I Hate Math

When you were in school did you also question studying math?  “Why do we have to do this?   It’s not like we’re ever gonna use this stupid stuff once we get out of school.”

Wrong!  And as I have told my kids, who whined similarly, math is indeed a skill you use your whole life.  Okay, maybe for most of us, not calculus.  Or geometry.  But algebra and percentages and more.

So why do I hate math today?

Because it doesn’t always add up!

You have all heard it before:  weight loss is simple math.  Calories in versus calories out.  Makes sense.  In theory.  But, for me at least, that theory is flawed.  Because I’ve done the math.  Counted my calorie intake and subtracted my calorie burn.  And then looked at the scale.  And the number just don’t always prove true.  And it’s frustrating.

I like logic.  I like things that make sense.  I like black and white.  I am pragmatic.  Sounds like I would like “weight loss math.”  But, no.

There is clearly something else at play here.  Some additional (really did not intend that pun) component.  Some missing piece to the equation.  (But that pun was intentional.)  Maybe it’s metabolism.  Surely each of us burn calories at a different rate.  After all, aren’t we encouraged to build muscles because they burn more calories than fat?!  And then there is the whole age and hormone thing.  I have heard it over and over from women who reach a certain age, or approach the “change” – suddenly they put on weight or find it harder to lose even when their exercise and eating stays the same.  And I also wonder if all calories are created equal.  I don’t think they are  – not in the sense of how they impact our bodies.  Sugar versus protein, for example.  But I wonder if there is more to that as well.  Given the same calorie intake of cookies or fruit, will they have the same impact on my weight?  If the number going in is the same, shouldn’t the number on the scale be the same?!  And then there is that darn sodium and water weight.  How do we factor that into simple math?  What about my three pound weight gain last week that came overnight after a little binge that was not even close to 10,500 calories!

I’m not proposing throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  Doing away with the whole notion of watching calorie intake versus calorie burn.  I’m just proposing that maybe I need to figure out my own math.  This way isn’t adding up.  So time for a little math theory a la Karen.  Because diet math is as frustrating to me now as calculus was back in school!

Do the numbers work for you?  Any suggestions for my new equation?



Filed under dieting

68 responses to “I Hate Math

  1. I will never forget trying to lose weight and my then boyfriend saying to me: your confusing is that youre thinking a CAL is a CAL is a CAL.

    it isnt.

    He was so very right FOR ME

    vast amounts of fruit? processed white? not my friend so much.

    complex carbs protein? in the same ‘calorie’ amounts vastly changed my physique.

    • Karen

      Thank you for saying that! Because I know that some still will argue that all calories are created equal. And maybe, for some people, it works to eat that way. For me… not so much.

  2. I’ll be honest, I have never calculated calories in and calories burned. However, when I log my food and fitness in Livestrong and it says Calories consumed (1800) and Burned (583) that should equal weight loss!

    None of it makes sense to me, I feel like I’ve been lied too. Yet I know it works because I lost 60 pounds on Nutrisystem eating 1200 calories a day and working out.

    Just weird now that I am trying to maintain, but would like to lose a few pounds. Its harder now.

    • Karen

      But that is another whole issue, I think. The closer one is to their goal weight, the less calories they need, the body adapts to less and needs less and it becomes harder to lose. That’s MY theory!

  3. Oh you KNOW how I feel about this one…All the things you listed but I have a theory…I am working on it right now..actually…

    Reversing the options…I am learning new things, stepping out of comfort zone and finding things that make me excited about my life. still paying attention to healthy but focusing on other things..I believe, as silly as it may sound to some, that what we think has a direct correlation to what we hold on to …weight – body wise…

    • Karen

      Well I certainly feel too focused right now on all things related to this journey. Choosing foods, thinking about eating when I am not hungry, finding exercise motivation, and… reading blogs! I need to find something else to think about for a change:)

  4. I have read quite a bit about this and a calorie is not a calorie. A calorie from a carbohydrate will be metabolized much more quickly than a calorie from protein or fat. This is why diabetics have to be so careful. High carb meals cause a blood sugar spike followed by the rapid drop in blood sugar resulting in that ravenous hunger. I have been following a low carb diet and cannot believe how much better I feel. My endurance in aerobics is better, I don’t crave sweets at all, and don’t get that awful, panicked, anxious hunger like I used to get on other plans. It’s hard to cut all sugar – it’s amazing how many foods have sugar – but I started by just cutting all refined sugar. I try not to eat anything white (sugar, flour, rice). I use Ezekiel bread which is made without flour – it is sprouted grains. I can tell now how sugar really slows a person down now that I am off of it.

