Eat less, move more: shitty advice

“Losing weight is simple. Just eat less and move more.”

I’ve received some unhelpful advice in my time, but “eat less, move more” is hard to beat if you’re looking for unhelpful, yet superficially common-sense, advice.

For a start, “eat less, move more” is not a SMART goal because it’s not, in itself, specific or measurable. To be sure of eating less, you have to find a way of measuring what you’re already eating, and counting calories is probably the best way. (Measuring food by weight is an option too, but that has complications, given that 100g of treacle is probably more fattening than 100g of lemons.) And you can’t be sure you’re moving more unless you’re already tracking how much exercise you do. To be sure you’re really “moving more” – yup, you need a measurable activity programme.

All that would be fair enough, except for the fact that people always offer “eat less, move more” in a breezy spirit of brushing off complications and keeping things simple. It’s not simple. Monitoring your daily food intake and how much you exercise, on top of that little thing called a life, is actually not in the least easy or simple.

The hypocrisy of the “simples” vibe really comes to the fore when people dismiss counting calories/diets/the gym/planned exercise as tiresome activities to be replaced with the much easier plan to “eat less, move more”. Actually, those tiresome activities are a prerequisite of ensuring you eat less and move more.

Secondly, “eat less, move more” is not a SMART goal because it’s not attainable or realistic. OK, so let’s say I currently eat 2,000 calories a day and I’m overweight. So I “eat less” by cutting it down to 1,500 calories a day. I lose weight briefly before regaining most of it as my metabolism adjusts. What do I do when my “less” becomes the new norm and makes me fat again? Back to a new “less”, I guess. But where does that stop? There’s no limit to the notion of “less”, because there’s no measurability or actual numbers whatsoever in this shitty advice.

Similarly, there’s no measurability or end point to the concept of “moving more”. Do I keep going until I injure myself? Until I win an Olympic gold? Until I’m spending 24 hours of every day moving? Well… no. There’s no “until”. Just move more. Possibly the unspoken finish point for both “eat less” and “move more” is reaching your target weight. But what if you never reach it? Well, I guess that means you’re failing to follow this very simple advice and really only have yourself to blame for being fat.

People who tell you to “eat less, move more” don’t want to offer more specific or measurable advice because then they’d have to actually engage with the complexities of weight loss. They’d have to acknowledge that what works for one person doesn’t work for another, and that there’s a whole industry based on this stuff not working. They’d have to acknowledge that it’s possible to die from under-eating before you ever become underweight. They’d have to acknowledge their own privilege as thin people (or, more likely than not, acknowledge that they themselves are overweight because whaddya know, their own brilliant advice didn’t work for them). They’d have to say something different. Make themselves vulnerable. Take some initiative. And that’s never going to happen, because these people are lazy cowards without an original thought in their head.

If I did have to give some non-specific, vague, lazy advice of my own, it would be this: Take care of yourself, then of others. And remember that advice from people who don’t care about you is usually bad advice.

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