It’s finding an exercise they enjoy, and having it lead to better eating habits. That’s the common thread. You can bail now if you only wanted that bit.

But if you want to learn and understand a bit more …

There is all sorts of science about how to lose weight and keep it off. I wrote a book jammed full of that science titled Lose it Right.

Sometimes, science gets a little narrow-minded, however.

It focuses pretty tight on types of diets, rate of weight loss, cardio vs. weights, macronutrient ratios, whether or not calories matter (they totally do), metabolism, eating behavior …

And that’s all good stuff. Like I said, I wrote a book filled with that stuff.

But I also did an MBA. And when you do an MBA, they fill your head with cheesy sayings like taking “the 30,000-foot view” so you can “see the big picture.”

Ugh. I just had flashbacks to that trauma.

Anyway, there is lots of micro tactical stuff about losing weight and keeping it off that has been analyzed to shit, and some strategic, big picture stuff that has been examined as well as can be, considering it’s hard to get a good look at what’s going on up at 30,000 feet.

Fuck. I’m doing it aren’t I? You can take the boy out of the MBA, but …

I’m just going to tell you what I’ve seen. And then I’ll add some more sciencey links at the end if you want to learn even more.

I’ve been involved in health, fitness, and weight loss for a long time now. I’ve read a lot of books and a lot of research studies, and interviewed world-leading researchers and respected hands-on experts to write articles for major publications.

I’ve also talked to a lot of people who lost weight and kept it off. And it’s what I learned from talking to those people that I want to talk to you about.

So let’s talk.

There are more methods of losing weight than there are beers in a Munich autumn. There are countless different diets, and a wide variety of ways to burn extra calories, that all boil down to creating a consistent caloric deficit that leads to weight loss, followed by consistent caloric balance (over time—there are ups and downs that even out) that lead to successful weight loss maintenance.

You’ve heard the cliché that “You have to find the way that works for you.” And such clichés often come about for good reason, because there is truth to it. But I want to focus more intently on an aspect of said cliché.

I already spilled what the common thread is, but here’s some detail. I’m a big fan of exercise and as tool for weight loss, all while loudly proclaiming that “Burning calories is the least important thing exercise does.”

But burning calories is still kind of important. Consistent caloric deficits are harder when you don’t exercise, because there is less dietary wiggle room. Being a regular exerciser does not give you license to eat like shit. It makes it so you can be a bit less restrictive in your eating, and a less restrictive diet is easier to follow over the long term.

There is more.

The common thread is exercise as the catalyst. Some form of exercise. ANY form. These people just found a thing, made it their thing, and diet followed, and then so did weight loss.

The critical part of the message is that this exercise thing they found became very important to them.

Across the many years of doing this I’ve talked to people who made their thing karate, mountain biking, lifting weights, competitive powerlifting, running, walking, fencing, home renovations, judo, cross-country skiing, swimming, road biking, triathlons, marathons, boxing, bodyweight exercises, yoga, indoor cycling classes, Pilates, hiking, walking dogs, running with dogs …

And a whole bunch of others. Like I wrote: more choices than beers in a Munich autumn.

They found a thing, perhaps a couple of things, and embraced it / them. Sometimes it happened fast, with a sudden flash of inspiration (like I wrote about in my recent book The Holy Sh!t Moment), and other times it was a slow evolution. They put time and money and effort into training. They bought gear. They entered competitions. They got coaching. They became driven to get good at this thing that they made their thing because they liked it.

Granted, you don’t have to do all that coaching / gear / competition stuff. I know a woman who lost 80 pounds because she discovered a love of walking. Her husband joined her, and he lost 50. Then their daughter joined and also lost 50. They walk as a family for two hours most days because they love doing it and love each other’s company.

And something interesting happens to your psychology and your physiology when you embrace some form of activity: you start caring more about what you eat. It makes the dietary changes that lead to sustainable weight loss a lot easier. I dedicated an entire chapter of Lose it Right to the scientific examination of this phenomenon, but I’ll link an article below that gives you the shorter version.

If you’re struggling with weight loss, don’t think about what the best diet is. And definitely don’t fret over which exercise is the best calorie-burner or muscle builder or whatever. Instead, take some taste tests and find a physical activity thing that becomes your thing. Work to get better at it. Enjoy it. And when the time feels right, let it guide you toward better eating to help fuel your efforts.

In all this, it’s important to understand that weight loss is incredibly hard for a host of reasons, and for some people, it can prove next to impossible. And there is no shame in that.

Before I get to some of the more science-filled how-to articles, I want to share a few important pieces everyone should read regardless of their body shape or size to better understand the various complexities of sustainable weight loss:

Stop Pretending You Know Why People Are Fat

Perhaps You Should Just Stay Fat

“Eat Less, Move More” Is Bullshit (NOTE: This is NOT a denial of caloric balance)


And now those more “how to” science of weight loss articles:

How exercise affects eating behavior (for Chicago Tribune)

The Caloric Deficit Cheat Sheet

The Cardio vs. Weights Cheat Sheet

Understanding Caloric Deficits for Weight Loss

Why Your Diet Is Doomed to Fail

How Fast Should You Lose Weight

Lifting Weights Is Better for Fat Loss, But Not for the Reason You Think

The Exercise Myth

Weight Loss and Decreased Metabolic Rate: It’s Not as Bad as You Think

An Elevator Pitch to Lose Weight and Change Your Life


My new book THE HOLY SH!T MOMENT, is now available. GET IT HERE!

You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter.


James S. Fell, MA, MBA, has bylines in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, the Guardian, TIME Magazine, and many other publications. His blog has millions of readers and he is the author of two books: The Holy Sh!t Moment: How Lasting Change Can Happen in an Instant (St. Martin’s Press, 2019), and Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind (Random House Canada, 2014). Order them here.