Dissatisfaction with lack of sustainable long term results with most of the dietary approaches to fighting obesity, has lead me to question what might be the underlying reason for this lack of success. I’ve come to realize that diets in fact, do work in most of the cases, but the problem is that they eventually end. And when they end, the weight comes back. And diets, due to their common attribute, of being quite restrictive, must end, sooner or later – at least this is true for most traditional weight loss diets, including low calorie, low fat and low carbohydrate diets. So the only way to achieve sustainable weight loss is to permanently adopt new eating habits. This was the starting point in the development of the Asymptotic Nutrition Approach. Later I made some mathematical calculations, from which the whole theory has been developed.
Now, it’s very important to say: Asymptotic Nutrition Approach is just a principle, an idea, or yes – an approach to fighting obesity, but it is not a diet, nor is it a complete nutrition plan. It is, however, a very powerful principle that can be combined with almost any other dieting or nutrition plan. It’s power lies in its flexibility, simplicity and sustainability. For this reason, asymptotic nutrition approach is best suitable as a guideline that dieticians can use while creating complete, individualized eating plans for their patients.
With that said, let’s start:
Asymptotic Nutrition as a way to fight obesity can be summarized in just one sentence: “One should always consume as many calories each day as their energy needs WOULD BE at their target body weight with their average level of activity.”
So let’s explore how this approach is different from all other calorie-counting approaches so far, and why I think it is better:
- With Asymptotic Nutrition Approach we don’t treat obesity or being overweight, which are just consequences, we directly address the core issue that caused them in the first place, and that is excessive calorie intake.
- There is no dieting and no direct calorie restriction involved – instead we make one single and quite easy, unobtrusive permanent change to your regular nutrition, which leads to permanent results if followed through. Yes, you’ll eat less calories than before, because otherwise it wouldn’t work, but it’s important to underline that you will not be put on a calorie restrictive regimen, but you’ll be put on a normal (normocaloric) regimen, where you’ll be able to eat all and everything that your friends who aren’t obese or overweight eat every single day. So whatever they eat, you’ll be able to eat the same things in the same quantities. This is not dieting. This is not calorie restriction. This is just switching from your previous excessive nutrition, which caused you to become overwegiht in the first place to a normal nutrition which leads to a normal weight. Simple as that. You’ll just in a way copy the eating habits of people who have healthy weight… and you’ll be able to do all the stuff they do, including eating chocolate, drinking beer and all the other delicious stuff. You always envied them – how the hell can they do this without worrying about gaining weight, and you can’t?! Well, soon you’ll be able too.
- Wait, but how is that original? – Well later we’ll see it, but let’s first take a closer look on a traditional way of treating obesity with nutrition.
The traditional way to treat obessity with modifying calory intake was based on simple maths: consume less calories than you spend, and you’ll lose weight. Example: you spend 2300 calories, and you consume 1500, so you create a deficit of 800 calories – which will hopefully be taken from your body fat (1 gram of body fat has 7.5 calories, so being 800 calories in deficit should burn around 107 grams of body fat per day).
This type of thinking also lead to a very simple, even simplicistic solution: tell people to consume less calories than they spend until they reach their desired weight, after which point the diet is over and they can continue with their eating as usual. Very simple, true and mathematically sound, well mostly…
But still very wrong and unwise, for the following reasons:
- the traditional approach is focused on directly creating a deficit, which leads to psychological feeling of deprivation.
- the deficit created in such a way was usually drastic, so to cause relatively fast results. Such a drastic deficit, just amplified the feelings of deprivation.
- Such approach was by definition temporary: you treated the excessive weight or obesity, which are the consequences and not the root cause, so as soon as the obesity or excessive weight was eliminated, there was no reason to continue with the diet anymore (and even if there was a reason, the dieter wouldn’t be motivated anymore after so much deprivation). You treated it by creating a deficit. Your starting point was current weight and calorie needs. For example a nutritionist would calculate your current calorie needs at 2400 calories and then they would want to create a deficit of say 800 calories, so they would put you on a 1600 diet. They would tell you to follow the diet until you reach your goal. And if you followed through, it would work:
- At first you’d lose weight faster, then a little slower, because as you become slimmer your calorie needs also fall, so the deficit becomes smaller. Eventually you’d reach your target weight, and then if you continued with the diet, you’d lose even more weight, which can lead to being undernourished and anorexic. But the nutritionist would tell you to stop at this point, which you would do and you’d celebrate success!
