Lotsa folks think of improved nutrition / fat loss as basic math:
I eat 500 calories and I burn 600 calories, so I’m in a calorie deficit of 100 calories.
Simple. Clear. Easy to figure.
On one hand, calories in/calories out (or CICO) has been proven study after to study to be the key to fat loss.
On the other hand, it’s a lot more complicated. Because changing both how we move and how we eat involves a lot more than simple math; it involves re-negotiating how we go about our day and changing the habits that have worked for us to this point. (Even if you feel like those habits aren’t working for some of your goals, they are working in some ways or they wouldn’t be your habits.) It also involves complex factors such as your metabolism, your hormones, your sleep habits … because these all influence both sides of the CICO equation.
Re-imagining your nutrition is much more like science than math. It requires some experimentation: a willingness to try something to discover “what would happen if….” and then to observe and evaluate the results and possibly re-adjust. And just like with science, sometimes our experiments work and we discover a positive change… and sometimes they don’t work and that’s also good – because knowing what doesn’t work is useful data.
For example, it’s 6pm and everyone in the house is hungry and cranky. You’re in the kitchen, trying to get dinner cooking and you’re also hungry and cranky. You reach for something to nosh on while you’re prepping because well … because you’re hungry and cranky (and tired and frustrated because you forgot to make that dentist appointment and Goldfish crackers taste delicious). What would happen if … you just didn’t nosh? If you waited until dinner to eat? Would you die? Would you not be able to finish making dinner? Would you eat sooooooo much at dinner that your family stared at you? What if you ate your dinner, enjoyed it immensely because you were quite hungry, and that was that?
Or you’re going to a celebration dinner catered by one of your favorite restaurants and you know you will want to indulge a little. You decide to skip eating altogether all day to “bank” your calories for the evening. By the time you arrive, you are crazed with hunger: you fill your plate, eat so quickly you have no idea what just happened, and go in for the re-fill. Repeat. You are so focused on eating that you don’t spend much time socializing with friends or family, just thinking about what you can eat next. At the end of the night, you feel so full that you cannot sleep. Let’s not even talk about the bloating. Or the gas.
If you are looking to make changes to your nutrition or fitness, asking the question “what would happen if...” can lead to a lot of amazing discoveries as you try to figure out what works for you but also what doesn’t work for you. Again, a failed attempt isn’t a wasted attempt – it’s data you can use to make a better decision the next time around. If you are like me you are probably excellent at calorie math from having done it most of your life; but it’s time to retire as mathematicians and learn to be scientists.