I was having a chat with my Mom the other day, and the subject of diets and weight loss came up. My mom is a tried and true weight watcher. She has been on and of program as long as I can remember. We have talked many times about finding the balance everyday, but she insists that her all or nothing approach works for her.
She was telling me how after three weeks of total dedication she lost four pounds. Then she said that she went out to dinner and the next day she had gained two pounds back and was quite upset. She said “I can’t believe I gained two pounds over night. I asked her if she felt she consumed 7,000 more calories at dinner then her body used. And she said “of course not” I said “then ignore it, weight loss is a math problem”
This got me thinking, how often do we live and die by that number on the scale. I have long believed that the scale lies. It turns out it does, or at least sometimes we have to determine the real truth about what the scale is saying.
Crunch the Numbers
By know you may have learned that one pound of fat is 3,500 calories (stored energy as fat). You may also have learned that in order for your body to use stored fat for energy you need to use more energy then you consume in food. This is were the numbers come in. You need to first have an idea how many calories your body needs just to maintain it’s current weight. A good way to determine this number is simple, if you are not losing weight and you are not gaining, you are at energy balance.
A good way to find out what that number is in calories is by keeping a food journal. I know that journaling is a pain in the you know what, but you only need it for a while while you do your calculations. Track what you eat and how much for one week. You may need to do some weighing and measuring at first to make sure your portions are accurate. Add your total calories daily. Shoot for maintain your current weight.
If your calories (for women) for example total 1,600 daily this will help with determining how much weight you can expect to lose each week.
Ok, so we know that 3,500 calories is equal to one pound fat. So in order to lose weight at a the rate of one pound per week, you would need to cut your total calories per day by 500 calories. That is as simple as cutting out one mocha latte, a piece of pie or margarita.
From this point it is really up to you how fast you want your weight loss to progress. For some a steady weight loss of a pound a week is easy to maintain and may be the right choice if you like more flexibility and less stick approach. This is not a bad way to get to goal, it just takes longer.
So from our example above your numbers look like this 1,600 – 500 = 1,200 calories total daily to lose one pound per week.
Which brings me to the more aggressive two pound or more a week approach. Lets say your energy balance is 1,600 calories a day, and you determined that dropping your calories by 500 a day will yield a one pond weight loss per week. But you want to lose two pounds per week. It is not recommended to reduce your daily calories below 1,200 daily. By doing so, you can actually make it harder to lose and keep the weight off. You don’t want your body to revert back to it’s cave man roots and go into survival mode by reducing your metabolism and thus your energy needs. It is a much harder process to re build a sluggish metabolism and is a long road back to losing weight again.
OK so the answer should be becoming very clear now what has to happen.
EXERCISE! if you can’t risk lowering your calories further, you need to add exercise to your equation. Your body will work with you to help you lose weight when exercise is in the equation more the just calorie reduction alone. In fact regular exercise will cause the body to have more energy stored in muscles for more efficient use rather then storing in the body as fat. You can train your body to use what you eat rather then store it.
To get back to my mom, after talking with my mom some more, I found out why her weight increased over night. She had started to exercise recently and was extremely sore. She had a particularly high sodium meal at dinner the night before. And was on a new medication. All of which contributed to her increased weight.
So before you let your motivation fissile out from a unexpected gain. Know your numbers, do the math! if something doesn’t seem right. Do some detective work by using your food journal. Remember weight loss is a math problem. It’s up to you to solve it.