As the calendar flips over to a new year, all of us strive to “do better” with our diets and to “try to lose some weight this year”. Some are more committed than others, and many will launch into the process truly “not knowing” exactly how to achieve their goal.
As a Physician, I am continually approached with questions such as, “Which diet is the best for me?” Or, “Isn’t there some pill I can take that will make me lose weight?”
I usually answer with questions of my own, such as, “What exactly is your weight loss plan? Are you watching your caloric intake? Planning to exercise more? Following a specific diet plan?”
To follow up, I fully explain my take on diets and weight loss to my own patients, and anyone else who asks me for my opinion on the subject. Simply, there is no “Fad Diet Plan” that makes any sense. No one can eat “no carbs” forever, afford $300 a week for Mail Order food forever, or eat a thousand grapefruits until they develop stomach ulcers. If you want to lose weight, I advise people to simply eat better, and eat smarter, and set themselves up to succeed when they prepare to shop or to go out to eat. Most importantly, it all boils don to the calories!
Weight loss (and gain) is heavily based in simple mathematics. Every fitness magazine in the universe explains you have to burn 3500 calories to reach a pound of weight loss. That’s so frustrating when you run on treadmill for 45 minutes and the device says you just burned 128 calories….ugh! However, just as in life itself, you need to look at the entire forest, not just a single tree. The basis of weight loss is bigger than just 45 min on a treadmill a couple of times a week, paired with “watching what I eat”, or “paying attention to portion sizes”. Let’s look at the math involved…..now hang on, math is our friend here….you can do it!
Everyone has an average number of calories their body requires to simply exist on a daily basis. The larger the body, the higher the caloric requirement is to simply perform their daily activities. A simple equation to discover someone’s daily calorie intake was explained by fitness guru Chris Powell, and it actually works! Take your weight in pounds and multiply by 12. If you are 200 lbs, multiply by 12, you get 2,400. What that means is your body can take in 2,400 calories per day and basically stay at 200 pounds, not gaining nor losing weight. Take a second and calculate your own daily rate and use it moving forward.
Knowing it takes a 3,500 calorie deficit to lose 1 pound of body weight, we assign you a daily calorie deficit that is easily manageable, such as 500 calories per day. Over a week, you just created a 3,500 calorie deficit, and lost a pound of weight. So for the 200 pound person, he/she can eat 1,900 calories per day (500 cal/day deficit) and lose 1 pound per week without changing a thing in their life. Not fast enough for you? There are 52 weeks in a year. What if you look at that “big picture” again, and imagine the pride you will have by telling your friends you lost over 50 pounds in 2014.
As with everything in life, there is a catch to this formula. Many people will simply try to speed up the process by eating a low calorie diet such as 1,000 per day and shoot for 2 pounds of loss per week. The catch is the human body needs fuel to work! If you “calorie starve” the body, it will down-regulate its metabolic rate, and slip into “hibernation mode”. There is a “minimum” numbers of calories the body needs to survive effectively. For an adult woman, I recommend no less than 1,200 calories per day, regardless of her weight. For an adult male, it’s 1,500 calories. Another crucial thought in this plan is to keep your daily intake in a narrow calorie range so that your body knows it’s being fed the fuel it needs. You need to also avoid “ping-ponging” like eating 1,200 calories one day, then 3,400 the next at a Holiday function, then starving yourself for 2 days afterwards. A simple goal is to set up your 500-calorie deficit number per day as your max amount, and subtract another 300 as your minimum calorie intake for each day, so long as you don’t exceed those minimums described above. So for the 200-pound example, he/she should shoot for 1,600-1,900 calories every day to reach one pound per week goal.
Simple enough? So what is your number?
Now, another issue is your own metabolism. What can we do to increase our chances for successful weight loss in 2014? As my wife’s personal hero Jillian Michaels says, “Move your ass!” The body is a machine. The harder you work it, the more fuel it needs to perform. If you place demands on the machine in excess of the fuel you are dumping into the tank (as food), it will seek out another source of energy. Luckily, we all have plenty of fuel in reserve in the form of body fat. By diet alone, you have set the body up to lose a little weight each week. By placing extra demands for “fuel consumption” by incorporating daily exercise, you are increasing your chances of weight loss. Wow, so “diet and exercise” will actually work for us all to lose some weight!
“Exercise” can truly be anything that makes you burn calories. When I discuss “exercise” to people, the response is the same. Every non-exercising man I speak to immediately pictures himself sitting a weight bench flexing in a mirror after breaking out the old weight set he’s been lugging around since high school. Don’t laugh ladies, as most of you see yourself strapping on a Yoga leotard and leg warmers and breaking out your Mom’s old Jane Fonda tapes and doing aerobics in the privacy of your living room. Neither approach works, except to make you giggle a little at those mental images. Your body will need to burn calories to do anything physical. Cleaning out a closet, push mowing the lawn, jogging, running, jumping, squatting, mopping floors, cleaning gutters, etc- I’m sure you get the point. Our bodies do some things every day, like walking and sitting. We do it everyday, and don’t wake up sore the next day because we have become so accustomed to those activities. So I hardly ever recommend “more walking” as an exercise goal to people, unless health concerns exist to the contrary. Mix it up, do things that your body doesn’t normally do, use muscle groups that have been on vacation for way too long. If you are an avid runner, mix in weight training, and try Spinning. If you are into Cross Fit, add some cardio classes or interval training to your routine. If you are heavy into weight training, try things like High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) or prolonged anaerobic activities like swimming. If you basically are starting from scratch, your possibilities are endless! Geeze, if only there was a fitness studio that offered a variety of classes for an affordable cost that you could try out…like Spin, BodyShred, TRX, Group Power, Turbo Kick, Insanity, PiYo, CardioBoxing, and Boot Camps!
I didn’t forget about the premise of ‘food planning” I touched on earlier. We are all creatures of habit in what we eat. Most people have staple list of about 12 things we eat most often. Once we learn the caloric value of these items, we are set to know how many calories we are eating on a daily basis, and spend no time reading labels and measuring out ounces of green beans or whatever. A banana has about 90 calories in it, same for a large apple. A 6 oz glass of white wine has about 150 calories in it. In the world of smart phones, other items are a click away: one roll at Texas Roadhouse has 227 calories. In order to set yourself up to succeed, know what you are buying. Read those labels to know what you are bringing home for you and your family members. Make conscious choices about everything in your cart. Simply put, if it’s not in your fridge, you are not going to eat it. Try to frequent restaurants that have calorie info on their menus, as many do these days.
In summary, be organized, be strong, and be committed to the big picture. Things happen in life; we all have that small piece of birthday cake, or can’t resist the occasional pizza slice. Stay on course by keeping your head out of the sand at all times. If you can adapt to the principles of calorie balanced eating and a focused regimen of exercise, you can’t help but to find yourself losing weight, tightening your belt some, improving your energy level, and helping your body and mind to evolve in 2014!
See you at Evolution Fitness in 2014,
Darren Brucken, MD