How to Lose Weight by Utilizing the Scientific Method

Ryan Porter

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Scientists use this step-by-step process to solve the world's problems, but you can use it to your advantage too.

Losing weight isn’t just the process of eating healthier and exercising more often. In fact, there’s a science behind it. If you understand the science, your weight loss journey will become that much easier.

Science, however, isn’t for everyone. When one hears the word science, they usually think of their grade-school days and remember why they have a degree in communications.

We don’t want to deal with any of that. We just want to see results.

Enter the scientific method.

The scientific method is a logical order of operations used by scientists to survey their observations and answer the world’s most critical questions. In other words, it’s a process used to find cause and effect relationships.

Scientists want to figure out how a specific occurrence can cause something to fluctuate in a predictable way.

It sounds complicated, but it’s not.

The scientific method is easy to apply to our own lives. One doesn’t have to be a scientist to use it. After all, we learned about the scientific method in middle school.

We can apply the scientific method to weight loss. It’s a topic that eats at many of us, literally. I applied the scientific method to my own fitness journey about a year ago. I started exercising more efficiently, and I created a daily calorie deficit (Cause). As a result, I lost 15 pounds and tightened up my physique over a period of time (Effect).

There isn’t a universal cause and effect weight loss solution, obviously. There are numerous ways to achieve one’s goals, whether they are the right fit for a particular individual or not. I do think that determining the relationship between our habits and weight gain are an important factor to look at.

I’ve listed the steps of the scientific method, and give examples on how we can apply it to our weight loss goals.

1. Ask yourself: what’s the problem?

You can use the scientific method when you have a question about something observable. In order to use the scientific method properly, however, you must find your answer in the form of measurable data.

Weight loss is the perfect case study.

You weigh yourself in pounds (at least in the United States), and you want to lose pounds. You can easily track your net gain or loss by weighing yourself.

So what’s your problem? Do you want to lose 5 pounds? Do you want to lose 50 pounds? Do you want to keep the weight off for good? Do you want to feel more confident in your own skin? These are all great questions to ask. This is the first step of the scientific method.

2. Research like you're a top scientist

You’re not an expert at everything, and that’s why you have a question. You’ll want to consult a physician, your friends, scientific journals, or even Medium for information. You want to ensure that that you don’t repeat your past mistakes

If you ask, “How do I keep off weight for good?,” for example, you might need to incorporate the healthy habits of a personal trainer into your lifestyle. Who or what you turn to for information is your call.

You have to research your own habits as well. You may think you eat pretty well, but have you ever taken a deep look into your diet? You may eat chicken breasts and salads Monday through Friday, but drink three pints of Guinness and slam Domino’s pizzas Saturday and Sunday.

Become introspective, and take a deeper look at your physical and dietary habits.

3. State your hypothesis (big-ticket idea)

Your hypothesis is nothing more than an educated guess about how your experiment will play out.

For example:

In order for me to lose weight, and keep it off for good, I need to create a lifestyle around healthy choices and exercise that I enjoy.

This is a broad hypothesis. Lifestyle choices aren’t exactly measurable, but the results are. More specifically, you could recognize that you eat a certain dessert every night. Then you can hypothesize that if you eat the same dessert, but reduce your intake to three nights a week, you’ll lose weight.

If you lose weight over the next few weeks, this might be the result of your healthier choice. This is just one small hypothesis you might make as a part of the larger weight loss journey.

Your hypothesis is a broad statement, and you will probably have multiple to test.

  • If I cut out soda, I’ll lose weight
  • If I start lifting weights, I’ll lose weight
  • If I make my own coffee at home, I’ll lose weight

You’ve recognized your problem, you’ve done your research, and now you’ve created a testable hypothesis. The next step is to plan your procedure.

4. Create an unbeakable procedure

Now that you’ve developed your hypothesis, you need to come up with a procedure for your experiment.

This procedure will show how you plan to change your independent variable, and how you will analyze the influence this change has on your dependent variable.

In the case of weight loss, the independent variable is the amount of daily calories one consumes. This is the variable you can change. You used to eat 2,500 calories a day, now you’re going to see what happens when you eat 2,200 calories daily.

The dependent variable then becomes the amount of weight loss one measures as a result of changing the amount of daily calories.

5. Test your hypothesis with an experiment

Run, jumprope, lift, climb. Do whatever you think will help prove your theory. Just make sure you track your data.

Weigh yourself before you start the experiment. Spend a couple weeks with the changes you’ve made, and then weigh yourself again to see if you lost weight. There are limitless experiments to conduct.

Think of something that fits your current lifestyle. It doesn’t need to be dramatic, but it needs to be a realistic experiment with the potential for success.

6. Analyze your data

Once you complete your experiment, measure your data and see how it stacks up to your original hypothesis.

Say you wanted to lose 6 pounds in one month. You created a realistic goal, and you changed your independent variable from doing no cardio, to two cardio workouts every week. What happened? How much weight did you lose? Did you pick up any new habits, positive or negative?

What did you notice while you conducted your experiment? Did it work? Did it fail? What do you need to change?

It’s alright if you failed. Scientists fail more often than they succeed. Create a new hypothesis, and repeat the process again.

7. Final thought

If you’ve analyzed your data, and you’re happy with the results, you can create a theory. A theory is a generalization, but it’s one with weight. It’s an idea that can explain something based on the data you’ve measured.

Once you have your theory, however, your work isn’t done. It’s up to you to repeatedly prove your theory. This means proving to yourself that you can keep your healthy habits alive for years on end.

Oftentimes, a scientist’s hypothesis isn’t supported by their data, and that’s a good thing for us. We aren’t always supposed to get the right answer on the first attempt.

Scientists, some of the smartest people in the world, spend their lives doing thousands of experiments before they ever find the answer to what they are looking for. Don’t expect your first attempt at dieting to be the end of the journey.

If your first hypothesis fails, learn from your data. Get back in the lab and create a new one. That’s what the scientific method is all about, and that's why we're built to live and learn.

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I write about startup culture, productivity, and life's moments. My goal is to serve as a teacher for the next generation of content creators.

Los Angeles, CA

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