    • Karen

      I am trying to eat similarly. I saw a Dr. Oz episode not too long ago where he featured sugar as the one thing we should NOT eat! Amazing how many bad things it does to our bodies. Too bad that over the years processed foods have come to be so unhealthy.

  5. Oh you’re right, an amount in and amount out does not equal weight loss OR health. that’s why i don’t like programmes that allow you to eat whatever you like in points or calorie limit because how is that teaching you about health?

    • Karen

      I think this is exactly what Weight Watchers has tried to change with their new program that actually does not measure calories at all anymore!

  6. The whole thing about weight loss is not so easy as they say. I found that calories in vs calories out does not work for me either anymore. So now I need to look at how much fat content I get into my diet, is it the healthy fats or not and then the sugar intake as there is sugar in everything. So yes, I agree with you. It’s not all about calories in vs calories out. There are many other factors too.

    • Karen

      It is not easy or logical at all! In my opinion. I’ve watched fat for years because of my high cholesterol but tend not to think about that as related to weight. Hmm.

  7. First, I love math. Love the patterns and logic of it all! Plus, we use it every day in so many ways including in algebraic and deductive reasoning (which is the better buy?), geometric and spatial reasoning (how much carpet or paint do I need for that room?), and rational (fractions, percentages and decimals) numbers (sports team ratings), to name a few. What we do not do in every day life is long division! That is precisely where we lose a lot of enthusiasm in learning math, too. But that is a another story…

    Second: My theory is the sum of our varied body’s process intake and output of calories at different levels, so metabolism is a variable in your “equation.” But, the other thing I think is that there is one other part to the equation: patience. It takes time. All of our bodies will respond to fewer calories in and more expanded, but we do so at varying intervals, which simply require patience. So, like in everything with weight loss, no simple answer. Michele

    • Karen

      Wow – you are so right about all that math! Of course I could never figure out the spatial ones:( And this makes me think about how dependent we (I) become on calculators. (And spellcheck…but that’s another subject.)

      Patience – yes. Not a strength of mine. I also wonder what I have done to my personal equation with all my yo-yo-ing. Seems harder to lose every time.

  8. I like math too, but caloric math is in a league of its own. So many variables. So much physiology – how cells utilize, move and store or release energy – which is essentially the content of calories. It’s not the math, it’s the nuclear physics involved that made my head ache. But I do know, from prooving it to myself over and over, that consistent less in and moving more does in fact = weightloss. Not in a predictable time frame maybe, but in a predictable way. Barring unforseen physiologic obstacles!

    • Karen

      Probably over time… which goes back to the patience that Michele mentions above. And is exactly why she is so successful at this! The wild thing is that even experts seem to disagree about eating and the impact of certain foods or food groups.

  9. It is a complex issue. I do feel that my body looks & reacts much better to calories from complex carbs & lean protein… I have done it both ways & my body just seems to be leaner this way. I don’t so much white stuff & sugar either but in the past when I did more than I do now but still worked out & all, my body fat was higher but the weight, maybe close to the same so…. I am thinking the weight may be similar but the way your body looks my be different.

    As for sodium & such, a temporary thing till it works out of the system.

    Yes, hormones & medication also play a factor. It is a truth that the hormones change with age & YES it is harder to stay as lean.. weight settles differently on the bod & in different places. Sometimes the scale does not go up dramatically but the way one looks is “different”. Saying that, I have had to cut back on calories with age/hormones even though I am working out as hard & eating really clean.

    Ya got to find what works for you & it may be eating leaner protein & certain carbs more than others to do that. I eat sweet potatoes but not so much the white ones that often nor do I eat pasta (don’t really care for it anyway) or even rice that often. I am mostly a veggie person with sweet potatoes thrown in there with my lean protein.

    • Karen

      I love sweet potatoes and I don’t think I even tried one until a couple of years ago:) Wish I liked veggies more. I do work hard to eat them because I know how good they are for me. But, I also have to be conscious to eat lean protein too. As I have shared, if left to my tastes, I’d be a carb person all the way!

  10. Sometimes, I get so tired of thinking about food, how many calories it is, or how many I burn — I can’t calculate that stuff anymore. Lately, I’m just trying to pick from meals I know are in the general area I should be eating, not snacking unplanned, and getting to the gym as often as I can. It’s working; so, I’m just going with it.

