A Lesson in Calorie Math

July 9, 2017  |  Uncategorized

The other day I was driving in my car and heard an ad on the radio. Another fitness facility in town is promoting a challenge to lose 20 pounds in one month. I can preach about how that isn’t likely, healthy, or sustainable all I want, but now I’m going to show the math.

To lose 20 pounds in one month means you have to average 5 pounds lost per week. One pound is equal to 3,500 calories, so 5 pounds is 17,500 calories. Divide that over seven days and you need to create a caloric deficit of 2,500 calories per DAY. This number alone is more than most people need to fuel their normal daily metabolism and activities. It is an outrageous deficit to create.

Not to mention, the human liver is only capable of metabolizing 8 ounces of fat per day, that’s half of a pound per day, which means 3.5 pounds of fat per week.  So assuming you lose PURELY fat each week, the most you could realistically lose is 14 pounds in one month.  That means to meet your 20 pound goal, you have to be perfect plus lose an additional six pounds. Where is that six pounds coming from? Well obviously not bone and organs, it is coming from precious muscle and water, the two key ingredients in a humming metabolism.  Still want to lose 20 pounds in one month? Ok. Consider this.

Healthy, more sustainable weight loss is typically 1-2 pounds per week. That means you have to create a deficit of 500-1000 calories per day. You can create this deficit through either decreasing your caloric intake or by exercising and burning calories.   However, if decreasing your calories puts you under 1,200 calories per day for females, 1,800 for males, you should not cut any more calories, you can add in exercise but expect your weight loss to occur a little slower.  Even if you are able to create such a large deficit, creating a larger deficit can come with more risks than just gaining the weight back.  You can lack nutrients, send your body into starvation mode where it tries to CONSERVE energy, and maybe even start binge eating in response to your body’s survival mode. If your body is in survival mode, it is extremely hard to make rational food decisions, your brain just wants to get fed.

One of the hardest parts of weight loss is to maintain as much muscle mass as you can because muscle is more metabolically active than fat, meaning it burns more calories at rest.  People often ask me why I can eat quite a bit of food and not gain weight. They think it’s because I workout all the time.  But I don’t.  It’s because I have a substantial amount of muscle mass. It makes my weight higher than your typical 5’5, 125 pound girl (which I never was) but it also offers me for flexibility and freedom with my food choices.

It wouldn’t be very helpful if I only pointed out why this isn’t a heathy goal and didn’t provide you with tips for an alternative method. So how can you be smarter about losing 20 pounds?

1.  Give yourself a realistic time frame. Your body and brain will respond best with small incremental changes over time. Don’t feel like you have to go from black to white overnight. We all know warding off carbs, fat, sugar, etc. can eventually backfire.

2.  Use an online calculator or a personal trainer to figure out your daily caloric needs. I am not a numbers counter, but this is good for a frame of reference.  From there, you can work on creating a deficit.

3.  Create a deficit through decreasing calories, maybe by 10% of your daily calories max.  So if your BMR plus activity gives you 2,000 calories, start by decreasing your calories by 200, or 1800 total calories per day. This will keep your body from freaking out.

4.  Add in exercise you enjoy and will continue. It won’t do that much good if you run ten miles a day until you lose the weight and then stop. This probably doesn’t need any further explanation. However, adding in resistance and weight training will build muscle and increase your dialysis metabolic rate. Win!!

5.  Use the scale as a compass but do not live and die by it. Your weight will fluctuate day to day due to foods, hormones, water, sleep, etc.  Picture it as a line graph that may zig-zag up and down day to day, but in the big picture it trends downward.

6.  Allow flexibility. Not everyday will be perfect. There is no “on track” and “off track.” Have healthy options prepared and available. Give yourself a chance to incorporate your favorite foods so you don’t go and overeat them when you finally “can.” Make each meal a present moment choice about what will serve you best in that moment and know that listening to your body will never steer you wrong. Remember, YOU ultimately know your body best, not some generic diet plan that a hundred other members are on. Pay attention to YOUR body.

7.  Finally… and this is my opinion only…. don’t set a deadline for your weight loss. It is impacted by so many factors that aren’t in your control. So do your best each day, each meal and know you are taking care of you body even if the number isn’t where you want it.  Please don’t be discouraged by basing your success solely on a number. By making better food choices and adding in activity, you are making your body healthier, 20 pounds less or not.

These ads and challenges sound exciting. They sound motivating. And if it gets you in a workout routine or making better food choices, that is fantastic. But use your judgement on what it is promising.  Faster isn’t always better and you will not find sustained weight loss in the land of instant gratification.

If you have questions or want to work with us and In Motion Fitness, please feel free to contact me. And as always, thank you for taking the time to read this. Xo.

Lisa Marie