“Every Little Bit Helps!” Really? Depends on your goal.

Maybe in increasing overall health, but not in losing weight, it doesn’t.   This reminder was brought to you by this week’s Well column:

Numerous scientific studies show that small caloric changes have almost no long-term effect on weight. When we skip a cookie or exercise a little more, the body’s biological and behavioral adaptations kick in, significantly reducing the caloric benefits of our effort.

[B]odies don’t gain or lose weight indefinitely. Eventually, a cascade of biological changes kicks in to help the body maintain a new weight. As the JAMA article explains, a person who eats an extra cookie a day will gain some weight, but over time, an increasing proportion of the cookie’s calories also goes to taking care of the extra body weight. Eventually, the body adjusts and stops gaining weight, even if the person continues to eat the cookie.

Similar factors come into play when we skip the extra cookie. We may lose a little weight at first, but soon the body adjusts to the new weight and requires fewer calories.

Regrettably, however, the body is more resistant to weight loss than weight gain. Hormones and brain chemicals that regulate your unconscious drive to eat and how your body responds to exercise can make it even more difficult to lose the weight.


While small steps are unlikely to solve the nation’s obesity crisis, doctors say losing a little weight, eating more heart-healthy foods and increasing exercise can make a meaningful difference in overall health and risks for heart disease and diabetes.

“I’m not saying throw up your hands and forget about it,” Dr. Friedman said. “Instead of focusing on weight or appearance, focus on people’s health. There are things people can do to improve their health significantly that don’t require normalizing your weight.”

While this is certainly information I’ve read before, I know a lot of people haven’t encountered it at all.  I’m glad this is getting wider play — even if it’s in an article that reiterates that fat people eat too much (funny how researchers find that fat people don’t eat all that differently from thin people) and assumes that obesity is a terrible epidemic ooga booga booga.



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11 responses to ““Every Little Bit Helps!” Really? Depends on your goal.”

  1. Lori Avatar

    I wish the article had gone into the idea of a set point a little bit. I realize that the whole idea of a “set point” is really oversimplified a lot of the time, but I think some discussion of it would have made it easier for people who would be inclined to dismiss what is being said to understand why it might indeed be true that eating 100 fewer calories a day doesn’t necessarily lead to weight loss, or consuming 100 more lead to weight gain, because a person’s body is going to regulate itself to fall within a certain weight range.

    But, yeah, while there were a few statements in there I really took issue with, overall I’m glad it’s getting out there that we really don’t have that much control over how our body processes calories, especially on a small scale.

  2. Lori Avatar

    Oh, and just to jump on my pet issue regarding childhood obesity, I do not understand why no article on it, even ones that are somewhat critical of the current rhetoric around it like this one, ever mentions the massive, massive increase in the number of children using long-term prescription medications (many of which were/are prescribed off-label and haven’t been fully tested on kids to see what the side effects are) that may have weight gain as a side effect. We know, from the research I’ve seen, that the amount of food kids eat and the amount of activity they do hasn’t changed much in the last 35 years. The kinds of food they eat don’t seem to have changed much. What has changed, as far as I can tell, is the number of kids taking medications for conditions ranging from asthma to ADHD, and weight gain is a side effect of many of them.

    I wish I was a medical researcher, because it just shocks me that this issue is totally ignored when it comes to kids, and kind of blown off when talking about adults. People will always be like, “Sure, some people might gain weight due to medications, but…” as if it’s some tiny minority of people. But I’d say far more people I know than not are taking a long-term prescription medication for either a chronic health condition (asthma, PCOS, fibromyalgia, allergies) or for a mental health issue (depression, anxiety, ADHD) or (for women) are on hormonal birth control, and to just totally ignore that in discussions of weight changes over the past 30 years seems incredibly lazy.

