Weight Loss...A Moving Target
Weight Loss, A Moving Target
Why is it sooooo darn hard to lose weight? Isn’t it as simple as “eat less, move more”. Although this statement captures the “gist” of weight loss it doesn’t account for the myriad of dynamics that are “you”. What I hope to do with this article is let you know why weight loss is so difficult, why and how it changes over time and how you can finally master it.
In order to do this let’s first examine what we once believed to be gospel. 3500 calories = 1 pound of weight loss. In 1958 A man named Max Wishnofsky, MD reviewed the literature of a research study on sedentary, obese individuals, who ate a low calorie, high protein diet within a clinical setting. Under these circumstances he concluded that 3500 calories = 1 pound of weight loss. Over the years this has become gospel. But that is anything but true. Weight loss, just like everything else in life, changes. It changes based on many factors, such as, exercise, types of foods eaten, number of calories consumed, how much you weigh each day, what type of body tissue you are actually losing, age, and sex to name just a few.
We now have research that proves it takes a variety of calories to equal 1 pound of weight loss, depending on how long the dieting lasts, exactly what you are eating and whether you exercise or not. For example a study at the Pennington Biomedical Research Institute showed that in the first 4 weeks of this particular study it only took 2,208 calories to lose 1 pound of weight but after 6 weeks it was closer to the 3500 from Wishnofsky’s study. The researchers hypothesized that in the earlier part of the study the participants were losing water, glycogen (energy stored in the muscle), protein and fat, and later in the study the greater majority was coming from mostly fat (which is the desired effect we are seeking). Adipose tissue (which is right beneath our skin) is approximately 85% fat (kinda gross huh?) and does represent 3500 calories per pound. Conversely if the majority of our weight loss comes from water, lean tissue and glycogen losses the energy expenditure is much lower. For example 1 pound of muscle loss (which is 65 – 70% water) is only 550 calories per pound…a HUGE difference. Plus we DON’T want to lose our muscle which has a MUCH higher metabolic rate (roughly 45 calories per day per pound) than that adipose fat which is hanging on our bodies (only 2 calories per day per pound)
So therefore as you can see, the amount of weight you lose depends on exactly what you are losing, and what you are losing has everything to do with how and what you eat, as well as how long you restrict your eating and how much you are exercising. And on top of all that, the more weight you lose, the less body mass you have to maintain, so the less food you get to eat to lose more weight…and so on and so forth. Whew, that is a lot to consider! I think it is fascinating, but after all I have been helping people master weight loss on a regular basis day in and day out for over 30 years. I see firsthand just how complicated the process can be. I think just KNOWING how complicated it is, can make it easier for you to accept that weight loss is a moving target and you must adapt as your body changes. So let’s now look at what you can do to stay on top of this moving target.
First of all, to calculate how YOU will lose weight go to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) website http://bwsimulator.niddk.nih.gov. The NIH have developed mathematical equations to help determine how each individual MAY lose weight. You can enter your info under one of 2 models and it will spit out your unique weight loss predictions.
#2- Eat more protein. The more restrictive your calories the more protein you need to consume. Why? Well, under normal circumstances protein is NOT used as an energy source so all the protein you eat is used to build cell walls and muscle. BUT, while you are restricting calories protein is also used as energy, so you need more and more to avoid losing muscle and other lean tissue while you are losing weight. Remember, muscle tissue has a MUCH higher metabolic rate than FAT, so you DO NOT want to lose muscle you want to lose FAT. In fact a recent study showed you could need as much as 2.3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight while restricting calories to lose weight (normal protein consumption is about 1 gram per kilogram of body weight). Timing of protein intake is also important. Eat the protein throughout your day so adequate amounts of protein are available for building repair and maintenance of lean tissue.
#3 – eat foods that make you feel full. Restricting calories is tough. You WILL be hungry. Therefore eating foods that keep you feeling full will keep you from over consuming calories. Whole grains, vegetables, fruits, beans and lean meats, fish and poultry are all good choices. I know this is what you already knew but didn’t want to do, but sometimes in life you JUST DO IT, if losing the excess weight you are carrying around really needs to go. It is especially important to avoid sweetened beverages and alcohol.
#4 – Exercise smart. Exercising, for the most part, will make you hungry. So make sure you do some sort of exercise everyday while restricting your diet. Why, because you may feel hungrier the day after you workout and eat a few extra calories, so exercising everyday will help to work off those extra calories. Also don’t always workout so hard. With cardio, perform easy cardio at least twice a week. Easy cardio TEACHES your body how to burn FAT for fuel, hard cardio requires carbs for energy. When you take the time to TEACH your body how to burn stored fat, you will burn that stored fat easier ALL OF THE TIME, while you are sitting, watching TV and even sleeping. You also need to perform strength training 2 times a week. Consult a certified, experienced personal trainer to assess what exercises are appropriate for you and learn good technique and progression to make sure you are indeed building the muscle safely and effectively. I could go on and on about how to exercise to best facilitate weight loss, but that would be an entire article unto itself.
#5 – Be patient. Losing weight takes time. You will have set backs, you will make mistakes, you will get discouraged, but if you are kind and gentle with yourself and stick to it, you WILL be successful.