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Calorie Deficit, Pleasure Surplus

girl-on-mountainImagine you’re climbing the Mountain of Weight Loss Enlightenment (if there were such a thing): you cling to rocks as you ascend, occasionally lose your footing causing dirt and rocks to tumble beneath you. At long last, you reach the pinnacle and you come upon me sitting cross-legged, looking very tranquil and wise. Catching your breath, you stumble toward me and plead, “Oh Marilyn, what is The Fundamental Truth of Weight Loss???”

I look at you compassionately and calmly say, in all my benevolent wisdom:

“If you burn more calories than you take in, you will lose weight.”

At that, you pick me up and hurl me over the side of the mountain.

“I came all this way for that?!?! I’ve heard that a thousand times before” you roar.

“No, wait!” I implore. (Lucky you: I didn’t actually fall all the way down, so I was able to grab onto some scrubby bushes and pull myself back up.)

I already know I must track my calories and I need to calculate my basal metabolic rate. What else is there?” you ask impatiently.

“You must have a 500 calorie per-day deficit below your current calorie intake in order to lose one-pound per week.”

You move toward me, exasperation in your eyes, preparing to push me over with more accuracy this time.

“No wait! There’s more!” I say in one last-ditch effort to redeem myself.

“You must run a calorie deficit, but you must also run a pleasure surplus!”

“Pleasure surplus?” You look at me quizzically. “What are you talking about?”

“Help me up and I’ll explain,” I say.

You reach out your hand and hoist me up. Finally on solid ground again I resume my explanation:

“While it’s true that you must run a 500-calorie deficit each day to lose a pound in one week (500 calories x 7 days = 3,500 calories, which represents one pound), losing weight can’t just be about methodically counting calories and depriving yourself of all your favorite foods. You will be gritting your teeth, waiting for it to be over. When it is, you will resume the eating behaviors you had before and you will regain the weight. At which point you will throw up your hands in frustration and proclaim that ‘diets don’t work!’”

You nod your head in recognition of this pattern; that’s exactly what happened when you tried dieting before.

“Yes, go on!” you implore.

“There’s no denying you must run at a calorie deficit, but it can be a combination of fewer calories AND a higher calorie burn. I suggest eating 250 fewer calories and exercising for a 250-calorie burn. That means you gotta get your sweat on at least 5 days a week for a minimum of 30 minutes each day.”

Your demeanor changes; you relax and look at me hopefully. “I can do that! Is there more?”

“Indeed, there is. Probably the most important part, the part that most people forget: you must seek out pleasure, both in what you choose to eat and in other areas of your life. You see, we often turn to food to relieve stress or anxiety. We lead busy, hectic lives. Our days are filled with responsibilities and obligations. We use food as a source of relaxation, comfort and pleasure.”

You nod knowingly, in agreement. Tears of recognition well up in your eyes. (Okay, I just threw that in there for dramatic emphasis.)

“Food should be pleasurable, certainly, but it shouldn’t be one of your primary sources of gratification. When you regularly engage in activities that bring you joy, you will find you misuse food less and less. Food is displaced in your mind as a source of comfort and instead you find other ways to be fulfilled.”

“That seems so simple. Why didn’t I think of that?” you wonder aloud.

“It seems simple, but it’s actually very hard to do. It will feel selfish at first to pursue your own interests and passions. But you’re entitled to enjoy your life; you’re allowed to have fun!”

“So let me see if I’ve got this,” you recount. “I need to track my calories on Fooducate, figure out my basal metabolic rate on the BMR calculator, run at a 500-calorie per day deficit below what I’m currently consuming, and make time in my life to find joy and pleasure in things other than food?”

“Yep, that’s it! You have now achieved Weight Loss Enlightenment,” I affirm.

You look at me, a zen-like calm having filled you. You are ready to face The Challenge. You are the master of your own destiny.

Slowly, you turn to leave and head toward the path you previously struggled to climb, to make your way back down The Mountain of Weight Loss Enlightenment. But just as you’re about to descend you turn back to me and say, Wait a minute, if I’ve already learned everything I need to know for the ’10-Week, 10-Pound Challenge’ what are you gonna talk about for the next 9 weeks?

“Bahahahaha, don’t be ridiculous!” I laugh. “This is just the first step. Go home, figure out your calorie stuff and then climb back up here on Monday for Week 2’s lessons.”

You look at me and shake your head, “You’re so weird.”

“Ah, perhaps,” I admit. “But I know you’ll be back on Monday because, as the Zen Master says: ‘One does not climb to attain enlightenment, rather one climbs because he is enlightened.’”  

“What on earth is that supposed to mean?” you demand.

“It means, by committing to the process and working through the steps, you’ve already succeeded. The rest is just implementation.”

“Thanks.” You smile at me, exuding newfound confidence. “But can we go back to the regular blog format; this is exhausting.”

“Sure,” I concede. “I get lousy cell phone coverage up here anyway.”

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