Why We Actually Gain Weight: The Damaged Feedback Loop

We all have a feedback loop that regulates how much we eat. If our feedback loop is damaged, we eat too much. A damaged feedback loop is actually the root cause of weight gain. I explain all this below and also explain how Luuze can help you repair this feedback loop to help you lose weight permanently.

Why Do We Gain Weight?

When people start out on a weight loss journey, they often start with the wrong questions. “What diet should I choose?” “How do I lose weight fast?”

The deeper, more important question to ask however, is why do we actually gain weight in the first place?

Is it because we don’t exercise enough? Or we aren’t eating the right diet? Although these things definitely influence weight gain, these aren’t the root causes.

Fundamentally, we gain weight when we eat more calories than we burn. You’ve probably heard this before, Calories In versus Calories Out (CICO), blah blah blah. The statement is true, but not always useful.

But WHY do we eat more calories than we burn? And HOW do we stop eating fewer calories than we burn so we can start losing weight?

I struggled with weight management for decades. Diets never stuck and exercise led to temporary weight loss or no weight loss at all. Once I dug into the root cause of weight gain, I was able to finally figure out the right weight management plan for myself. This allowed me to lose 100 pounds in the process and lose weight permanently.

We all have a feedback loop that regulates how much we eat. If your feedback loop is damaged, you eat too much and gain weight.

If you fix your feedback loop, you will no longer gain weight. In fact, if you can control your feedback loop, you can then control your weight.

And if we can better understand the feedback loop, we can better understand how to control the feedback loop. This article will explain what the feedback loop is. It’ll explain why we gain weight, how we can repair the loop, and how Luuze helps you do it.

The Weight Management Feedback Loop

weight loss feedback loop - we gain weight when we overeat. we lose weight when we find a way to not.
The Weight Management Feedback Loop, massively simplified. I don’t talk about ghrelin, leptin, insulin, cortisol, and other hormonal factors that impact various parts of this loop. That will be a discussion for a future article.

The above image is a simplified diagram of the Weight Management Feedback Loop. I’ll start at the top. When we feel hungry, we eat. When we eat, we consume energy (calories in).

Sometimes we follow the green arrows and stop eating before we eat too much. This creates a caloric equivalence (or caloric deficiency), and we maintain our weight (or lose weight). Sometimes we follow the red arrows, which creates a caloric surplus. This excess energy gets converted to fat, and then we gain weight.

Naturally thin people follow the green arrow most of the time, independent of the other variables.

The rest of us often follow the red arrows from time to time, slowly gaining weight. Sometimes we regularly follow the red arrows for most of our meals, rapidly gaining weight.

If we can take the green path more often than the red path, we can succeed with weight loss. So why do we take the red path?

Why We Take The Red Arrow Path and Gain Weight

This question is absolutely underrated in the weight loss industry. People always immediately jump into solutions first, but it’s important to ask this question first. The truth is, the answer is different for everyone, and there are multiple reasons. No, it’s not as simple as “not enough willpower” (although willpower contributes to success). We choose the red arrow path because of our environment, our diet/nutrition, and our mentality.

Side note: our hormones actually play a significant factor in why we take the red arrow path, but our hormones are impacted significantly by the three factors above. Hormones, although important, will be the topic for a future article.

Our Environment

I remember starting a new job where there was literally free food in the office kitchen every day. I gained 20 pounds the year that I worked there.

Millions of us have gained weight due to COVID-19 changing our environment such that we are less active, and work from home has made many of us spend more time closer to our kitchens, snacking more. The reason for this weight gain is due to environmental change.

Obesity levels differ significantly between different countries. Sure, some of this may be genetics, but it is largely due to environment. In Vietnam where much of my family is from, for example, the obesity rate is the lowest in the world. I live in Canada, which has one of the highest obesity rates in the world. Guess what? I was obese for the majority of my adult life.

proof that the environment affects our feedback loop which then affects weight gain and weight loss.
My ancestry is Vietnamese. I lived in Canada. My parents who lived in Vietnam most their life were thin. I lived in Canada and was obese.