    • Karen

      I think that is part of what people like about intuitive eating. And plans like South Beach where it is about choosing the right foods and not about counting anything.

  11. Ewa

    It is as simple as calories in and calories out BUT calories are used up in different ways depending on the type of food we eat, our metabolism and many other variables. You today might be utilizing calories differently than you a month ago.
    Gary Taubes, quite controversial, has many books and articles on the subject. One may not agree with all he says but at least it gives good food for thought. (that food is zero calories though 🙂 )

  12. Karen, all calories are not created equal! I also learned something interesting from a nutritionist at Canyon Ranch a couple of years ago. For years, I worked on the formula that you allocated about 15 calories for each pound – ie maintaining a 125 pound figure meant you could burn about 1875 calories. But then Hannah told me that changed as I got older and the ratio was more like 12 calories – which, quite frankly, sucked. Math is not my forte either. 🙂

    • Karen

      It has been interesting that as I play with various online trackers they seem to vary greatly in how many calories they say I burn (just living and with exercise) and how they vary with the number of calories in food. Makes it even MORE complicated!

  13. My diet, the husband seperation one, I have no appetite. I have no gone over 1000 calories on any day in over 2 weeks. No I am trying to eat, but it isn’t working all that well for me. True I haven’t excersiced at all but the scale barely moves. Stress prevents me from losing.

    • Karen

      Stress does that! And more:( But I have also heard that you won’t lose if you eat too FEW calories. Darned if we do and darned if we don’t.

  14. I think counting calories (in my case, WW points) is really helpful. I think the math does add up, at least after awhile. How long have you been tracking everything? Drinking half your weight in water is also a really important thing I learned. And I agree with some other people that wrote that not all calories are equal. That’s the great thing about Weight Watchers- it takes into account carbs, protein, fat and fiber.

    And I am always really skeptical of how people/machines calculate the calories burned. How accurate is it?

    • Karen

      I though it was interesting that the new WW plan does not count calories at all! (I went to a meeting to check it out, having done WW years ago.)

      So, we got this new treadmill last year and the owner’s manual even said that the calories burned information is not accurate and only to be used for comparison between workouts! I wonder if Body Buggs are accurate.

  15. The numbers have never added up, and the frustration of doing all the right things, and goals not being met are more than frustrating – they can lead me to give up. So for me, this is not good math

    x calories in – y calories burned ≠ grams lost

    For me the formula is all about being intentional

    x calories in (through good food choices) – y calories burned (through vigorous exercise) = congratulations

    • Karen

      What I love about your approach is that we all, myself included, seem to focus too much on numbers. Calories or the scale or whatever. How much better to focus on our behavior and how we feel. Kudos to you:)

  16. Numbers alone do not work for me- if carbs are over 40% I get no weight loss, in fact I sometimes get weight GAIN. So my personal formula is something like

    Calories in = 35% carbs + 40% protein + 25% fat = 2 lbs loss per week.

    Any change in the eating formula and I’m not losing.

    • Karen

      I wonder what my formula is? I’ve never counted carbs and protein but could easily check that out now while I am using online tracking. Might be interesting.

  17. The numbers do NOT work for me. I know a couple of the reasons.

    Supposedly, if you multiply your weight by 9, you will get the number of calories you burn in a day if you are a sedentary couch potato.

    I watch a 4 year old 10 hours a day. And don’t have a housekeeper cleaning my 10 room house. So even if I don’t officially exercise, one would think that I would burn AT LEAST at the couch potatoe level. Not so.

    At 180 pounds, I should have burned 1620 calores a day. doing nothing. I burn between 1450 and 1550 according to my Bodybugg with above listed activity. ‘m not sitting on the couch, potatoing.

    Per math, that’s less than a pound a week if my cals are 1200 a day. Adding a 3 mile walk gets me to about 1900 cals. Max. About a pound a week. double 😦

    The other thing is that I have Celiac’s Disease. A mild case, but I have a rare complication. If I eat gluten, I get a form of ascites–which is fluid collected around your middle to put it simply.

    Here’s some math for you: If I eat–say that box of Devil Dogs you mentioned in your last post–on Wednesday, on Thursday—> I will wake up weighing 5 to 7 pounds MORE and have added 3 inches to my waist. No way did I eat, 24,000 calores over my burn–meager tho my burn is. It takes me about 2 weeks to lose that poundage. Water pills don’t work well with it.

