Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Weight Loss: What Really Works, part 2

I promise I'll get to something more interesting soon, but I told a friend I'd write about my weight loss methods. I'm not a nutritionist, and am only interested in nutrition inasmuch as I don't want to die of scurvy or some other deficiency. So without further ado:
In the last post, we discussed exercise, the oft-overlooked but crucially important method of body control. Then there's the other component: energy intake. Eating. For some reason, this is what gets all the play in the media and the ads that will no doubt riddle this blog for a few weeks. I suspect it is because eating is something you must do, where exercise is something you have to make time to do, and we're naturally lazy.
So, let's look at this handy tool on nutritionData. According to it, my daily needs are about 3000 calories per day. Now that we know that, let's revisit our equation. If I'm gaining weight, it's most likely because I'm consuming more than 3000 calories per day. So, if O is my output, approximately 3000, and I is my intake, and the difference is D, then I-O=D. D needs to be negative to lose weight. Don't focus on either I or O too much- D is the important one, and best achieved by a balance between the other two. Whether you decrease it (remember, it should be negative!) by exercising, or eating less, or a combination of the two, try to keep it to absolutely no more than 1500 calories per day. A pound of fat contains 3500 calories. This is handy, because 3500/7=500, or how many calories you need to lose per day to lose 1 pound in a week. It's a nice, round number. 1500 is actually easy to exceed if you become extremely active and crash diet. It can cause severe harm to your heart. Don't do it. The best, healthiest process is slow, steady weight loss. Lifestyle change. Start acting like someone who weighs your target weight- eat a little less, move a little more, and it'll happen. Give yourself time. Drink plenty of water, and stay away from empty calories (you know that FDA food pyramid? Actually a good idea, based on good science).
Don't do what I did- rush myself into a borderline medical condition courtesy of a fad diet. I had headaches for 3 days before almost collapsing at work one day because I wasn't getting enough. Nutrition is important. Carbohydrates are your friends- in fact, you should shoot for about 70% of your calories to come from carbs alone.
A few quick tips:
  • Drink a tall glass of water before you eat. At first, your stomach is stretched out and you'll feel hungry, even if you've eaten enough. Over a few weeks, this will fade.
  • Eat eggs or something high protein that stays with you during the day. This will help diminish hunger pangs.
  • Keep a food journal.
  • To get your fruit and vegetable servings, eat fruit and vegetables. Don't drink them unless you blend your own- you miss out on a lot of the nutrients and fiber.
  • Fruit juice, ranch dressing, or soft drinks (and yes, even alcoholic drinks) are largely empty additions to your diet that introduce a LOT of calories without making you much more full.
  • Get rid of potato chips and other junky snacks.
If you're really having trouble, consider calorie cycling. There's lots of background info there, but I like to eat, and being a compulsive calorie counter hurts that. Pick days of the week where you'll eat less, and days you'll eat more. My fat days and skinny days alternate- on my fat days, I eat around 4000 calories. On my skinny days, I only eat about 1500. Over a week with 4 fat days and 3 skinny, I consume 20,500 calories, shaving a neat 500 off of my requisite 21000. On odd weeks, I eat 18000, knocking the rest of the pound off through controlling my eating. Add to this 90 minutes of vigorous cardio per week and you'll see I can expect to lose about 4 pounds in a month. The main advantages of calorie cycling is you won't put your body into starvation mode, and you can still enjoy eating with less restraint. The major downside is that you'll probably slow your weight loss, and it is easy to get lazy in the long term.

Well, that's it. There's a wealth of information at NutritionData.com, including blogs by actual nutritionists, and lots of tools and resources. Now let us never speak of nutrition again.

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