Your environment matters more than your willpower. Change your environment, and you’ll change how often you follow the green path versus the red one.

Our Diet/Nutrition

I mentioned above that the root cause of weight gain isn’t a poor diet. It is, however, is a major source of why we may or may not overeat. Most diets DO work if you stick with them.

Note the key phrase: if you stick with them. If you go on a fantastic diet, lose a ton of weight, then go back to your original diet where you were overweight, you will likely gain the weight back. This is why it’s important to pick a weight loss method that is sustainable. One that you see yourself committing to for the rest of your life. A successful diet is a lifestyle change.

Diets affect our satiety levels. If we feel full faster, we eat less. If we eat empty calories such as addicting snacks and sugary drinks, we will feel less full, and overeat.

This is why keto and vegetarian diets can be very successful. The diets naturally lend themselves to making us feel full before we overeat, due to their focus on satiating fats (for keto) and fiber (for vegetarian diets). This is also why the standard American diet often leads to us overeating. It is filled with sugars, refined carbohydrates, non-satiating fats, and other types of foods that keep us hungry even after we’ve eaten a sufficient number of calories. However, if you overeat on a keto or vegetarian diet, you will still gain weight. Crazily enough, if you undereat on a terrible diet, you can still lose weight too.

Intermittent fasting works for some people because it reduces the number of opportunities for us to take the red arrow path. It also increases the time that we are in the “burn calories” part of the Weight Management Feedback Loop. However, if you overeat on the meals that you do eat, you will still gain weight with intermittent fasting.

Remember though: this is just one factor in the three that matter for whether or not we overeat. I for example did not go on a restrictive diet at all, and still lost 100 pounds. Any diet can work for weight loss if you use it to eat less than you burn. Similarly, any diet can fail if you use it to eat more than you burn.

Our Mentality

Has your weight ever changed because of stress? Do you stress eat, or binge? I know that for me, I lose weight in times of anxiety, and gain weight in times of stress. For example, when my father passed away, I lost 5 pounds in 2 weeks and barely wanted to eat. After we had the funeral, my anxiety was reduced, but having to deal with the estate as the executor and having to catch up on lost work caused me to regain that weight plus more the following month.

how mentality and our mental state affects our feedback loop.
My father passed away December 2018, and the anxiety I felt dealing with the loss created rapid weight loss. The stress of having to deal with the loss after the anxiety was reduced cause rapid weight gain.

If there are issues with our mental health, we will have challenges with successfully implementing a weight management plan. Unfortunately for some, this can lead to a vicious cycle. Our weight affects our mental health, which weakens our ability to lose weight, which then affects our mental health even more. On the flip side, if we can gain small successes with our weight loss, our confidence can start to improve. We then improve our mental health which creates a virtuous cycle where we can succeed even further with weight loss.

You’ll fail if you don’t believe that you can lose weight. This is one of the reasons why I never even tried to lose weight for the majority of my life. Once I finally found a way to believe in myself, I started succeeding.

How Do We Start Eating Fewer Calories Than We Burn?

How do we tip the scales the other way around such that we can start eating fewer calories than we burn? To do this, we permanently change our environment, and/or our diet/nutrition, and/or our mentality.

Furthermore, for some of us, it may actually not take much. Even a small permanent change can add up. A few hundred calories not eaten per day can lead to tens or even hundreds of pounds lost.

The key word is permanent. Any temporary change in these three factors can create temporary weight loss, but if things go back to the way they were before, odds are that the weight will come back.

This is also the reason why there are so many ways to succeed with weight loss, and so many ways to fail. If you start off on a keto diet but your environment surrounds you with free sweet sugary treats and your mentality can’t resist free stuff, it’s going to be hard to stick with that keto diet.

