Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Weight Loss

As the year ends, thoughts go to New Year's Resolutions. One that is always on the list is "loose weight." Gyms do their biggest membership drives Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers put ads on TV proclaiming to help. Diet books are pushed and "healthy lifestyle" is even in at McDonald's.

I am 37 years old, 6 feet tall, and I weigh about 175lbs - 180lbs. I used to weigh about 220lbs, probably more before I decided I needed to loose weight. Some of my progress I noted in this very blog. Because I am in pretty good shape, I get asked a lot about diet and exercise. Nobody likes my responses, because they are simple and, most importantly, they are difficult.

Loosing weight is a numbers game. You burn a certain amount of calories a day. You take in a certain amount of calories a day. If you take in more calories than you burn, your body will store the excess as fat. If you take in fewer calories than you burn, your body will burn your excess as needed. It is a numbers game. Just like a pilot figuring out how far he can fly on the amount of fuel he carries, fuel in = energy out.

Now, we are talking about weight loss, not nutrition and not general health. They are loosely related, but not interdependent. Weight loss is about how many calories you take in, health is about WHAT you eat. Make sense? Don't give me the whole song and dance about protein calories versus sugar calories. For weight loss a calorie is a calorie is a calorie. For general nutrition then your protein and sugar and whatever else you eat matters. As has been proven time and again, you can get super fat from eating the healthiest of foods, and you can loose weight eating absolute crap.

So, what is my system? Reduce my caloric intake and increase my caloric burn. Said less fancy, eat less and exercise more. That's it. That's all. Anyone who is trying to sell you on some fancy super magic bean diet is blowing smoke up your ass. Now, again, this is about weight loss, not fitness. Weight loss is determined by how many calories you burn, fitness is what you do to burn those calories. You can be thin and not fit, and you can be very fit, and be fat. Weight loss is about calories. Is that sinking in yet?

How do I do this "eat less and exercise more" plan? First things first. Go to the gym or to a licensed dietitian and get your metabolism baselined. This will tell you how many calories you body burns at rest. This is a quasi scientific number, and the only reason we want it is to give us a general number of what your maximum allowed calories for a day is. This is kind of an important number because the fitter you are, and the faster your metabolism, the bigger the number of calories you body burns at rest is, and the easier it will be for you to loose weight. The smaller the number is... well the more work you have to put in.

Armed with this number, you now have an upper limit on the amount of calories that you can consume in a day. Count calories with EVERYTHING you put in to your body. There are smart phone apps that can help you with this. There are all sorts of suggestions out there on when you should eat. Personally, I am hungry almost constantly during the day, so I like to eat lots of small meals. I take in the same amount of calories as I would if I was having one normal meal, but eating lots of small meals helps slate my hunger so that I do not attempt to over consume when the time comes to eat.
What to eat? Just eat what you normally do. Unless you have a real reason for changing your everyday diet, don't. Again this is about weigh loss, not about nutrition. A lot of people think dieting means completely changing what they eat. It doesn't have to be. You can loose weight by eating the same things that you normally do.

Now comes the hard part... Stop eating so much. This is easy to say, difficult to do. The rule I used when I was REALLY trying hard to loose weight was to think about how much food I would normally take, then take half of that amount. I would then attempt to leave some food on my plate. For me, this was the most difficult thing of all.
I was raised to clean my plate. It is extraordinarily hard to break that kind of conditioning. It takes will power. At first I just left crumbs. Then small chunks. Finally, recognizable pieces of the food.
Again this is not easy, especially if a loved one is preparing your food. If you don't clean your plate, many times the person preparing the food will think that you did not like the dish, and they will become upset... EVEN if they know what you are trying to do and support your efforts. Food is social, and the preparation of it is an act of love. You not eating all of what you are given can be interpreted as a rejection of the love that the food preparer put in to the dish. This puts TREMENDOUS amounts of pressure on those that eat to eat everything up.
My suggestion is to try and put less on your plate, and to complement the taste of the food throughout the meal. Food left on the serving dishes is easier to accept than food on the plate.
So, as an example of eating less, say my meal is pizza. Typically I would eat about 4 slices. So, instead of taking 4 slices, I only take two. I then eat one full slice and MOST of the second. I attempt to leave some of the second slice on the plate. I then push away from the table. If you typically have desert after your meal, say ice cream, you play the same game. If I have two scoops of ice cream, I only have one, I then eat MOST of that scoop, leaving some in the bowl. I then push away from the table. You have effectively halved your caloric intake from that meal.

Exercise is a little bit more complex... but not much. Lots of studies have been done on what exercise is best for fat loss, but if you are not working out ANYTHING is better than doing nothing. If you already have a workout routine, try to mix in something extra so that you will burn more calories. If you don't run, add a one mile run to the end of your work out. If you run, stop one mile earlier and work in some free weights.
Try to work in little workouts during your day. I like to do about 100 or so pushups during the day, spread out. I also work in one minute planks a couple of times during the day. If you are in an office, don't use the elevators. If you work in a building that only has one floor, walk around it a couple of times during the day. Do SOMETHING that burns calories, don't just sit at your desk like a bump on a log.

I do not count the calories I burned during exercise against my total calorie intake. Those burned calories are just bounuses. The real work for weight loss is in what you eat, so have your max number and stick to it. Never go over that number, and a bad day is when you reach that number. When you reach the number, that means that for that day you didn't gain any weight, but you didn't loose any either. It was a tie, and we don't like ties!!

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