Subtract Subtraction from your Weight Loss Equation

To reiterate last week’s post, weight loss is math. This week I’d like to elaborate more on this. There are a lot of different things you can do with math: addition, subtraction, division, multiplication, and let’s not even get into integrals.


Nutrition is exclusively addition. Most people, whether they consciously know this or not, treat it like subtraction. That’s the funny thing about the brain. We can “know” something, and then think about the topic in a completely different way when judging our decisions.

When we eat, we are always adding. We can’t subtract from the calories we have already added. Broccoli and ice cream is ice cream + broccoli, not ice cream – broccoli. Foods don’t cancel each other out. The way dieters often discuss nutrition implies that “good” foods have an subtractive effect, whereas “bad” foods have a plus sign.

There are no such thing as negative calories.

When you eat in a way that promotes weight loss, you add less, this doesn’t mean you are subtracting.

I know, I know. “When you phrase it like THAT, it sounds ludicrous!”. And it is ludicrous, however people do in fact justify their decisions with this logic. As always, the problem here isn’t a knowledge of nutrition, but a deeper, more complex psychological mechanism.

People will say some pretty ridiculous shit when they feel guilty about something. This is really the crux of the issue–food guilt which leads to illogical justifications for choices and a failure to own up to the consequences of said decision. While this can happen with any decision, the guilt culture we have around nutrition gives this phenomenon more prevalence under the context of weight loss and diets.

Owning up to your decisions means being honest about both the good and the poor decisions. While eating ice cream compulsively will not help you lose weight, that doesn’t mean that eating broccoli doesn’t “count” as a good decision. So the problem goes both ways. Folks will justify poor decisions by highlighting their good decisions, while simultaneously not giving themselves enough credit for these good decisions.

Now, if you want to eat the ice cream and damned be the consequences, I give zero fucks. Seriously, not a single fuck.

look at all

However, if you feel the urge to rationalize that decision, clearly there is a part of you that is unhappy with your behavior. In which case I want to help you.

Brutal honesty is required to achieve this goal that you want. To be blunt, you aren’t doing yourself any favors by making shit up to make yourself feel better. The consequences of your actions have the same effect regardless of whether or not you have come to terms with them. The key to working through this predicament lies in a simple, 2 word phrase:

“It’s OK”

Your dietary decisions are not a reflection of your resolve, willpower, discipline, or who you are as a person in any way, shape or form. Our behaviors are largely governed by subconscious habits. Even if we think we are acting of our own free will, our subconscious brain is always turning, making lifestyle change tough. That said, healthy people are not better people, they simply have healthier habits. Acknowledging this is important because we want to remove the barriers for justifying unproductive choices.

Eating the ice cream, while not necessarily helping you towards your goal is not something to feel guilty about, you didn’t hurt anyone, commit a crime or otherwise do anything morally apprehensible(some vegans may disagree here, but for the sake of simplicity, I’ll ignore this). Besides, if you’re going to indulge, why ruin the enjoyment of it by feeling remorseful about it afterwards? A better way to navigate this situation would be to say, “Well, I probably shouldn’t have done that if I want to lose x pounds by x date. But, it’s OK. I made a mistake and will do better next time.” And then you move on. You don’t throw in the towel, or fall off the wagon, or start again on monday(For REALZZ this time! I swear!). Accept that you are human and thus will make mistakes on the way to your goals, and return to business as usual.

Be honest about the impact of your decisions, accept them for what they are, and you will probably find it will be much easier to make better dietary decisions.


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