My recommendation on how to start is to read my article about micro-lifestyle changes, pick some that you believe would work for you, and then experiment with changes that you can stick with permanently. Keep track of your weight and see what works and what doesn’t. Stick with the things that work and abandon the ones that don’t. I also recommend you read the ultimate summary of weight loss methods to see which method could best work for you, then do some deeper research on that specific method.

For me personally, a shift in mentality was the major reason I was able to lose weight and keep it off. When I first started my successful weight loss journey, I was a brand new dad with a lot more responsibility than I had in the past. My environment was probably worse for weight loss because I had a lot less time than before. I wasn’t much of a cook and I wasn’t about to tell my wife that she should be changing the way she cooks just for me, while dealing with her own added responsibilities of being a new mom, so changing my diet would have been challenging.

What I did have, however, was a newfound desire to lose weight. It was critical that I improve my health to be around for my son. This defining motivation was a big source of how I was able to succeed.

Use Luuze to Rewire Your Weight Management Feedback Loop

During my 100-pound weight loss journey, I started understanding myself and my body better by weighing myself daily. I started recognizing when I overate and when I did not, slowly rewiring my brain to repair my Weight Management Feedback Loop. Through regular reflection, I started recognizing the times I was taking the red arrow path and gaining weight and the times where I was taking the green arrow path and losing weight. The scale lies, so as an engineer, I did some math to make my weight measurements more aligned to what was happening in reality. I reflected on the times where I screwed up, the times where I got demotivated, and the times where I was motivated. Slowly, this repaired my Weight Management Feedback Loop as I absorbed all this knowledge through my direct experience of losing 100 pounds. I then put all this knowledge into Luuze.

Luuze focuses on helping people lose weight permanently by rewiring their Weight Management Feedback Loop. Weigh yourself regularly, then reflect on the past day, using the questions that the virtual coach asks you. If you keep on doing this, you will:

  • Get an accurate sense of your progress through trend weight measurements, not lies from the scale
  • Start to recognize when you took the red path and overate, or when you took the green path and successfully lost weight
  • Be warned if you are getting off track, and be given guidance on how to get back on track
  • Get your motivation boosted when you’re on a weight loss streak

I felt that too many apps focused on fitness or diet, when fixing this feedback loop was truly the source of permanent weight loss. If you’ve tried other apps and failed to lose weight permanently, try Luuze instead. Furthermore, Luuze can be used in tandem with a diet or exercise plan or even other apps to accelerate weight loss and lock in the losses.

What About Exercise and Metabolism?

You’ll notice that I haven’t talked much about exercise and metabolism, two very important factors that influence weight management. The truth is that even if you don’t exercise, you can still influence the three factors of environment, diet, and mentality to lose weight. Also, if your metabolism is poor, you are definitely going to have a harder time losing weight than someone who has an incredibly high metabolism, but again, the three factors can be changed to lose weight.

Exercise is amazing and if you can fit it in, do it. There are massive health benefits in doing so beyond just weight loss. More exercise does not guarantee weight loss however, because it is very easy to just start eating more as your body burns more calories.

And although there are some of us that have such terrible metabolism that it is an extreme challenge to lose weight, if you want to succeed, it’s important to not use that as an excuse to not believe and to instead find a way to be at peace with going slower.

Conclusion: Fix Your Feedback Loop, Fix Weight Management Permanently

Don’t just jump into weight loss, jumping into an unsustainable diet or unsustainable exercise routine. Instead, reflect on what you need to do to change your Weight Management Feedback Loop permanently, and start making the changes necessary in your life to do so. If you do this, the odds are significantly greater that you’ll lose weight and keep it off.

32 thoughts on “Why We Actually Gain Weight: The Damaged Feedback Loop

  1. I lost 110 lbs in 2008. I’ve managed to put 50 lbs back on in 13 years. I always weigh myself daily, do some exercise at least three times a week and have been doing intermittent fasting for two years. I can’t take these 50 lbs off!!

