By John W Mitchell
A clever wag once noted it was ironic that in the average bookstore diet books can be found somewhere between the humor and fiction sections. While such an observation is funny, it’s no joke that when it comes to weight loss, a flanking action by exercise and diet is a great strategy. Knowing the relationship between the two and how they tag team together is key to healthy weight loss and management. While the general rule of thumb to lose weight is to burn more calories than you eat, a little insight is in order.
It’s widespread knowledge that a pound of fat is represented by about 3,500 calories. So theoretically to lose a pound a week requires eating 3,500 fewer calories in a week. And this is the mistake that most of us make when we take a stab at losing weight.
Each of us is unique. To determine our weight management starting point and goals it is first necessary to determine basal metabolic rate (BMR). There are many sites for calculating BMR. An honest assessment (and be brutally honest) will advise how many calories you normally burn in a day. So, for example, knowing that my own BMR is currently 2074 calories a day, I need to net 500 fewer calories a day to lose a pound a week, which means I must reduce my BMR to 1,574 calories a day. According to the Centers for Disease Control studies, a one to two pound loss per week is most associated with permanent, healthy weight loss.
There are two ways to accomplish a reduction in BMR; consume fewer calories and/or burn more calories. In previous posts, I’ve discussed strategies for exercise easily incorporated into a busy schedule. But research also reveals that exercise plays a key role in controlling “executive function”, or our ability to control behaviors we know are unhealthy or put us at risk. Specifically known as “inhibitory control”, it is the function of the brain that will stop us, for example, from eating a bucket of fried chicken for breakfast every day. Inhibitory control is a powerful influencer. People subject to stress or depression, for example, have measurably lower inhibitory control, which can lead to everything from overeating to alcoholism to drug abuse. So, executive brain function is a powerful influencer in personal choice. Fortunately, exercise has been linked to better executive decision brain function. So, in addition to burning calories, exercise also improves our will power to control eating.
So once you are eating better and working out, how can BMR progress be measured? Fortunately, there are several programs that can be used on a smart phone or computer to track exercise and food intake. I use My Fitness Pal (MFP), which is a free app. MFP even allows users to take a photo of the bar code on food packaging that is then compared to a bar code database. Simply enter the portion size and a running daily calorie input is automatically calculated.
For fun, I hold off entering my exercise into MFP until the end of the day just to see my daily BMR drop to or below my goal. Using such an app every day also helped me to better develop a sense of what is an acceptable portion size. For example, MFP made me aware that I can still occasionally eat peanut butter, but I need to stick to the recommended portion size of two tablespoons – which works much better on a half sandwich. This in turn helped me eat less bread. See how that works?
With knowledge, successful weight loss effort – both as a result of eating better and exercise – feed off each other. It just takes a bit of measurement to achieve the daily resolve to manage weight.
John W. Mitchell has served from sailor to CEO. He lives and writes on the Western Slope of Colorado, where on most days his wife loves him more than her horse. He is an unexceptional – but persistent – athlete who hikes, bikes, skies downhill and cross-country and goes mushroom hunting. Mitchell’s credits include The Motley Fool, US Healthcare Journal, Leading Age magazine and craftbeer.com. He is currently writing his first novel. You can read his blog “The Power of Dumb Thinking” at http://snowpackpr.com/