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Wellness & Health
13 May 2019

Principles of Weight-Loss

There are a million conflicting diets, and yet most of them work. Here we talk about the underlying principles, and how you can use them yourself for weight-loss.

Rory Lynch

By Rory Lynch, Engineer

“As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.”

Harrington Emerson

To misquote Harrington Emerson, there are a million ways to diet, but a few key principles that lead to weight-loss. If you understand the principles, you can examine each diet on its own merits, but if you examine each diet and ignore the underlying principles, you’re sure to have trouble.

In a previous blog post we talked about picking the post important things to focus on, and today we’re going to dive into a specific example of focusing on the “right things” – specifically on the most common health and fitness goals; weight loss.

The Key Principle

There are a thousand named diets you’ve probably heart of before – Weight Watchers, Keto, Paleo, the Vertical Diet, the Atkins Diet, the Zone Diet, the Warrior Diet… I could list them all, but it wouldn’t make for a very interesting blog post. These diets vary in a huge number of ways, from timing, to food choice, and even food quality, and if you tried to figure out which diet was going to be the best without understanding the underlying principles, you’d be hard pressed to understand why so many and such varied diets can all produce results.

The secret sauce, so to speak, of every diet is to put you into a caloric deficit, that is to say, you burn more energy moving around and exercising each day than you consume from food. They all do this in slightly different ways, but they all aim to achieve the same thing.

For weight-loss, being in an appropriate energy balance is by far the most important factor. That isn’t to say that other things – fibre, micronutrients, meal timing, macronutrient breakdown, etc – don’t matter, they absolutely do, but if you’re not in an appropriate energy balance, you’re trying to build your castle of health on a foundation of sand.

How To Diet

Knowing that the most important factor in dieting successfully is being in a caloric deficit, you don’t need to follow a named diet to lose weight. You also don’t need to count your calories or track macros (or even know what macros are) if you don’t want to.

So what do you need to do?

You do need to make sure you’re in a caloric deficit. There are dozens of calculators available online to figure out what your likely daily energy expenditure is, but they’re guesstimates at best, so the best thing you can do is weigh yourself every day and then take a 4 to 10 day moving average (I use a week to make it easy.) So long as that moving average is trending downwards (and you’re eating some vegetables regularly), you probably don’t need to change anything.

If you’re doing that and your body weight isn’t moving over two weeks or more, it’s because you’re consuming too much energy. The simple answer is that you need to eat less. If it feels like you’re already eating too little, try tracking and weighing all your food and drinks (logging it in an app like MyFitnessPal) for just two to four days, to see if there are any things which are much more calories dense than you realised.

A couple of quick notes on weighing yourself

  • Never take a single weight as gospel. Bodies are weird, and body weights fluctuate a lot day to day (sometimes as much as 2 kg per day) based on water, sodium, gut content, fluctuations in hormone balance… and two dozen other things besides. Always look at trends in weights.
  • Weigh yourself at the same time and in the same conditions each day. I like first thing in the morning, before eating or drinking anything, but after showering. That’s going to give you the most realistic idea of how your body weight is changing over time.
  • Connected scales are super useful (though expensive), because they’ll do the logging and averaging for you. Reducing the overhead cost makes you more likely to stick to your goals.


Losing weight doesn’t need to be a huge ordeal and involve following some crazy named diet. You can do it easily with not much more than a decent pair of bathroom scales and some patience, so long as you’re focusing on the basics and not getting caught up in details.

To put it another way, if you’re fasting to increase autophagy, but you’re not in a caloric deficit, you’re focusing on the wrong things.

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