    Math? Yeah, I hate math.


    • Karen

      Just yesterday, probably because of this post, I was thinking about Bodybuggs and wondering if it would be worth the investment. I will need to look into those. I know Costco carries some other brand too. It would be very interesting to really know what I am burning just for grins.

  18. I am not a math or numbers person! You have already been given lots of good advice and thoughts.

    So many factors play with the number on the scale. Sodium intake causing water retention,building muscle which also retains water. Hormones really do a number on me and make weight loss super slow for me at this stage of my life.

    I say concentrate on living healthy, making good food choices, exercising and stop looking at the numbers for a while.

    • Karen

      Well I’ve said it before and will surely say it again – you have a great approach to this. You eat such great food and have a wonderful attitude about it all:)

  19. Jan

    I loved math in high school and college . Did calculus problems for fin because I enjoyed the puzzle solving with precise tools.

    Calories and weight loss are not math, although the USDA and other organizations and influential (read that as loud) people would have us think otherwise.

    Anyone interested in how we got to the calories-in/calories-out belief system and evidence pointing to the contrary might be interested in Gary Taubes easily digestible book, “Why We Get Fat, And What To Do About It”. Yep, I have recommended this book before to commenters here and might do so again if the topic is appropriate because no one else has written so well for the general public.

    • Karen

      You are the second person to mention that author. I will check it out. I’m back… just reserved it at the library:) Hope you are having a fabulous vacation!

  20. girl you totally got it here well done

  21. I never pay attention to the calories burned, even if I’ve entered my age & weight or whatever data is required. I just don’t believe that a piece of equipment is going to know how hard I really pushed myself, much less all those other things you mention in your blog.

    I, too, am very numbers oriented and take comfort in formulas, but I threw this one out a long time ago. The only thing I have any real control over is calories in, and what type they are. The rest I ingore. I don’t know if it is a wise strategy, but it works for me!

    • Karen

      I find even the calories in is subject to variability. As I have been using online trackers recently I have been surprised with how much difference there is in the calories they state. An apple, for example. Or chicken!

  22. I have the same issue as you. I think my age has really slowed things down. Hormones, stress and for sure where the calories are coming from.
    I agree with Beerab too and I need to keep carbs on the lower end to start the furnace and keep it going.
    Let’s keep playing with the formulas until we get it right!

  23. I hate math too. Surprise, surprise 😉

  24. Karen — I’m still working on figuring it out for myself … I do know, like you, that there are many factors involved.

  25. I don’t count my calories burned–I just try to eat between 1200-1500 calories (what is recommended by Sparkpeople for my height & weight for weight loss) every day, regardless. When I do that, I lose. Except of course, when bloating comes into play, which feels like most of the time lately. :/

    • Karen

      I should go see what they recommend for me. I am still experimenting with tracking on that site but feel like I set my own numbers.

  26. Karen, stop trying to control that which you cannot. The numbers of weight, to a certain extent, can’t be controlled. Well, they can be controlled, but they can’t be figured out pristinely in advance. Take, for instance, me. I ate lunch out Monday. I had a hamburger, but I had it bunless. I didn’t have ‘bottomless french fries’, I had 3-4 onion rings. I had no carbs at dinner. Breakfast was normal. Tuesday morning, I’m UP TWO POUNDS. I did not consume an extra 7,000 calories. I knew it was sodium from lunch. I was pristine on Tuesday. I stepped on the scale today/Wed. morning. The two pounds were gone. Poof!

    We can know that sodium and hormones (pre-menstrual) can and do affect our weight, but we can’t put exact numbers to it. The best we can do is try to minimize sodium (for this and obvious heart reasons as well), and well, take it for what it is. Which is: beyond THAT, simply out of our control. BUT, it’s also fleeting. So when it happens, buckle down, do better, and watch it leave pretty quickly. Same with pre-menstrual bloat/gain. It’s only fleeting. Let it happen, and a couple of days later, it’s gone. 🙂

  27. I’ve never been a calorie counter, but have found that keeping a training log, and setting myself some exercise related goals and tracking progress against them has been extremely helpful.

    • Karen

      I suspect that is a more male approach. My husband has a training log too and I am pretty sure he has never tracked calories. Or maybe it is something athletes and former athletes do?

  28. The numbers do not always work for me. On both sides. Sometimes I lose weight when by the numbers I should not have, and vice versa. My husband called me the anomaly LOL!

