While there are many factors that contribute to our calorie intake and our calorie burn, the net energy balance of calories in vs out determines whether a person gains or loses weight.
It is interesting to think about just how accurate our bodies need to be in balancing calorie intake with calorie needs to be weight stable – and to consider how little we need to be ‘off’ in that balance to experience weight gain over time.
As discussed in a Endocrine Society scientific statement on obesity pathogenesis published in the journal Endocrine Reviews, consider a healthy 75kg (165lb) adult who needs 2500 kcal per day to maintain body weight (remembering that this calorie need will vary highly from one person to the next). That person will need to take in 912,500 kcal during one year to maintain weight stability. Should that person eat just 27 calories (easily consumed in 1 bite of food) more than what they need, each day for that year, that person will take in an additional 9,855 calories that year, which is well over 1kg (>2.2lb) of weight gain that year. Looked at another way, for that person to gain just 1lb (0.5kg) in a year, their calorie balance need only be out by 0.24%!
There are caveats to this calculation, in that higher body weight increases energy burn (making the calorie imbalance smaller), but the point is that gradual weight gain over time is the consequence of small, cumulative imbalances between energy intake and energy needs. In other words, we can be >99% perfect in matching energy intake to our needs, but still gain weight gradually over time.
Being mindful is one of our most powerful tools to avoid this upwards creep in weight. As blogged previously, we need to keep the Sleepy Executive in our brains awake, making conscious and purposeful decisions about whether (or not) to eat. Are we really hungry for that extra bite, or are we considering that next bite for other reasons, like comfort, not to be rude to the person serving the meal, wanting to get our money’s worth, or just the sheer pleasure of it? If any of these reasons apply, consider alternative ways to achieve these goals.
Navigating these challenges can be tough, and it can be hard to know how or where to start. Getting help and support falls squarely within the Psychological Pillar of weight management. Reach out to your health care providers for help in identifying strategies that will work for you!
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