Thursday, April 27, 2017

Weight Loss 101 - Calories In - Calories Out

I’m starting a new series of posts today. This is the first in a series, “Weight Loss 101”. In this series, I am going to talk about the things that have worked for me in my journey to lose 100 lbs. I’m going to explore the nerdy side of weight loss and discuss calories and adipose (fat cells) and how they work. I’ll be talking about glycogen, triglycerides, and water weight. There’s also a phenomenon I will tell you about called “Stall and Woosh” which can explain weight loss plateaus and will show you how a plateau isn’t exactly what you think. Exploring the scientific side of weight loss has helped me tremendously. Hopefully the posts in this series will help someone else.

Today, I’m going to talk about my diet strategy, calories in – calories out. This is the most straightforward diet that I know of, is based on scientific law, and has worked for anyone who has correctly applied it. I’ve tried the Weight Watchers points system, Nutrisystem, Atkins, and several other diets, mostly hand written and copied thousands of times on a Xerox machine, and have come to the conclusion that for me, calories in – calories out works the best. It’s all simple math and physics.

First, let’s look at how weight loss works. One pound is equal to 3500 calories (energy units). The average 150 lb person burns 1800 calories, or units of energy, per day for someone with a sedentary lifestyle (your personal Basal Metabolic Rate can be calculated by a doctor or estimated using a BMR calculator). In order to lose one pound, you must create a deficit of 3500 calories. On a 1200 calorie per day diet, a deficit of 600 calories per day occurs. That means that it will take six days for me to lose one pound, provided I stay within that 1200 calorie per day limit.

Let’s add in exercise. Each mile I run burns roughly 100 calories. I’m currently running approximately 10 miles per week, burning about 1000 calories, or .28 pounds. If I follow my diet to the letter, and run five days per week, I can expect to lose 1.28 pounds per week.

On the other side of the coin, let’s explore weight gain. I had gained 100 lbs over an 8 year period. It isn’t that hard to gain weight, and the pounds can sneak up on you even when you don’t think you’re doing that badly. A seemingly normal diet can hold more calories than we’re even aware. A typical day for me before I began my diet, and on a day that I cooked a “normal” dinner and not one of my gourmet masterpieces, would include:
  • Two Pop Tarts for breakfast at 400 calories. 
  • A pack of cookies or nabs in the afternoon (I rarely ate lunch) at 200 calories. 
  • Dinner might be a plate of spaghetti, 329 calories, 2 slices garlic bread, 412 calories, and a salad with 100 Island 200 calories. 
  • In the evening, I usually had 3 glasses of wine or beer while I cooked dinner and later watched TV - 381 calories. 
  • TV time snacks. I’m going to lowball with microwave popcorn at 350 calories. 
I am up to 2272 calories for the day. Although it doesn’t sound like a lot, this is 472 calories above the 1800 calorie target. The thing about the human body is that when it finds extra calories, it stores those calories for energy that may be needed later. These calories are converted and stored as fat. This means that it would take only 7 days of this type of food to gain one pound, and eating every day like this for one year would net a weight gain of 52 lbs. Those foods I listed in my normal day don’t seem like that much until you break down the calorie count. Now take into consideration vacations, holidays, birthdays, dinner and drinks with friends on the weekends, and other events where food is the main focus. Talk about disaster!

Understanding the way calories work is an important part of weight loss and maintenance. With mainstream diets, you don’t have the advantage of learning the calorie count of foods. On the calories in – calories out method, you begin to memorize the calorie counts of foods. When going out to eat, you can then easily calculate the calories in any meal by adding the calories of the ingredients. With mainstream diets you don’t learn to eat differently. You end up following the plan to the letter, and sometimes only eat pre-packaged meals, and when you hit your weight loss goal and go off of your "diet", you go back to old habits. In a year or two, you’ve gained back all the weight and then can’t understand why.

Once I’ve hit my weight loss goal, I will have to tinker with the number of calories I need for maintenance. The 1800 a day is a good starting point. From there, I can monitor how my weight fluctuates by the week.  If I’m still losing weight, I can up my calorie intake. If I’m gaining, I can lower it again. I know that I will always have to count calories and pay close attention to the scale to prevent myself from falling back into those old habits. That’s fine with me too. I’ve developed the habit of weighing myself religiously and logging calories on my app. It only takes a few minutes each day.

Those are the basics of calories in – calories out, and is my diet strategy. More “Weight Loss 101” posts will be coming soon! Please let me know if there is something you’d like for me to discuss.

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