  3. Regina T Avatar
    Regina T

    It’s great to hear researchers dispelling the myth that “if you just cut out one coke a day you’ll lose 25 lbs” nonsense that most of us fatties have known our entire lives. I wish they had gone into more discussion about how the body isn’t a bunsen burner and calories in/calories out doesn’t actually exist in reality. It was refreshing to hear about shifting the focus off weight loss and onto actual health for a change.

    They referred to a study in that article about replacing 100 calories of sugar with a sugar substitute and it showing little to no effect in the long term that I found confusing. Wasn’t there a study recently that found that the body doesn’t know the difference between real sugar and artificial sweeteners? If I remember correctly, the body treats artificial sweetener the same as real sugar and insulin is released in exactly the same manner as if you consumed real sugar. This totally explains my Atkins experience…..plateauing every time I drank a Diet Coke.

    There are so many factors involved in how the body metabolizes calories and I think the public would be better informed if they knew the actual science. Maybe then they’d give up the notion that it’s JUST! SO! EASY!

  4. The Bald Soprano Avatar

    Regrettably??? Regrettably??? Frankly, if we didn’t have that going on (our bodies being more resistant to weight loss than to weight gain), we would have gone extinct from starvation hundreds or thousands of years ago, wouldn’t we?

  5. Tiana Avatar

    “Regrettably, however, the body is more resistant to weight loss than weight gain.”

    Where exactly did they get this information, I wonder? I don’t think that’s true. There’s a person sitting on my sofa right now who’s been trying to gain weight for years, failing repeatedly … and he’s certainly not the only one with that experience. Years ago I attempted to gain some weight myself and it didn’t work, either. That was before my body changed out of its own accord, of course.

    I can’t help but suspect that they threw that little sentence in there without thinking.

    1. Lori Avatar

      I wonder if the reasoning for that is that most people are trying to get their bodies to a size that is unnaturally small for them, rather than to a size that is unnaturally large. So, it seems like it’s easier to gain weight, because most people want to be a weight that’s below their set point, while few people are trying to get to a weight above their set point.

    2. wriggles Avatar

      I’ve always wondered about that assumption too. I’m not convinced either.

      In fact the body seems to have so much that goes towards keeping weight down or at a certain level-the fact that fat people general use more calories to exist and/or move. Then there’s what the ‘cookie’ article mentioned about how weight gain tends to be self limiting even in the most extreme cases.

      The real mystery in a sense is why people become fat-if they haven’t been all their lives.

  6. Patsy Nevins Avatar
    Patsy Nevins

    Regrettably?!!! Yes, it is regrettable that we cannot easily lose weight! And while it is more sensible than most of what is published, it is still necessary, I see, to sneak in the suggestion that it is ‘helpful’ to ‘lose a LITTLE bit of weight”, after it has just been explained that the loss of a ‘little bit of weight’ is unlikely to be permanent. No, it is NOT helpful to try to lose weight, not even a little bit, & it becomes much more dangerous when you reach my age (60). Whatever good it MAY do your health to exercise moderately &/or maybe eat more veggies or whole grains or whatever ‘health advice’ they are passing out this week, it is independent of weight loss, even ‘a little bit.’

    And, no, the relatively small percentage of people who are naturally slim do not find it any easier to try to GAIN weight than most of us do to try to lose it. Everyone’s body has a strong desire to be its own size & shape & it is remarkably efficient at defending itself. AND, there is nothing ‘regrettable’ about being ANY size & shape.

    1. living400lbs Avatar

      I think that:

      “doctors say losing a little weight, eating more heart-healthy foods and increasing exercise can make a meaningful difference in overall health and risks for heart disease and diabetes.”

      Could have easily been replaced with:

      “doctors say eating more heart-healthy foods and increasing exercise can make a meaningful difference in overall health and risks for heart disease and diabetes.”

      AKA it’s not the weight change that’s improving health.

      1. wriggles Avatar

        They forget to mention that stigma and internalised self hate is not only bad for health, it also reduces the likelihood of being able to be active and/or having well functioning and balanced hunger and appetite signals.

  7. […] “Every Little Bit Helps!” Really? Depends […]

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