Healthy math, it’s good for you

“Why do I keep gaining weight?  I eat right, I exercise, I take my multivitamin, what gives?  I do everything Dr Oz recommends, I follow the latest fitness trends, I eat all the latest “superfoods”, I do regular cleanses, I just can’t seem to find fitness-maththe magic formula.”

Do you know someone like this? Is that someone you, or your significant other.  This scenario is altogether too common.  Just look at the magazine rack down at the grocery store and you’ll see all kinds of articles on the latest fad to help you lose weight.  There are many “Gurus” out there willing to sell you the latest magic pill to instant weight loss and a happy and healthy life, and the worst part is that the public keeps buying their snake oil.

As in most things in life, keeping the ideal weight is about maintaining a delicate balance.  As a matter of fact, in technical parlance, this is referred to as Energy Balance (EB).  It’s a fairly simple equation, EB is equal to Energy Intake (EI) minus Energy Expenditure (EE).  This simple equation is the key to weight maintenance, and yet it is such a complex minefield.  Wait, I didn’t know I was going to have to do math to stay healthy!!  Don’t worry, it’s not that hard.

EI is just what it sounds like, the amount of calories you take in on a given day.  There are a myriad of issues involved with EI, from what to eat, when to eat, and how to eat.  Unfortunately those issues in and of themselves would take up extensive print, which I will address in future blogs, but today I’m going to focus on the other side of the equation, energy expenditure.  Since calories are the way we measure energy, I’m going to talk about how many calories it takes to keep the engines going and keep you functioning and able to perform your activities of daily life.

Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR),  thermic effect of food, activity thermogenesis, these are the three components that make up EE. BMR is the amount of energy your body requires for vital function at rest without food.  Basically, the energy required to keep the lights on and the heating and cooling system working.  This accounts for about 60-75% of your daily EE.  This can vary depending on age, gender, body type, and body composition. (yes, lean muscle burns more calories than fat, sorry, I don’t make the rules)  The greatest effect you can have on BMR is by changing your body composition, and that won’t happen overnight, so this percentage doesn’t vary that much on a daily basis.  The thermic effect of food is the energy your body uses to digest, absorb and store the food you’ve eaten.  This will have some slight variability based on your body composition, and the foods you eat (lean muscle requires more energy) and accounts for between 5-10% of your daily EE, but again, it doesn’t vary that much on a day to day basis.

So what’s left? Activity Thermogenesis.  This is a technical word for getting your body moving.   This accounts for 15-30% of you daily energy expenditure, and unlike the other two components of EE, it is highly variable on a day to day basis, varying within individuals by as much as 2000 calories a day.  Activity thermogenesis can further be broken down into exercise activity, and Non Exercise Activity (NEAT). If you’re a gym rat like myself, it’s easy to keep your exercise activity pretty high, but what if you’re not.  What if your the type that hates to get sweaty? Well, based on the self appointed fitness guru’s, you have to get sweaty to “Shred” those pounds away.  You have feel the burn to lose that muffin top.  Not so fast.  According to the latest research, you don’t have to undertake the latest exercise fad, or the latest diet fad, to have a major effect on your weight, you really just need a  minor tweak to your diet, and some new NEAT habits , and you will make a huge, long lasting, change in your weight.

How can this be?  That ripped, zero percent body fat fitness celebrity told me I had to buy their product to get fit and lean.  While great for marketing, it just not the reality.  There’s no magic involved, there are no special pills, and you don’t have to buy and new fitness equipment or diet aids in order to get to your healthiest weight.  However, there is a little basic math.  Let me go back to the energy balance equation, EB=EI-EE.  Let’s say your daily energy needs are 2,500kcal and you have been maintaining your current weight, but you want to start losing weight.  Without changing you dietary habits, If you started expending an extra 250kcal per day, with 3500 kcal per pound of weight, you would lose 1/2 pound per week (250×7=1750). So how can you add to, or change your NEAT to get to this extra 250 kcal.  Small changes can make a big difference.  If you’re like everyone else, your too busy to exercise every day, your daily exercise consists of walking from your front door to the car, and then from the car to your office.   By the time you  leave work, rush to the grocery store so you can feed the kids, spouse, cats, dogs etc.., do some cleaning around the house, and take care of everyone else’s needs, your wiped out.  Not a whole lot of room for extra activity.  So you’ll have to be creative to work in some extra calorie burning. Small changes make a big difference.  How about taking a quick walk around the block in the morning before work, or take a walk around the neighborhood as soon as you get home, before you get too wrapped up in the myriad of tasks you have to complete.  Walk for half an hour at lunch time.  Rather than holding meetings at your desk, do a “walk and talk” around the office.  My favorite, and something I do habitually, is to pace while I’m talking on the phone.  Park your car as far away from your building as possible. Never take elevators, escalators or moving sidewalks.  These are just a handful of ideas to help you burn a few extra calories a day, I’m sure you could come up with a few more that would work with your lifestyle.  An extra 250 kcal a day is 1/2 pound a week.  That’s not a huge number, and over time it will add up.

So losing weight is just a simple math problem.  Yeah right.  If it was that easy everyone would do it.  While it’s not rocket science, it is a simple math problem, unfortunately with some extremely complex variables.  Burning an extra 250kcal a day is not that big a stretch for most people, yet it could have a large impact on your life.  If you coupled that with a 250kcal reduction in energy intake, (one less fancy high calorie coffee like drink product) you could drop a pound a week.  While this approach won’t get you “shredded”, or “ripped” or any of the other adjectives used by the latest fitness guru hawking stuff on T.V, it will get you to your ideal weight and health level, if that’s your goal.  Let this new year be the one where you get control of your health and fitness by making small changes. Remember, Small changes make a big difference.

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