This might come as a surprise to you, perhaps you’re calling bullshit or invoking laws of thermodynamics, energy conservation laws, or some other laws of physics. But the statement in the title of this article is true, without violating any laws of physics.
Not only is it true but the reason why it is true is extraordinarily simple, as you’ll soon find out.
However, there’s one important assumption upon which this claim is based: your target weight is always the same. This is true in most cases, as for most people there’s one “ideal” weight that they always seek, “ideal” in terms of their height, constitution and desired level of muscularity. As an example let’s say that for you this ideal weight is 75 kg.
Let’s start with a question – when would you want to lose weight? Obviously, you want to lose weight if your weight is higher than your target weight (though, for some people who are just slightly over their target weight it’s not recommended to start any kind of weight loss programs, but this is whole another topic).
So what do you do?
You switch to a diet with the amount of calories that you would need if you were already at your target weight. Let’s say, that for your target weight of 75 kilograms this is 2500 calories per day.
However, now you have 85 kg and you’re typically consuming 2700 calories per day. With this intake, you’re not losing or gaining weight, as you consume just as much as you spend. For this body weight – 85 kilograms and your typical activity levels, you need 2700 calories, and if your weight is stable, you’re most likely consuming on average that same amount.
When you switch to 2500 calorie diet, you will start losing weight because you have a lot of body mass and your body needs 2700 calories with all that weight, so you’ll be in a deficit. But the deficit will not last forever, even without any changes in your caloric intake. As you lose weight, your caloric needs will become smaller and smaller, so your deficit will also become smaller and smaller until you reach the weight of 75 kg where your caloric needs are 2500 calories. At that point you’re consuming 2500 calories and spending 2500 calories, so you stop losing weight, even though you’re still sticking to your lower caloric intake. But now you’re in equilibrium, you’re not in deficit anymore. WARNING: If you switch back to your old caloric intake you’ll eventually regain all weight and you’ll be back at your old weight of 85 kg. So don’t start any weight loss program unless you are OK with permanently lowering your caloric intake (though not for any crazy amount, it’s typically just consuming 200-500 calories less than you’re accustomed to).
But what happens if you’re underweight? Let’s say you weigh 65 kg. If this is true, then your daily caloric needs are much lower as you have less body mass. Let’s say (all these figures are just illustrative examples, not real values… real values are calculated for each person individually based on their situation), when you are at 65 kg, your caloric needs are 2300 calories per day.
So, if you want to gain 10 kilos and reach your target weight of 75 kg, what you do? Well, you increase your caloric intake for 200 calories, that is you switch to a 2500 calorie diet.
THIS IS EXACTLY THE SAME DIET AS THE ONE THAT YOU USED FOR WEIGHT LOSS.
What happens next? Well, you start gaining weight as you’ll be in surplus. You’ll be consuming 2500 calories while you need just 2300. As you gain weight you’ll need more and more calories so your caloric surplus will be smaller and smaller with constant intake level. When your body weight reaches 75 kg, you’ll no longer be in surplus, even though you’re still consuming the same amount of calories. But now that you’ve gained weight your caloric needs are increased and so now you need 2500 calories to maintain this weight.
And that is all. The conclusion is: if you have a constant target weight, if you’re not changing your goals all the time, then you need only one diet: the one that gives you the amount of calories that you spend at that target weight. If your current weight is higher than your target weight, you’ll be losing weight until you reach your target weight, and if your current weight is lower than your target weight, you’ll be gaining weight until you reach your target weight. So, this normocaloric diet can work in both directions for you… if you need to gain weight, it will help you do that and if you need to lose weight, it will help you with that too.
All of this is completely in line with the two main principles of Asymptotic Nutrition Approach:
- You should always consume the amount of calories that you would need at your target weight for your height, age, gender and activity level.
- If you consume that amount of calories you will be asymptotically approaching your target weight, to the point of eventually reaching it (or coming extremely close to it) in long term.
There are 2 further consequences:
a) Your current weight is almost completely irrelevant when it comes to choosing your caloric intake.
b) Eating at the caloric intake level that you would need at your target weight can be used both for weight loss, weight maintenance and weight gain purposes. If you need to lose weight, it will help you lose weight, if you need to gain weight, it will help you gain weight. If you need to maintain weight, it will help you maintain weight, as illustrated on the picture bellow:
But, let’s see another thing: why would you choose such an all-purpose diet instead of choosing a specialized diet that’s designed specifically for weight loss or for weight gain?
Perhaps you’re thinking, why would I go with my maintenance level of calories (2500 calories) right away, when I can first quickly lose weight with a restrictive diet (let’s say a 1600 calorie diet), and then when I reach my weight loss goal, I can switch to my maintenance level calories (2500 calories) ?
Indeed this is a very tempting idea. In fact, most people try to lose weight exactly this way. They first go on a restrictive diet, and then they try to switch to a maintenance diet. So their approach has 2 distinct phases (restriction + maintenance). But you know what – 95% of people who successfully lose weight, fail at the maintenance phase and eventually re-gain all that they have lost. For this reason I think that traditional two phase approach is wrong. But why exactly it fails so often? Here are some possibilities:
- restrictive phase uses up a lot of willpower and motivation, so when it ends, people’s willpower reserves are pretty much depleted
- weight loss is fast and this gives you an illusion of success… When the restrictive phase ends, people tend to celebrate it and relax… They usually try some sort of maintenance, but, this usually fails.
- Restrictive low calorie diets, not only mess with you psychologically creating the feeling of deprivation, they also mess with your hormones and metabolism. Your body thinks that it is starving, so as soon as you switch to a maintenance level calories, your body tries as hard as it can to re-gain the weight, to accumulate energy, this is a natural response to starvation that helped us survive the times of famine.
- 2 different phases (weight loss + maintenance) is simply too complicated. People have to change their eating habits twice… And when they successfully complete the weight loss phase, switching to yet another diet (for maintenance) is the last thing they have in their mind. In fact, most people think that after completing weight loss phase, their job is done (end of diet mindset), and they can switch back to their old habits.
Now it’s pretty clear why traditional approach that includes the restrictive phase fails. My proposal is to skip the restrictive phase altogether and instead to use ONE PHASE approach, where you immediately go to a caloric intake level that will be your long term maintenance caloric intake level.
The only downside to this approach is that weight loss in this way will be much slower. But it will be healthier and it will be sustainable. You calculate your caloric needs for your target weight just once and then you choose a diet for this caloric intake and stick to it… It’s much simpler, and you’ll never be in a seriously restrictive phase, so you will never feel deprived, your body will never get in starvation mode, etc…
For all of these reasons ONE PHASE, asymptotic approach, as described in this article is much better and much more likely to work in long term. With this approach you immediately try what is actually the difficult part, and this is doing the balanced, long term sustainable diet. A diet that is just right for your long term needs. A lot of people have all-or-nothing approach and when they think “diet” they think all-out restrictive dieting. And when it’s done… fun… go back to eating whatever you want!
Unfortunately it doesn’t work this way. Maintenance is actually a harder phase, so it’s better to get serious and go straight to it, adopt long term sustainable diet and avoid wasting time on restrictive “fast” diets that will do you more harm than good.