    1. Rena, it took me some time to respond to this comment because it really made me think. You’re doing a lot of things that can definitely support weight loss, such as IF, exercise, and daily weighing. Here are some of my thoughts:

      – Over time, unfortunately for some, physiological factors as we age start impacting our weight. That being said, that doesn’t mean all hope should be lost. I hope Luuze can help you discover new insights that might be able to help you switch things around.
      – The fact that you lost 110 lbs is INCREDIBLE. Sure, it might have been a while back, but it is PROOF that you have grit and determination.
      – Let’s talk numbers. You have regained 50 pounds in 13 years. 50 pounds may seem like a lot, but let’s take a different perspective. Do you know what that is the equivalent of over those 13 years? Overeating a measly 37 calories each day. Taken from that perspective, your feedback loop is only a tiny bit damaged! Hopefully, the additional insights that come from using Luuze can change the scales in your favour.

      Read this article if you haven’t already: https://luuze.com/three-ways-to-control-your-weight-the-weight-control-spectrum/
      And this one to help you understand why IF and exercise can work, but also why sometimes they don’t work: https://luuze.com/the-ultimate-summary-of-all-weight-loss-methods/

  2. Andrew, I saw you on tv news last night. Congratulations! The app looks great, and I’m in — I started right away last night. Your approach really resonated with me. Thank-you! I know this is going to be successful for me.

  3. Hi, interesting idea with the feedback. I saw you this morning on TV. I am a senior lady and have kept an eye on my weight all my life. Weighing myself every day is norm. Exercises, walking 10 000 steps, that is me. But these 2.5 kg are stuck.

  4. I saw you on the news as well. I downloaded the app and recorded my weight. I’m reading the articles and understanding the loop. Thanks. I know I’ll be reaching out to you at times. Thanks for going this.

  5. I’m a lifetime dieter and have many ups and downs with my weight and to make matters worse I was diagnosed with pcos at 16 so losing weight has always been difficult. My problem is I get discouraged because my weight loss is always slow and I give up because I feel it’s unattainable. Reading your story and the things you did with small steps makes sense and now I see the importance of going slow and hopefully going slow will be motivating and not discouraging. I have arthritis and high blood pressure so I need this to be permanent. Thank you for sharing your experience and your discoveries on weight loss .

  6. Thank for your web site and your app. I learned that small changes in our diet can lead to big changes in our health and weight is a keystone in our wellbeing.

  7. I saw you on the news as well lol….I’m in….downloaded the app the same day! I have some health issues and just got off a nasty steroid I was on for the last 10 months which has caused me to gain SO much weight. Regardless, I’m using the app and the articles have been inspiring. Thanks for this 😊

    1. You’re welcome! Those drugs that impact our physiological factors that influence how much we weigh can be so hard to deal with. I hope Luuze gets your control back! Keep us updated!

  8. Hi Andrew
    I saw you on the news. So impressed. I am having knee replacement surgery next week and am hoping to be able to incorporate some of your program tips into my rehabilitation. I look forward to taking this journey!

  9. I’m a 28 yo guy who gained 11 lockdown kgs. Since 1 jan I’m pursuing a 90 day workout goal to lose weight and get muscular. I workout daily and burn a minimum of 900 workout calories with one day of rest/week. As a part of my workout I do 60 mins weight training, 1000 skips or 100 burpees and minimum 20 mins walking daily. My diet is low carbs, high fibre and high protein. I eat a lot of fruit before a small lunch and salad before dinner which keeps me full longer. So far I knew I was fluctuating in weight (mostly losing) but didn’t know how to track it. Because of Luuze I’m tracking a decrease of 100 grams daily which was imperceptible to me earlier – so it’s helping me stick to it. So far I’ve lost 7 out of the 11 kgs and I’m 30 days into my 90 day workout goal. 🙂

    1. Wow Shikhar! That is incredible progress. Your before and after pictures are going to be impressive. So happy Luuze is helping. Keep us updated and send me an email once you’re finished your program!

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