- But what would happen next?
- Well there are two things that could happen depending on how good your nutritionist was, but both of them are wrong, one is just a little less wrong:
- A) you’d abruptly stop the diet and return to your “normal” ways of eating (normal with quotation marks, because if your ways of eating were normal, they would never cause you to become overweight or obese) – this leads to a quick regaining of weight, a textbook example of yo-yo effect. You might even gain some additional weight as your metabolism is still slowed down from dieting and you’re eating as much as you used to.
- B) If you had a better nutritionist, they would give you a series of healthy eating suggestions, and educate you how eat to maintain new weight. This would probably work to some extent and for a while, but due to “end of diet” mindset, most likely, over time you’d regain most of your lost weight just a little slower. Maybe you wouldn’t, as there are some exceptions, but most people who stop a diet eventually regain their weight.
- That is the point where most diets fail – after they are completed! It’s not that dieting dosn’t work – it does – but people can’t stay on a diet in long term. That’s why instead of a restrictive diet I advocate a normocaloric nutrition (that is nutrition where you consume normal, unrestricted (but not unlimited) amount of calories) as a solution to being overweight and obese.
4. And now, what exactly is Asymptotic Nutrition and how does it work?
Let’s dig a bit deeper:
First thing – asymptotic nutrition doesn’t care about your current calorie needs when you’re overweight or obese. When you’re overweight or obese your calorie needs are elevated, they are excessive, due to all that extra weight you carry on yourself. Extra fatty tissue consumes energy like any other tissue in your body. So your caloric needs are excessive and guess what – if your weight is stable right now, you’re cosuming on average just as many calories as you spend. You’re not in caloric sufficit. From the perspective of your current weight, you’re not consuming any extra calories. You eat just as much as you need. This is an important observation. Most obese people are stably obese. Most of the time they aren’t in the process of getting fatter. Their weight is stable because they consume just as many calories as they spend. But they eat more than their non-obese counterparts. Because if they didn’t they wouldn’t be able to maintain their excessive weight.
But how they became obese in the first place?
Well they did consume more calories than their spent, but usually this excessive intake wasn’t that drastic, but it accumulated over years until their reached a weight where they don’t gain any more weight with their usual eating habits, because they reached a weight at which their calorie expediture (due to extra weight) has reached their calorie intake (which was perhaps just slightly excessive).
Let’s see how just 200 calories too much, can cause you to gain 6 kilos over a year (note that it’s 200 extra calories just at the start, compared to baseline intake, but as one gains weight, the actual surplus decreses with constant intake, due to increased calorie needs):
So we see what happens: if we consume more calories than we need, but at a constant excessive level, initially we gain weight quickly as our daily caloric surplus is big, but over time we gain weight more and more slowly, as our increased weight itself causes us to spend more energy, so the surplus that we create due to excessive nutrition becomes slower until we reach an equilibrium that I call weight asymptote after which we don’t gain any more weight even if we keep eating as usual. In fact, by definition, we never actually reach weight symptote, but we approach it ever (infinitesimaly) closer.
The conclusion here is simple: this person gained extra weight because their calorie intake was excessive for their healthy weight. However over time, the extra calories they consumed became less and less excessive for their current, excessive weight, until they approached weight at which, with the same level of food intake, they can’t gain anymore weight. This explains two very important things:
a) Obese people are generally stably obese, because they are, most likely very close to a weight asymptote at their average level of food intake (which is, however excessive from the perspective of their healthy weight)
b) That level of intake is not excessive for their current (elevated) weight, and for that reason they feel hungry(-ish at least), until they consume all the calories they need at that weight. For this reason obesity is in a way self perpetuating, because, once established, it causes us to keep consuming excessive (from the point of view of normal weight) amounts of calories – because we really need them!
