Get out the abacus, we’re talking numbers

3 01 2013

I’ve debated between talking about food or exercise first. And I think I’ll talk food first. Let’s start with science.

Your body requires x number of calories per day to function. Calories are NOT bad. Calories are energy. But, because our bodies are designed to take care of us, when we consume more calories than we actually need, our body stores it as fat so that we don’t starve on the days that we get less calories than we actually need. So, what you want to do is give your body what it needs.

3,500 calories = 1 pound. So, to lose 1 pound you must create a deficit of 3500 calories in your diet. DON’T PANIC. This isn’t as bad as it sounds. Let me use myself as an example of how this isn’t as horrific as it sounds.

Here is the formula that will determine how many calories you should consume in a day to maintain your weight (aka: what your body needs today that won’t result in stored fat).

1) current body weight x 10 = resting metabolic rate (RMR)
this is me: 160 x 10=1600
2) RMR x 10% if you are sedentary most of the day, exercise not included (desk job, etc)
RMR x 20% if you are moderately active (waiter, etc)
RMR x 30% if you are very active (construction worker, etc.)
me: 1600 x 20% = 320 (Daily Activity Burn/DAB)

So, for me, if I don’t work out at all, I can have 1920 calories a day and I shouldn’t gain any weight. DISCLAIMER: This is not an exact science. Every body is different and there are some people who can eat a lot more than me and not gain a thing and others who can eat a lot less and do nothing but gain weight. So, just realize this is ballpark and you’ll just have to use trial and error to perfect it for you.

Now, if I want to lose weight, say 1 pound a week, I need to lose about 500 calories of that 1920. That leaves me with 1420 a day to work with. Doesn’t sound like much anymore, does it? That’s where exercise comes in! If I work out and burn 300 calories that means I can eat 300 more calories. And sometimes that is all the motivation I need to work out.

Here’s the thing, and I can’t stress this enough: NEVER drop below 1200 calories. At least not on purpose and not often. This will send your body into starvation mode and it will store fat faster because your body’s natural preservation system will think you have stepped into a famine and will do everything it can to keep you alive. Your body is really smart, ya know. Eventually, yes, you will start losing the weight when your body has to call on those reserves to keep your vital organs functioning – but then it starts breaking down muscle tissue for energy. And, then, if you have enough sense to take care of yourself again, you will gain the weight back so much faster because you don’t have any muscle (fun fact: the more muscle you have, the higher your resting metabolic rate – that means you can consume more calories without consequence if you have more muscle). And that will just start the whole self-defeat weight gain cycle all over again.

So, get it through your   head now that the only SAFE, sure-fire way to lose weight is through the discipline of taking care of yourself.

Once you figure out your calorie needs, you have to write things down.  I use myfitnesspal.com to track my calories each day.  A perk of these calorie tracking sites is that most of them will figure out how many calories you need for you.  I’ll talk more later about some tips and tricks that may help keep you motivated once you realize exactly how much you are eating each day and how many calories are REALLY in that  (fill in your most frequent indulgence).  Tracking my calories almost broke my spirit once I realized that I was eating way way way way way too much.  But once I chose to make better food choices instead of feeling defeated by the difficulty of changing, I took a baby step, like only having one serving of sunchips instead of 13.  Then another, like finding a friend that kept me motivated.  Then another, like scheduling my workouts.  And so on and so on.

And it took 2 years to get the weight off.  And I still have a bit further to go.  But I didn’t give up after the first month because I didn’t see dramatic results immediately.  And you shouldn’t give up either.

So, now that you have your inspiration, whatever it may be, start learning how you eat.  Figure out how many calories you need and figure out how many you’re consuming.   Once you’ve got those numbers sorted out, then you can start taking the steps needed to make real, lasting change in your health.

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