    That’s why the scale is a horrible accounting tool is that is all one uses.

    • Karen

      One thing I love about your approach is how you incorporate foods you enjoy, like bagels, with exercise, like biking. So smart!

  29. I think one of the mistakes we make is trying to hit the same number of calorie deficit each day. (Although that could have just been me.) Our bodies respond to variety and change, both in numbers and the content of the calories. I learned not to micromanage it. (Okay, that was a bit overly positive–I’m *learning* not to micromanage it.:) )

    • Karen

      Years ago when I was doing Weight Watchers I learned about the Wendie principal and found it worked well to break a plateau. It is basically the point you make – varying our calorie (or WW point) intake over days. I think that does make sense; that our bodies adjust and adapt. Same thing with exercise. And I know I can often get into a rut and eat similarly day after day.

  30. Whenever I *think* I’ve been doing really well with the “math” and don’t see the change on the scale, I ask myself: am I being honest? Was I sneaking food? Snacking and not writing the calories? Taking bites? Nibbles? Sips of my boyfriend’s real soda? A swig of his beer? Eating out a lot and not accurately counting my calories because the reality of restaurant food is shameful? The answer is often yes and it’s a reminder I need to be honest with myself and log EVERYTHING.

    • Karen

      Very good point! I measure out my almonds when I eat them and would then pop an extra in my mouth. Only one… but still.

  31. The math never made sense to me either. 3500 Calories is supposed equal 1 pound right. So then why when I eat right and burn 3500-4000 calories per week am I not losing at least 1 pound? Then someone tells me “you’re not eating enough” REALLY? Again this does not make sense. When I was a teenager and ate less I would lose weight so easily. Stupid hormones and aging!!! Anyway…I started eating more and started losing easier (WHAT???) Like Sheri I track food and exercise on Livestrong and whenever I stop tracking I stop losing. I am going to leave the math by to the mathmaticians and try to stop overthinking the logic of it cuz it will never make sense to me. LOL!

    • Karen

      I would find it hard to eat more with the thinking I’d lose more easily, but I have heard that before. I guess we each need to find out number if we are counting calories. Always so complicated:(

  32. It might be a “simple” equation, but it’s not easy, and I too suck at math!

    I also find myself at that same “point” in life when it becomes harder to lose weight. It sometimes makes me mad that I didn’t just take care of business and keep it off when the numbers were in my favor. I wish there was an easier way, but I’m still searching for an equation that works for my life today that will take me into the future.

    • Karen

      Someone wrote a great post once about what she would have told herself at a younger age and the whole “harder to lose as you age” thing was part of it.

  33. Hmm. Rachel Cosgrove talks about calorie and carb cycling in her weight lifting book. I haven’t studied it very closely yet, but it’s the idea of varying one’s calorie and carb intake across the week. It sounds complicated, but it makes a sort of sense–I have no idea about the science behind it, but she hasn’t led me astray yet.

    • Karen

      Years ago when I did Weight Watchers I learned, unofficially, about varying what you eat across time. It was the Wendie plan and, being WW, had to do with points. Same principle though, I would guess. I think the theory is our bodies adjust to what we eat so we need to keep them guessing.

  34. MB

    There are so many other factors in weight loss math. Some weeks I did everything right and was sure I would see a loss but didn’t and other times I would expect a gain and be pleasantly surprised. The numbers don’t tell the whole story, just keep being consistent with healthy eating and getting some activity and the numbers will work themselves out.

    • Karen

      I think you are right, and over time it will level out. And, I keep telling myself that I am going to measure my success with what I do, not what I weigh:)

  35. I struggle with the same thing. I work out six days per week for at least an hour & only eat up to my weight loss calorie intake. My workouts change too. Weights, swimming, cardiovascular, kick boxing. I am just as frustrated! :l

    P.S. LOVE this blog!


  36. Metabolism has got to play a part in this, no?

    I’ve never counted calories…not once. But I can say that for a while (years ago) I did Weight Watchers and even though I stayed in my points range each day, I steadily gained weight.

    Turns out eating Fat Free Pringles only (at the time, one whole can was 7 points) doesn’t mean you can lose weight.

    Maybe it was the carbs, maybe it was the lack of fiber, or maybe it was my system rebelling against the complete and utter garbage I put in it. The world may never know…

    Sorry for my late comments – I’m just now reading blogs for the first time in two weeks.

    UGH getting caught up is tough!! 🙂

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