Now the main point of Asymptotic Nutrition is to harness this same process, just in the opposite direction!
Let’s continue from the previous example. Let’s say the person reached around 81 kg due to their excessive food intake of 2700 calories. We want them to return to their healthy weight of 75 kg. So what should we do?
Traditional approach would be to put them on some sort of calorie restrictive diet, of let’s say 1800 calories, to make a nice deficit (of 900 calories, initially), so they lose that weight in a reasonable amount of time and then we’re done. As we have seen, that would lead first to a quick success, and then to a disaster. But let’s see it more closely:
As we can see, the traditional, calorie restrictive diet creates a large deficit, which leads to a quick weight loss. In just around 2 months the target weight of 75 kg is reached. You successfully lost 6 kilos in 2 months! You celebrate success and return to your old ways, with a predictable outcome – as you return to your old habits you’re again creating a small surplus of calories, but still a surplus, which gradually brings you back to your old weight, and at that point your weight stabilizes. (That’s in theory, but in practice due to slowed metabolism as a consequence of dieting, you’re likely to even gain some extra weight).
For this reason traditional dieting is completely pointless, with a disastrous yo-yo effect.
Is there a way to redeem traditional restrictive diet? In theory there is, but just in theory: If a person upon successful completion of a restrictive 1800 calorie diet, and after successfully losing 6 kilos in just two months, instead of returning to their old (excessive) eating habits, switches to a normal, normocaloric regimen of 2500 calories, the amount they need at their new weight – they will not regain any weight and their success will be permanent. This situation can be seen on the picture bellow:
This picture shows a very desirable situation: weight is quickly lost through a classical restrictive diet, and then it’s maintained, as instead of returning to previous excessive levels of calorie intake, upon successful completion of the diet the person adopts a calorie intake that’s normal for their now lower calorie needs, which puts them in equilibrium, so they don’t re-gain weight. In theory and physically this is 100% possible.
But in practice it’s quite unlikely to occur, and can be difficult to accomplish for the following reasons:
a) restrictive diet was harsh and you felt deprived. When the diet is over, “new normal” is the last thing you have in mind… Instead you want to feast… You want to reward yourself for success and for all the deprivation you had to endure. And so, if you’re like most people, not only do you return to previous excessive levels of calorie intake, but you might end up eating even more than that.
b) Harsh dieting slowed down your metabolism, so even if you successfully adopt normal caloric intake, it’s possible that you’ll be in caloric surplus nevertheless and regain some weight, because your actual energy needs might be lower than what theory suggests for that body weight, due to slowed metabolism.
c) Two phases complicate things. First you’re prescribed a restrictive diet of 1800 calories, and then you’re prescribed a new normal (but still lower than old level of intake) of 2500 calories. This for some people may be too much information to take, as they will have to redefine their eating habits not just once but twice, once at the start of diet, and once when it’s over. This might easily cause them to switch back to old eating habits instead. Especially, because once they have achieved “success” they aren’t that motivated to keep bothering themselves with dieting and nutrition stuff anymore, and especially they aren’t motivated to start just another diet, called “new normal”.
For this reason, I suggest a different approach, that I call Asymptotic Nutrition Approach which consists of the following steps:
- determine the target weight they want to reach
- calculate their calorie needs at their target weight, for their typical level of activity (here we purposefully ignore their current calorie needs, we focus on what their calorie needs will be when they reach their target weight)
- prescribe them a nutrition plan based on that amount of calories, and watch as they slowly, asymptotically approach their target weight. On a graph this looks as approaching the weight asymptote for a selected calorie intake level (i.e. the one we choose in advance to take us to that weight level)… And that is it… step 3 never ends, just like in maths the curve gets ever closer to asymptote but never touches it. So technically, asymptotic approach is never 100% successful, but this is actually an excellent thing, because once we adopt our choosen calorie intake level that will lead us towards our target weight (weight asymptote at that intake level) – we adopt it permanently, for life so to say. We stay at that intake level basically forever. So, in this way we completely avoid end-of-diet mindset and yo-yo effect. In this way, everything else staying equal, it’s technically impossible to regain weight for several years, maybe decades, at least. At a very long term, however, due to getting older and our metabolism slowing down, we would need to do some further adjustments to our calorie intake, because our energy needs will slightly decrease. Those would however be very gentle, barrely noticeable adjustements.
