With the holidays rapidly approaching (for some who are still munching their children’s Halloween candy they already started) the rest of the year will probably be filled with shopping, office parties, family gatherings and perhaps trips out of town. With an already hectic schedule the added activity brings more opportunity to eat extra calories known as “holiday food”. It does not usually lead to extra workouts, so the extra calories may be getting stored instead of burned. Everyone knows that candy, fruit cake and eggnog are packed with calories they don’t need. But for many this time of year only exacerbates an already existing problem. The popular statistic is that the average person gains 7 pounds during this season, known as the holiday 7. The simplest way to state this problem is: people weigh more than they want to because they out consume what they use calorically. Seems so simple but no one wants to believe it or look at it. How many people who are trying to shed inches or fat are actually keeping an accurate caloric intake journal? That means tracking everything that goes into your mouth and accurately recording not only what you ate and drank but the correct calorie counts for the portions as well. But that isn't any fun so people look for the latest get-thin-the-easy-way-methods.
There is plenty out there to find: ‘quality over quantity’ ‘low carb,’ ‘Zone diet,’ ‘Atkins diet,’ gluten free! pick one hope it works. Most likely though it won’t. “But I eat vegetables. I eat clean.” (Um, soap?) Or my absolute favorite, “I eat six small meals a day.” Just saying the words gives me that nails-on-a-chalkboard cringe because you may think your portions are small and you are eating small meals but calorically you most likely are eating somewhere closer to 4-5 regular size meals a day. Obviously this won’t work for weight loss. Not to mention how challenging it is to come up with dinner, forget about five other meals for just one day. So now what? Well let’s take a look at what is really going on with weight, metabolism, calories and energy.
The magic number
Everyone has a TDEE or totally daily energy expenditure. This translates to how many calories each person can consume per day and maintain the exact weight they are at. Everyone is different. For some their TDEE is 1250 calories. For others it could be as much as 2500 and that person may or may not be a weight lifter/body builder. This has to do with personal metabolism. There are loose guidelines to help calculate based on your height and current weight what your TDEE is. They are loose because there are other factors the guidelines can know nothing about. One example: two females of relatively the same height, age, weight and non-working activity level; both work 40/hours/week but female A works at a retail job that requires standing and walking for entire shifts at a time, and female B is an office worker who sits at a desk for their shifts. That variable is enough to give them a different TDEE.
Before you spend too much time and energy trying to figure out what your TDEE is think about how much you weigh vs how much you want to weigh. Now you might have to consider keeping a food journal (or getting an app on your phone) that will help you learn how many calories a week you are eating. One day will not be enough data. One week might not be enough but if you can only see one week at a time start with that. In all of this there is one magic number. And that number 3500. Remember it, know it, understand it is the base by which all calculations regarding weight gain and loss is built.
3500 calories = 1 pound but what does that actually mean? It means if you consume 3500 more calories than you burn you will gain 1 pound. Depending on what you have done with yourself that may be 1 pound of muscle, but for the majority of the population that will be 1 pound of fat. Conversely if you burn 3500 more calories than you consume you will lose 1 pound. If you burn and consume 3500 calories over 3 days you will maintain the exact weight you are.
If you wish to put on twenty pounds of muscle weight you will need to not only consume more calories than you are now but you will need to be on a very strict strength training program. If of course, you want to lose weight you will need to figure out how many pounds you want to lose and create that caloric deficit. For an easy example if you want to lose 10 pounds 10X3500 = 35,000 calories. Let’s say you consume 2000 calories a day. That is 2000X7 = 14,000 total calories consumed each week. Now, as you need to create a deficit of 35,000 calories, and you only consume 14,000 a week you are not going to lose ten pounds of fat in a week. Though ten pounds is a relatively small number, much smaller than forty pounds, it will still take time. To lose a pound a week you would need consume only 10,500 a week, that is 500 calories less a day consumed.* A previously sedentary person could begin an exercise regimen that together with consuming less calories will create that 500 calorie a day deficit totally 3500 calories at the end of the week. Someone already active could change regimens or add in an extra day to burn more calories. Most people will need to not only step up their workout but curb their high caloric eating habits.
As already stated people are out consuming what they are burning. Many don’t know how— especially when they are doing everything the diet says!— this is possible. Some people make the mistake (so easy to do when not used to reading labels) of looking at the calories in a product and thinking that is all there is. What they may not realize is that may be calories per serving and there are 4 servings in the product so what they thought was 140 calories was actually 560 calories. This makes people think they are consuming less calories than they really are. The best example I have of that is those pints of ice cream. The calorie information says 140 calories. But you must read further to see that the 140 calories is ½ a cup because there are 4 servings in the container.
Another hidden calorie source is beverages. Unfortunately, unless you are drinking water or some chemically altered “diet” drink it will have calories. Most people have no idea how many calories they drink. Everyone has heard by now of alcohol’s empty calories but are you aware that juice, lattes, smoothies, protein shakes, tea, hot chocolate, etc have probably as many calories as your favorite beer or wine?
Protein and “meal replacement smoothies” are supposed to do exactly that, replace the meal, not be an addition to it. Too many people eat and have a meal replacement or “recovery” shake at the same meal. If they are truly low calorie smoothies and you really don’t eat anything else until the next scheduled meal but the smoothie it could work. But in reality 1. the best tasting smoothies are about 500 calories/serving and 2. are not all that filling especially after a hard driving work out. So one is tempted and most likely will drink the smoothie and then eat some actual food because they need to feel something more in their stomach than liquid. So in drinking that smoothie all they are doing is adding extra unneeded calories to their daily intake.
It is possible to lose weight eating things that have no nutritional valuable at all. Just as we’ve all heard the experts say that you can gain weight eating vegetables and food that is “good for you.” This is correct though unlikely as the food choices that are good for you are likely to be lower in calories than sugary, fatty, foods that are not so good for you. But if you made it past the math to the hidden calories you have a better understanding of how even the most strict diet follower could gain weight eating (and drinking) the right things. It’s not particularly good for you to not have vegetables or foods that are nutritionally sound but it is not a requirement for weight loss. Really? Yes. Really. Simply, there is one requirement for weight loss: Burn (use for energy) more calories than you consume. The two ways to achieve this are 1. cut calories daily and 2. begin or increase physical activity. One or the other will work with enough discipline but the best and least sacrificial course is to combine the two methods. Physical activity is good for you and a strict diet is no fun. You don’t have to give up every food you love to lose weight but you will have to make different choices. Instead of that 400 calorie latte with that slice of cake you may have to choose just one of the two. Increasing exercise session duration, frequency and effort or intensity during the session will help increase caloric burn.
*These numbers are only based on a 2000 calorie a day diet because it is simplest for the example.