As we enter the holiday season, I wanted to provide insight into some basic weight management principles. There are several reasons why we need to place an increased emphasis on weight management at this time of year. First, this is the off-season for many athletes, meaning lighter training and less calories burned to counteract what we are eating. There is less daylight which impacts our melatonin levels, causing us to feel sleepy later into the morning and at earlier points in the evening. The temperatures begin or have begun to drop, typically resulting in less overall movement and exercise. Finally, our dishes and meals are heavier and desserts are plentiful which can cause us to throw eating well and in moderation straight out the window.
I am a big fan of eating mindfully or being very aware of our bodies, thoughts and attitudes toward food. Like when we feel hungry, when we experience cravings, how our bodies feel or react after a meal. Mindful eating encourages things like eating slow, recognizing when you feel full, only eating when you eat and not multi-tasking, enjoying and appreciating food and understanding the effects different foods have on our health and waistline. While mindful eating is not about calorie counting, it is important to understand the basic principles regarding weight management. Having a solid understanding helps us to not only mange our weight but make mindful eating a LIFESTYLE, which is what it is all about.
Finding Your Daily Caloric Needs
Have you heard of basal metabolic rate or BMR? Basically, this is an ESTIMATION of how many calories your body uses throughout the day to function if you were to literally sit and do nothing. This formula is based on gender, age, height and weight. I highly recommend you look this up and find your number. This number reflects at a very minimum how many calories you should be eating to sit and do nothing all day.
Now, you are not done yet. Once you have your number, you need to factor in how many calories you burn with movement, like your activities of daily living and any exercise on top of that. This is where the Harris-Benedict equation comes into play, which takes your BMR and your activity level and provides your estimated total daily energy expenditure, shown below. Before I move on, it is important to understand this is an ESTIMATE of how many calories you should be eating every day to MAINTAIN your current status. Understand this number changes with age, fluctuations with weight and changes in levels of daily movement/exercise.
Harris Benedict Formula: multiply your BMR by the applicable activity factor:
- Sedentary (little or no exercise): BMR x 1.2
- Lightly active (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week): BMR x 1.375
- Moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week): BMR x 1.55
- Very active (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week): BMR x 1.725
- Extremely active (very hard exercise/sports & physical job or training twice a day): BMR x 1.9
Now, for those who know how many calories they burn each day with exercise (via their Garmin or similar device), I have one more step. To be more accurate with your caloric needs, I recommend taking your BMR, multiplying this by the “sedentary” activity factor (1.2) from the Harris-Benedict equation and adding in your specific number of calories through exercise. This is still an estimate for that days’ worth of calories, but it is more specific to you.
Training varies every day. You may have a long ride on Sunday that burns 2000 calories, while you have a tempo run on Tuesday that burns 500 calories. To understand your average number of calories needed per day, add up the number of calories you burned through exercise in a week and take the average of that number, meaning divide it by 7. Then, add this into your formula. Here is an example:
- Jane Doe: Age: 48, Height: 5’8” (172 cm), Weight: 155 lbs (70.3 kg), Device: Garmi
- BMR = 447.593 + (9.247 x 70.3) + (3.098 x 172) - (4.330 x 48)
- BMR = ~1422 calories/day
- Total Daily Caloric Needs without exercise: 1422 calories x 1.2 (HBAF) = ~1706 calories/day
- Average number of calories burned through exercise in a week: 400 calories
- For this, add up the amount of calories you burn with exercise the last seven days and divide the total by 7. For Jane Doe, it was an average of 400 calories
- Total Daily Caloric Needs including exercise: 1706 calories + 400 calories = 2106 calories/day
- Average Total Daily Caloric Needs: ~2106 calories/day
How to Lose or Gain Weight
Okay, we have our total daily caloric needs, now what? At this point, we need to understand how weight management works. To maintain weight, calories in need to equal calories out. To lose weight, calories in < calories out. To gain weight, calories in > calories out. To influence these equations, we need to eat less or more, exercise less or more or do a combination of both. For weight loss, I am always a proponent of doing both.
Roughly, one pound of fat is about 3500 calories. A healthy, manageable and realistic weight loss is 1-2 pounds a week. Breaking this down, you would need to be in a calorie deficit of 500-1000 calories a day. So, you either need to cut back in caloric intake by this amount, burn this much in exercise or a combination of the two. To burn 1000 calories through exercise is the equivalent of running 10 miles, this is not realistic for most people. On the flip side, it is not realistic, sustainable or healthy to cut back this much on calories alone, which is why I recommend a combination of exercise and cutting back on calories to reach your goal. Let’s go back to our example.
- Jane Doe: Her goal is to lose a total of 5 pounds. She wants to lose one pound per week, the equivalent of 500 calories/day. This should take her five weeks.
- Strategy: Burn 400 calories per day through exercise and cut back 100 calories per day through her nutrition
One additional thing to keep in mind is women should NOT eat less than 1200 calories/day and men should NOT eat less than 1800 calories per day. Our bodies are extremely good at surviving. Cutting back in calories less than this causes our bodies to see this as almost starvation. This ultimately leads to a decreased resting energy expenditure and makes it that much HARDER to lose weight. Ultimately, you are harming your chances of losing the weight you wanted to lose in the first place. Plus, you are making it more difficult for yourself to keep that weight off once you lose it.
Wrap Up and Takeaways
Once you find your total daily caloric needs, keep track of your calorie intake for a week. Are you higher, lower or on point with your calorie requirements? Once you know the answer, adopt a mindful approach to eating with this new information in mind. If you found your calorie intake is too high, consider the types of foods you are eating, remember to eat slow and pay close attention to when you begin to feel full. It can take 15 minutes before our bodies begin to register a feeling of fullness. If you smash your lunch within five minutes, you may think you are still hungry only because your body hasn’t had the time to register what you have ingested yet.
Wrapping up, I wanted to share these basic principles to improve your understanding of how weight loss works. I am a much bigger proponent of eating mindfully. Listening to your body, eating only when you are hungry, staying hydrated (with water), stopping eating when you feel full, enjoying all foods (and drinks) in moderation and getting in your regular exercise. This makes a lasting change to how you approach weight management and turns it into a LIFESTYLE.
This is a long one and I hope you learned something. If you have ANY questions or want to pick my brain further, do not hesitate to reach out.
#AMEhigh guys, today, every day, and do it with a HUGE smile!