Stop Being Lazy: "Eat Less and Move More"
You Don't Know What You Don't Know
“Weight loss is simple - all you need to do is eat less and move more.”
I hear this often, as I am sure many people do.
As someone who spent four years studying exercise science and human nutrition, and having now worked with body composition clients for the past 2.5 years, I believe there is more to successful body composition changes than just eating less and moving more (ELMM). However, if you wanted to boil it down to the most simple equation that would suit the majority of people, it would look something like ELMM.
So when someone tells me that at a BBQ that weight loss is easy, just ELMM, I am not going to argue with them. Whilst I may not agree, the last thing I am interested in is complaining about 'how complex' weight loss is or how hard this industry is.
Besides, no one wants to be the person who has to top every story shared, no matter how good or bad, to bring it back to them. In the end, we overestimate the difficulty of our own tasks and underestimate those of others.
Come to think of it, I do the same thing and simplify many other industries that I do not understand.
Don’t Electrician’s just connect wires?
Don’t CEO’s just tell people what to do?
Don’t Rocket Scientists just put all the pieces together and hit the lift-off button?
I tend to think could do that stuff. And if I could not right now, I am sure there is a YouTube video that can get me there...
There's a great image (below) from a Forbes article that outlines the "willingness to opine" that is associated with the minor knowledge of a subject. When we know a little bit, we think we have it figured out. But when we learn some more, we realise how little we acutally now.
When you do not know, it is easy to simplify the points that we do understand and exaggerate their importance. This does not mean we are dumb or ignorant, but our confidence or assurance does not equate to fact.
For example, I have been driving a car incident-free for almost ten years. I use the accelerator, brake, clutch (previously) and steering wheel to get from A to B with an incredibly high success rate. However, the day that car will not start - or when I drop a five-cent coin behind the automatic hand-brake button that jams it - I am useless, because it is beyond my scope knowledge.
There is a great quote from Commander Chris Hadfield, who was in charge of the International Space Station, in space.
"It's a lot easier to believe than it is to understand."
- Chris Hadfield.
Believing or coming up with your own understanding is something we often do. Stereotypes and generalisations are often a reflection of how much we do know about a subject, instead they are an indicator of how little we know. And most are not even based on your own experiences or knowledge.
This can be a concern...
Knowledge May Be Power, But Power Is Not Knowledge (even if it appears so).
I mentioned before that when someone says "weight loss is easy, just eat less and move more" I can let it go. But that depends on who says it...
A recent example is when someone mentioning during an initial consultation that they had been told similar advice by their family GP. Their weight had climbed from 75kg to 110kg over the space of nine years. Once they passed the 90kg mark, weight became something their GP would mention during consults and would provide the following advice:
"You need to lose weight - try decreasing your food intake and exercising more."
Despite the advice from a medical expert who has a thorough understanding of the human body, and whom the client trusts, the advice did not work. Why is that?
Did the client not follow through on what they were told?
Yes, this is true, and also important. In the end, the responsibility lies with the individual - they always have the final say on any lifestyle change.
But was this poor advice, particularly from a trusted figure who understands the health implications of being overweight, and wants the best outcome for the patient?
I believe so. Let me explain.
Who is Truely Being Lazy?
Would you tell someone who is broke to ‘spend less and earn more?’
Would you tell someone who is depressed to ‘worry less and smile more?’
My guess is no.
These are complicated matters, with numerous contributing factors and interactions. Without an understanding of the general principles of good management, and without being able to apply this knowledge to the individual, most of us would leave this to someone better qualified.
But that flies in the face of ELMM from a GP, so why would such a person give such poor advice?
Ironically, it is the practitioner being lazy, not just the client.
What the client need is a strategy, not a general guideline.
Telling someone to eat less is OK, but what do they need to eat less of?
Without knowing exactly what they are eating now, it is hard to tell them what to eat less. You might even tell them to eat more fruit and veg, but that's not really eating less, is it?
In my experience, without understanding what foods people eat, when, and how much, any advice is essentially ill-informed (not necessarily bad, but not informed nonetheless).
Once this information has been attained, then it is possible to give more informed recommendations of how an individual can vary their current intake to be more in line with their goals.
OK, maybe nutrition is hard, but surely they can 'move more?'
No doubt. Walking, elliptical, resistance training and metabolic conditioning are all great movement options for someone looking to improve their body composition.
But like any movement, poor execution can lead to discomfort or injury, making long-term adherence unlikely. With any exercise, there should be a cost-benefit style analysis to determine the suitability for the individual and their goals.
Let's consider a 45-year-old female who is around 25kg overweight.
Walking might seem like a great way to start exercising. It is low intensity, free, and easily accessible. For most people, it is a great place to start.
However, if this person has ankle/knee/hip/lower back tightness, weakness or pain, it might not be the best option due to the load bearing of these joints. Swimming or upper body resistance training might be a better place to start and then adding walking in as body weight begins to decrease.
The exercises most people use will be very similar, but the application should be unique. The purpose of this article is to help people gravitate away from generalised recommendations that often have no real benefit or are not specific enough for the intended recipient to implement.
The purpose is not to criticise GP's, make weight loss seem ostensibly difficult or promote Personal Trainers as the gold-standard for weight loss information.
Will eating less and moving more improve your body composition? Yes.
Is being told to do so the best way to help someone else do that? Probably not.
Be helpful by being more specific!
Summary: Because That Was A Bit Long...
Body composition is the responsibility of the individual. However, when weight is gained there are metabolic adaptations and physical limitations that make losing weight challenging. Many general population clients cannot self-address these challenges on their own.
Simple guidelines such as "eat less, move more" are of little use and the overweight individual needs personalised advice. If you do not feel qualified to give that, recommend someone who can.
Improving body composition does not need to be complex, but most people do require an individualised approach based on their goals, experience, and lifestyle. Without that, generic recommendations can lead to poor adherence and success rates, along with yo-yo dieting and failed weight loss attempts.
Whilst simple guidelines have are fuelled by good intentions, they are blanketed by poor delivery and not being suited to the individual. If you want someone to do something, show them how to do it, or get someone else to.
Download the seven-day Tracking Challenge to better understand your current training and nutrition regime. Once completed, you are invited to attend a free strategy consultation to outline how to implement changes better-suited to your body composition goals.