*my article for my column in the local paper from this week
Going into Alco and seeing lawn furniture, swimsuits, and flip-flops is very discombobulating. First, I’m unaware of a beach nearby. Second, it’s snowing outside as I write this. And third, I still let the car warm up for 15 minutes in the morning.
Despite the fact that buying a swimsuit and starting a diet to fit into that swimsuit is like a bear coming out of hibernation too early, many of us are doing it. Or maybe it’s not the swimsuit that has you thinking about shedding the winter weight. Perhaps it’s the fact that you’d like to be able to walk farther than a mile so you can do more than fish the “tourist fishing-holes”.
January is often touted as the “diet-crazed” month, but my guess is that April and May are in close competition. If I ever write a diet book (I never will, I don’t believe in diets, but go along with me anyway) I want it released at the end of April. I know I’d cash in!
If you’re one of those people who is searching for quick pre-summer weight loss, this article is for you. There are SO many diets out there. Which one should you choose? Is it better it subsist on steaks and protein shakes or eat only salads? Could you survive on only four meal replacement bars a day? What will make you drop the weight faster; no sugar or no fat? There are way too many choices, and each one claims to be the best.
My advice is that you stay FAR away from all of them, and I’ll tell you why. Any diet that claims it can give you rapid dramatic results, is endorsed by a doctor celebrity or athlete, makes claims such as “ Independent studies prove”, claims to reduce fat in a specific location, claims to curb your hunger or boost your metabolism is a FAD-DIET. That means it won’t last, fads never do. Initially fad-diets seem to work. You lose weight fast, but you also gain that weight right back. Then you switch to another diet to try and lose the weight again (a.k.a: yo-yo dieting). Diets are a trap. They lure you in, but they won’t ultimately deliver.
Most diets promote cutting out a specific food group (typically carbohydrates) or drastically cutting calories. The weight loss from either tactic isn’t REAL weight loss. Significant calorie restriction causes weight loss. However, much of the weight loss is water and muscle mass. The body has defense mechanisms in place so that when you do not consume enough calories, it becomes catabolic. That means that your body starts to consume its own muscle mass for energy. Therefore, the weight you lose is not FAT; it is MUSLCE – this is not a good thing. Calorie restriction also causes your body to go into starvation mode where your metabolism slows down in order to conserve every calorie. Eventually it becomes almost impossible for you to lose weight because your body has become so efficient at saving the calories it’s given. Extreme calorie restriction also causes your body to deposit fat in the abdominal area in an effort to protect your vital organs. Doesn’t sound like a great weight loss plan does it?
Cutting out a specific food group isn’t such a great idea either. Because high protein, low carb diets are the trend I’ll focus on them. Cutting out carbohydrates and eating more protein will make the numbers on the scale drop, but it’s artificial weight loss. Carbohydrates hold water. If you don’t eat carbohydrates, your body holds onto less water, therefore you lose water weight not fat. Another problem with cutting out carbohydrates is that the brain runs on carbohydrates, so avoiding carbohydrates can cause you to feel fatigued, light-headed, unable to focus, or moody. Not to mention all that extra protein starts to wear on the kidneys and liver. It can also lead to certain vitamin deficiencies.
So if fad-diets don’t work, then what does? Well, when you break it all down, weight loss comes from a calorie deficit. That means that your body burns more calories than you consume. It’s really just simple math. 3,500 calories equals 1 lb, so if you burn 3,500 more calories than you eat, you lose 1 lb. If you eat 3,500 extra calories, then you gain 1 lb. Of course it’s not just the calories that matter. The nutritional value of food is also very important. Living off of Doritos and Mountain Dew deprives your body of a lot of vitamins and minerals that it needs to function properly. Therefore eating real food (if you can’t pronounce the ingredients it’s not real food) from every category (protein, carbohydrates, and fats) will aid your body in losing weight.
I’ll break it down a little further for you. We all have a Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR); this is the amount of calories your body burns at rest. BMR varies from person to person. Age, gender, lean body mass, and health all affect your BMR. Most often BMR’s are calculated from equations. One of the best equations to figure out what your BMR is, is the Harris Benedict Equation, you can look it up online. When you’re trying to lose weight it’s wise to eat for the weight you want to be. So when using the Harris Benedict Equation enter your “ideal weight” into the equation to get your ideal weight BMR.
Unless you sleep all night and all day every day, you also have a daily calorie expenditure. That amount depends on your activity level. There are monitors you can wear that will track your daily calorie burn as well as many websites that will give you an estimation of how many calories you burn doing any given activity. Using that information and knowing your BMR would allow you to figure out the right amount of calories to eat, and the right amount of calories to burn in order to lose weight. Remember you should never eat less than 1200 calories, or your body will go into starvation mode.
It may also help to know that your body only needs 1 – 1.5 grams of protein for every kg of your body weight (lbs/2.2 = kg.) If you are a body builder you may need 2 grams per kg. of body weight. Also about 60% of your daily calories should come from carbohydrates and no more than 30% of them should come from fat.
There it is… Weight loss demystified. Now go get out your calculator and figure out how to lose weight in a healthy balanced way without sabotaging your metabolism, health, sanity, or wallet and then I’ll see you at Alco in the swimsuit section.