Here is an example of how it works:
Initially that person had a stable weight of 81 kilos and a stable (though excessive, from the perspective of their healthy weight) food intake of 2700 calories. They were in equilibrium, so they weren’t gaining or losing weight. Both their weight and their food intake were excessive in comparison to some normal levels, but their food intake and energy consumption were in equilibrium – they were taking the same amount of energy from food that they were spending.
Then they realize they are overweight and that their target weight that would resolve their issues is 75 kilos. Then we calculate that at their current activity levels, and at their target weight of 75 kg, they need to consume 2500 calories each day. Since their current level of intake is 2700 calories, all they need to do is to switch to a nutrition that contains just 200 calories less.
Just 200 calories less! It’s the amount of calories found in 36 grams of chocolate. So for example if they had a habit of eating 70 grams of chocolate each they, they can cut it down to 34 grams. And that’s it – no other adjustment to their diet is needed whatsoever. They can keep eating all the rest just like they did before.
Once they start taking 2500 calories a day instead of 2700, they create a calorie deficit that leads to weight loss. This calorie deficit is 200 calories initially, as their needs at old weight of 81 kg are 2700 calories. However as they lose weight this deficit decreases, because their energy needs are lower at a lower weight. So they keep losing weight but every more slowly… After a little more than one year, they are within one kilogram from their target weight… At that point they have fully adjusted to a new energy intake level and don’t need to think much about it anymore. They effortlessly stick to it. Their goal is almost reached, but not fully, so they need to keep their intake at that level permanently. And that’s it!
Now some of you might say – so you say your apprach is successful because we need to stay on a diet forever?! Are you crazy? Who wants to stay on a diet permanently?
Well the thing is, with Asymptotic Nutrition Appraoch, not only you’re not staying on a diet permanently, but you’re never put on a diet in the first place… (at least if by “diet” we consider typical calorie restrictive diets).
Instead of putting you on a diet, Asymptotic Nutrition gives you a calorie intake that is normal – normocaloric for your target weight, and that is very easy to follow and extremely sustainable in long term (as you have seen from the example: it can mean just eating half a chocolate instead of whole chocolate each day, with all the rest of your eating habits remaining completely untouched). So it’s not dieting, it’s a normal nutrition plan, that gives you a normal amout of calories.
In most of the cases, to return to a healthy weight, Asymptotic Nutrition will give you a normal, long term sustainable daily amount of calories, of around 2000-2800 calories, and depending on what your previous typical daily intake was, you’ll typically be eating just a couple of hundred of calories less than before.
So to adopt Asymptotic Nutrition approach, all you need to do is to make some simple adjustment to your eating habits, like eating half a chocolate instead of whole, or drinking 2 beers instead of 3, or skipping popcorn during a game… in most cases, no major adjustments to your eating habits will be required at all.
It is the easiest approach to managing obesity, because the only requirement it has – is for you to make a slight adjustment to your calorie intake and to stick to it. It doesn’t talk about good foods, bad foods, it doesn’t list forbidden foods… You can eat everything you ever ate before, just in a slightly lower quanity.
For most people switching to a nutrition plan of just 200-300 calories less than before, can bring about significant long term health benefits and is completely enough to allow them to reach their healthy weight.
And this is really all there is to it when it comes to theory of Asymptotic Nuitrition, when it comes to the main idea, there’s nothing more to add.
Now what remains to be explored are the details of application, such as:
These and many other questions we’ll explore them in detail on other pages and articles of this website.