Why the obesity epidemic may not be solvable

Gad Saad’s weight loss story shows why the obesity epidemic is possibly hopeless, or at least worse than I originally thought (from the Joe Rogan podcast):

Although he succeeded at losing 86 pounds (at a peak and 256 pounds, and a present weight of 170 pounds), in order to achieve this he had to:

1. Cut has daily caloric intake to 1,700, which he follows strictly.

2. Walk 15-20k steps/day (approx. 7-9 miles), which he has done without fail for over 2 years.

He says he weighs himself once a week, which, imho, is way too infrequent. You should be doing this daily, or else you have insufficient data.

For a male, 1,700 calories/day is pretty low. That’s like one smallish dinner and two snacks (assuming only water and/or diet drinks). I’m not sure what his height is, because this matters a lot for estimating one’s basal metabolic rate (BMR). From what I could find online, he is 6′0, so plugging his height, weight, and age, 58, into a BMR calculator gives a BMR of just 1,630calories/day.

But given that he exercises daily, and fairly vigorously at that, his expected daily caloric intake should be 2,500. Yet he’s 800 below this. He’s also 300 below the ‘recommended’ guidelines of 2,000 calories/day, which is generally considered to be an underestimate anyway (a lot of sources, such as the NHS, recommend 2,200-2,500 calories/day for a male). 1,700 is closer to the guidelines for a woman, not a 6-foot-tall male who exercises daily. (However, it’s also possible that the guidelines have changed in order to account for Americans becoming fatter overall, not that 2,500 calories is better or healthier 2,000 calorie.)

I think this shows how important genes are. It’s possible that Dr. Saad’s metabolism is poor and he was predisposed to gaining weight later in life despite being athletic early in life. It’s likely a certain, fixed percentage of the US population has poor metabolism or other factors conducive to weight gain, especially after the age of 30, which is when weight gain becomes more common. We cannot just blame gluttony or poor self-control when people are gaining weight with so few calories to begin with, possibly owing to poor genes. Another factor is the concept of ‘set weight’. What this means is as someone loses weight, one’s metabolism falls accordingly to try to maintain this biologically-set weight.

This is similar to my dad. He eats just one meal a day and a small pastry in the morning, plus he exercises hours almost everyday. Like Dr. Saad, he probably eats no more than 1,700 calories/day. He has kept this routine up forever in order to maintain a normal, healthy BMI. How many people have the dedication and discipline do this. Some can, but we’re talking almost 75% of the country–250+ million people– who are at least overweight.

I found myself having the same problem. Had to cut calories to 1,700/day to finally break a plateaus in order to hit a slightly overweight BMI, and this was with exercise.

Another individual describes how he gains weight if he consumes more than 1,500 calories/day (1,200/day if no exercise), which is ridiculously low:

A study of patients who had undergone bariatric surgery found that they have abnormally low metabolisms, even after losing weight:

In a previous study, Dr. Indelicato and his colleagues found that obese people had an average MF of 8.3 calories per pound, compared to 10.6 for overweight people and 12.8 for normal-weight individuals This means that an obese person needs just eight calories per pound to maintain his or her body weight, while a normal-weight person burns 12 calories per pound while at rest—50% more.

In the new study, published online in Obesity Surgery, Dr. Indelicato looked at 18 bariatric surgery patients. While patients’ average RMR went from 2,634 calories before the surgery to 1,954 calories afterwards, their MF barely budged, going from 8.1 calories per pound before surgery to 8.6 pounds afterwards, not a statistically significant difference. “The metabolism was slow to begin with, it stayed slow a year after surgery,” he said. “These people just have slow metabolism.”

Going from 2,500-3,000 calories/day to just 1,700 and still having to walk 7 miles/day, is quite a drastic lifestyle change, which may be impractical for people who have jobs or are busy. If restricting one’s daily intake to 1,500-1,700 calories, plus hours of exercise, is what is required for people to not be overweight or obese, I don’t see how this is a workable solution on a nation-wide level. If people can get obese by consuming fewer calories than even recommended by ‘official’ guidelines, which are quite conservative to begin with, it shows how hopeless the situation possibly is. These are people who are not even eating that much but are still becoming overweight or obese.


  1. What’s missing is medicine. Some of the most commonly prescribed such as birth control, antidepressants, etc all lead to weight gain and metabolic effects.

  2. You should focus on weightlifting as opposed to walking. Doesn’t even have to be that heavy. Just get some 30 lbs dumbbells, a flat bench, and rep it out until you’re tired. Quicker and better at reducing insulin resistance, which is the main cause of disease.

    Maintaining a healthy amount of muscle mass is the best way to stay healthy.

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