The old adage, "you can't have one without the other," applies to many things: Peanut-butter and jelly, love and marriage, and in the fitness industry, diet and exercise. But for some reason, there are people out there trying to split diet and exercise apart, claiming that one can either eat anything so long as they burn enough calories, or that if you eat specific foods in specific proportions at specific times of the day, you will never have to break a sweat again in order to lose weight.
Well, OK. You CAN lose weight by either increasing caloric output or decreasing your intake, but is losing weight synonymous with being healthy? What does that number on the scale mean, anyway? Let's take a look at a few physiological factors that impact what your true healthy weight range might be.
Height: Of course, the taller you are, the more you will weigh. While traditional BMI charts fail to account for muscle and bone structure (see below), one thing the average person (NOT professional body builder or NFL linebacker) must pay attention to is if he or she registers as having a very high BMI of 30 or above for their height and weight. Falling into the "obese" category is not something that should be ignored.
Body Composition: Another term for this that you may hear trainers use is body fat percentage. In the gym, we either measure circumference at different points on the body with a measuring tape or take skin fold measurements at different sites with calipers. Either method has a corresponding formula by which we can determine your approximate body fat percentage. Generally speaking, women want to be below 30%, and men below 25%. Knowing this is helpful if you seem to measure high on BMI charts, yet your body fat falls into your healthy range.
Frame: The National Library of Medicine has a great chart you can read here to determine your frame. This is another important factor in determining what your true healthy weight range ought to be. If you have heard someone refer to herself as being "big-boned" or "small-boned," this is what she is talking about. Our frame size makes our healthy weight range vary up to 30 pounds!
Among the many important reasons to make sure you get your yearly physical is that you can ask your physician to take these measurements to confirm whether you are within your healthy weight range. But this is only a piece of the puzzle. If your numbers are good, you want to keep them there. If your numbers could use a little work, then you may need to make some changes. Either way, if exercise has not been a consistent part of your weekly routine, you will have to get moving!
Whether you have established that you need to lose weight, maintain, or gain, energy balance is key. The math is very simple:
Today, I will start with the reason most of my clients begin an exercise regimen: to lose weight. For healthy weight loss, you would aim for a caloric deficit of 3500 calories, or one pound, a week. That's 500 calories a day that you either need to cut or burn. Why not do both?
Some 250-calorie treats that sneak their way onto the waistline:
One 20-ounce cola
Two servings of chips
A serving of french fries
One scoop of full-fat ice cream
Condiments and cheeses on sandwiches and burgers
Not even half of a coffee shop seasonal latte
Some activities that burn 250 calories or more in an hour or less:
An aerobic dance class
Yard work (mowing, raking, digging, weeding)
Run or run/walk 2-3 miles
Five one-minute rounds of three bodyweight exercises (ie. pushups, burpees, and jumping jacks)
Clean house - literally
Add intervals - short bursts of intensity with equal recovery - to your 30-minute cardio routine
Just half of one of my spin classes!
So you could theoretically count calories for every meal and snack, and get rid of all treats in your diet to get rid of 500 calories every day. Or you could eliminate some calories by making easy switches like an apple for the chips, holding off for one round at Happy Hour, and sticking to regular coffee with just a little milk and sugar.
By the same token, you could work yourself into a hyperventilating pile of sweat with every workout to burn an additional 500 calories a day, or you could just add a little extra activity to your day when you may have otherwise retired to the sofa for the evening.
Doing a combination of both sure sounds a lot better to me- and it is a far more balanced approach to fitness as well. After all, when beginning a new workout routine, the biggest hurdle to overcome is not the numbers that weigh you down, but the habits that need to be either made or broken to establish consistency and commitment. Extremes make for great ratings on network television, but you want a program that you can take with you - and maintain - wherever you go!
For more information on energy balance, stay tuned for Diet and Exercise Part II: Safe Gains.
For calorie tracking and to get your estimated daily caloric needs, try these great online tools:
My Fitness Pal
Active.com Calorie Calculator
MyPlate.Gov Super Tracker
For my Atlanta-area readers interested in getting started with your own, customized, well-rounded path to wellness, contact me today!