Friday, January 8, 2010

How to lose weight and still be healthy: Diet vs. Exercise

Most diets fail because people think they can cheat physiology (the physics of the body) by following a fad diet—cutting carbs, South Beach, the celebrity starvation diet of the week, etc. It just doesn’t work that way. As I’ve said multiple times, weight loss and habit changes take time. To be successful, you have to be prepared to allow time for these slow changes. A few posts ago, I said there is only one thing to know about weight loss (or weight maintenance or weight gain): 1 pound = 3,500 calories. If you eat more than 3,500 calories than you burn, then you will gain a pound. If you burn more than 3,500 calories than you eat, you will lose a pound.

An adult body burns about 2,000 calories on a typical day without any additional exercise. So if you go about your normal routine, you will burn about 2,000 calories. That is why most nutrition labels—the little white square on the back of most foods—are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. If you eat less than 2,000 calories (I tend to favor low-balling numbers, so I would actually say 1,800) a day, you are bound to lose weight slowly. When you intentionally eat less than 2,000 calories, it is usually called dieting.

There are two problems to consider with just dieting. The first is that if you just diet with no exercise, your whole body withers away including muscle and bone. It can lead to a debilitating physical condition and a loss of energy and motivation which is not what you want, even if you are thinner. Thinner does not exactly equate with healthier. The second problem is this actually tends to take the longest amount of time unless you really starve yourself which, as explained previously, is not a healthy way to get the calorie deduction. The exaggerated time to see results will become so frustrating that you will most likely have slips by sneaking snacks and bad food. It becomes a cycle of yo-yo dieting which will lead to you becoming understandably discouraged and impatient with the lack of results and then cause you to quit. On the other hand, if you cut out too few calories, it takes even longer to lose weight and, again, people tend to give up because they lack visible results.

The other plan is to exercise. Several reports have come out stating that exercise does not lead to weight loss. This is a bit misleading because if you are a careful reader, it goes on to say exercise does lead to weight loss. It’s just that people see exercise as a reason to eat more and so they don’t lose weight. One of the frustrating things about exercise is that it is a lot of work for admittedly not a whole lot in return. I have to run for about 1.25 miles (which was just about my complete workout when I first began exercising and now still takes me about 10 to 12 minutes of running) just to get rid of the calories in one can of coke (about 140 calories in a 12oz. can). Let me repeat that, it takes about 10 to 12 minutes of running to get rid of one can of coke. Walking, it would take close to a half hour just to get rid of those calories. In other words, exercise alone won’t help you lose weight if you still eat junk, and dieting won’t necessarily help you lose weight either. So what do you do?

Both. I will discuss how and why in the next post as this one is already getting a bit too long.

For your homework: add up a week’s worth of calories keeping a daily food journal and then take the average (divide your total by 7) to see how your calorie intake compares to the 2,000 calorie recommended intake average for adults. Don’t forget to include the small but significant foods in your count such as coffee creamer, salad dressing, sodas, etc. Is your intake more than 2,000 calories? Less? Think about what foods are maybe unnecessary and high in calories.

Good luck and keep moving!

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