. Those foods are not unhealthy in context of that life. No food is fundamentally unhealthy.
So, that’s the key.
Weight loss is very hard. But it’s very simple at its root. First, limit calories for a week or three while you move a little–just enough to get fit enough to actually move with some comfort. From that point forward:
- Make sure your diet includes enough nutrition to keep you healthy
- Find a way to exercise for 30-60 minutes (even just low intensity walking works) each day, and a couple times a week add something of intensity
- Feel okay with occasionally treating yourself to your favorite foods as long as they are accompanied by at least some increase in movement (which expands your calorie budget)