Here is what I have learned recently: It isn't that simple.
I've been on a healthier living style for almost two years. I started out losing weight at a very consistent rate. What I was doing was working, and I was thrilled. Then, suddenly, last fall I hit one of those hideous plateau's. At first I thought the weight loss stalled because we had gone on vacation, and, well, things weren't in their usual routines. Ahem.
There is much more to our bodies than just math. Yes, you should keep track of your calories, but let's face it, the chemistry and hormones in our bodies are each different, so what works for you may not work for me, and vice versa. Some may say, "You eat HOW MANY carbs a day? I'd weigh a ton!" and eating "X" amount of carbs is fine for you.
Also, what about sodium? I've recently discovered how much sodium there seems to be in EVERYTHING. Cheese, sandwich meats, ketchup,... everything! I'm glad we do a lot of our cooking from scratch, but even so, there is plenty of sodium in our diets, even if we didn't add it in.
Everything balances differently for everyone. And just when you think you have it figured out, it changes.
So what happened last fall? I worked through the winter and this summer with no significant weight loss, in fact I gained some back since last fall. UGH! Not a lot, but enough so I was irritated. After doing some research I realized almost all my workouts were cardio related and what I needed was some strength training. Muscle burns fat, and I needed more muscle. I'm not talking body-builder type muscle, just some toning, so don't start picturing me lifting 100lb dumb bells, okay?
I joined the local gym and the trainer got me going on a strength training program. It is circuit training style, which I really like because it appeals to my short attention span. This I started at the end of August.
Now I would love to say here that I have lost all manner of weight, but truth be told, is that I have not. I have lost a little bit, and toned up some. I feel strong, energetic (as I sit here in my pj's and bathrobe), and healthy, and that is all good. But to be perfectly frank, I want to see the scale move.
I joined MyFitnessPal.com over a year ago, to help keep track of calories and how much I was exercising. Now, feeling discouraged and wanting to see the numbers on the scale decrease, I decided to up my exercise to see if that would help shock my body into acknowledging all my hard work. In one week I burned 4200 calories, just exercising, not counting my BMR (Basic Metabolic Rate) calories. One pound is 3600 calories. So.... you do the math.
I got on the scale with high expectations, and after all that hard work I lost a whopping two tenths of a pound.
Ugh. I wrote a quick little post on the MyFitnessPal forum and got lots of responses, all saying the same thing: I'm not eating enough.
Here is what I thought I knew but didn't:
When I first signed up for MyFitnessPal.com, it asks you some questions and you fill out some information (all confidential) to find out your BMR. Your BMR is your Basic Metabolic Rate, basically, how many calories you would burn by just breathing. Then you add in for your lifestyle, whether it be very active, or sedentary, or anywhere in between. That number is the recommended caloric intake for your day. By the way, you also have nutritional columns in your diary for carbs, protein, sugar, sodium, fat, and you can customize all of it.
You also have an exercise log. You input your goals, then in tells you how many calories per day you need to meet that goal, per week. When you exercise, you fill it in, and it keeps track of it all.
All in all, a nifty little set up.
HOWEVER, there is something called the Net, which I have largely ignored, mostly because I didn't get what it meant. I kept seeing it referred to, but disregarded it. Now I was being told I wasn't eating enough, and that my "Net" should be 1200 at least. So, again, making use of the forums on the site, I posed the question, and here is the response I got:
You are allowed a certain number of calories every day, say 1400. That's without exercise. It's dangerous to go below 1200 calories, again without exercise. That's just the calories needed to run your body.
Now, you exercise - say you do 500 calories worth of exercise. If you are allowed, 1400 calories of food, you've used 500 on exercise and now you only have 900 left to run all the functions of your body.
If you don't eat up your exercise calories, you are constantly running a deficit and your body will slow your metabolism to make sure that you can still function - meaning it gets harder to lose weight.
If you are allowed 1400 calories from food, without exercise, that's what you should see in the net column. Do not go below 1200 in the net.
Hope this helps. "
Hmmmm. Okay, so basically, I have put my body into starvation mode, so when I do anything, it is saying "Whoa there, toots, you ain't feeding us enough to do that, so I'm going to burn your muscle, and leave the fat because I'm reading a famine here."
I didn't mean to, really. To me, it was basic math. The more calories I burn, the more I lose, right?
It is a little more involved that that.
That was last Friday. Over the weekend I invested in The Biggest Loser Family Cookbook, got some items for high protein type snacks, and embarked on the "eating more" theory.
Let me clarify, "eating more", sadly, does not mean downing a pint of your favorite ice cream. What it meant for me, was incorporating a mid-morning snack, and an afternoon snack, and even a small snack in the evening if need be.
My weigh in days are usually Fridays. For kicks and grins I weighed myself last Wednesday. In 5 days I lost 1.6lbs, and that included having pizza over the weekend, once Saturday, and leftovers Sunday night.
I don't expect that rate of results all the time, but here is what I did, in a nutshell:
Breakfast- something with protein and whole grain carb, and any veggies I can get away with, when possible.
Mid morning- a protein snack, like reduced fat string cheese, or fat free yogurt, that sort of thing, and a fruit (for a healthy carb choice).
Lunch- something reasonable. Lately I've been into whole wheat wraps with tuna, or deli cut meat with low fat cheese.
Mid afternoon snack- again, focusing on protein and carb combinations is important. This snack is especially important for me as my workout time comes after it, and before supper.
Supper- another focus on protein/carb combo, with reasonable side dishes. I've been experimenting with the recipes in my new cookbook, and I can I just say that it is much easier to cook one large healthy meal for the whole family, than cooking for them, then trying to find something for me.
After dinner snack- light in calories, but just a little bit of something to keep the ol' metabolism happy.
With good planning I had been hitting my calorie net goal, though admittedly going over a bit in the sodium department. One thing at a time though, for me.
Last night I had a little slip. My net was only around 1100, but I figured out why. I had a filling breakfast, and usually my morning snack is around 11am. I'm usually starved by then anyway, and don't need reminding. However, we had eaten later than usual, and I never had a morning snack. PLUS, my afternoon snack was just a Kashi bar, and for supper we had a filling, but low calorie meal. I shorted myself several hundred calories that I just never did make up all the way yesterday.
I figure it will balance out though as we usually make pizza Saturday nights, and that will be a substantial calorie meal.
Oh, I might add that I've dialed back the exercising a bit. Instead of burning 600-800 calories per workout, my goal is now between 300 and 400 burned calories. And I'm trying to drink more water, too, which I'm usually pretty good about anyway, but it never hurts.
So, if you made it through this whole post, hopefully my experience has taught you to really watch your calories to make sure you are getting enough! Unless you are laying in bed all day and doing NOTHING but breathing, you need more than 1200 calories per day for the long haul. You can certainly lose some weight for a while on 1200 calories, but you will eventually start eating away at muscle, not fat, and feel tired and eventually the 1200 calorie diet will fail miserable. Save yourself the frustration and eat at least 1500 HEALTHY calories, and be active. You'll feel much better! If you exercise a lot you may want to up that even more. I suggest going to MyFitnessPal.com and signing up. It is free, and a great way to keep track of what is going on, and there is a great wealth of encouragement and knowledge there.
If you join, I am Beehiveof8. We can "friend" each other on there, too, and encourage each other.
Disclaimer: As always, check with your dr. if you have any issues that need professional attention.