Weight Loss 101

Health, fitness and nutrition have become one of my recent passions. I keep reading about weight-loss, do’s and don’ts, what to eat, what not to eat and stuff like that..A LOT. So I thought I would document and share some of the health and fitness principles and tips that I have learnt during the last few months. I am by no means qualified to provide any professional help or advice. The information I am sharing is something that I have acquired from online resources and my own trial and errors. But nevertheless, I feel I have learnt quite a bit and now I have a much different perspective about fitness and especially weight-loss.

Many people struggle with their weight and body-image. I am one of them. For quite some time, for me, weight loss was always equal to getting skinny. It was only about losing the number of excess pounds that I had packed up over the years. I never hoped to get to size zero but I couldn’t be any less happier with a size 4 🙂 It has taken me a while to realize that these numbers are not everything. Weight-loss is only one part of overall health and fitness and our goal should be to achieve that overall fitness. Yes, the number on the scale can be motivating but it should not be the only factor gauging your health. From my experience and learning, I am briefly  listing some of the factors that are important to consider for successful weight loss. By successful, I mean sustainable and healthy :

  • Achieving weight-loss is definitely a lifestyle and attitude change. Your success will depend a lot on how well you accommodate the factors into your daily life that help you stay healthy, feel energetic and lose or maintain weight. These factors could be eating nutritious healthy food, eliminating almost all the junk from your diet, regular exercise, meditation, lowering your stress levels etc. Why is it a lifestyle change? Because temporary quick diets never work. Its a simple mantra – if you lose weight too quickly especially by starving yourself, you will gain it back as fast. You need to make slow but steady changes in your daily life that will help you get healthy and then continue to do those things for the rest of your life. It may sound cliched, but weight loss is all about the journey and not just the destination.
  • And exercise is unavoidable in this journey. If you want to lose weight effectively and also keep away many health-issues, regular exercise is absolutely essential. Especially with the sedentary lifestyle that most of us lead, it is important to increase our activity level and exercise for at least 30 minutes a day. If you hate working out in the gym, try finding an activity that you love. Try dancing, yoga, walking, running, swimming, hiking, sports like tennis or badminton, anything that gets your heart-rate up. Remember, all good things come with a price-tag. Health is one of the most precious things and its price-tag reads “Healthy food and regular exercise” 🙂 So as soon and often you can fight your laziness and procrastination to make exercise a part of your life, the better. There are many tips that can help in making exercise a habit and I will talk about those in my next post on fitness.
  • Motivation is another great factor and the most eluding one too. We all start each new year with a resolution to lose weight and fall off the wagon by the end of January! It is okay to go off track once in a while as long as we pick ourselves back and get to it before its months or years! Have a clear reason why you want to lose weight and remind yourself of it on a daily basis. Make yourself accountable to your friends or family who can help you keep on track. Join a website like MyFitnessPal where you can log food, exercise, make friends with people who have similar goals as yours, read a lot of health information and inspirational stories on the forums and blogs and get support from the community.

There are many other contributing factors, about which I will talk in detail in my subsequent posts. For now, I want to focus on information to get started. Lets talk about some numbers which actually help.

But before diving into numbers and understand calorie math, it is good to keep in mind that 3500 calories make one pound. So if you want to lose 1 pound per week, your calorie deficit should be 3500 calories over the week. Which means you are burning 500 more calories per day than you are consuming. This 500 calorie burn could be a combined effect of exercise and cutting out calories in diet. For example, you could be burning 250 calories from working out and eating 250 calories less than your daily calorie requirements. That gives a combined effect of 500 less calories. Usually, the recommended weight loss is 1 pound per week and should not exceed 2 pounds per week unless you are morbidly obese or are under the guidance of a doctor or a certified professional. Also, the closer you get to your ideal weight, the rate of weight loss decreases. So with these things in mind, lets get started on the numbers:

  • BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) – This is the number of calories burned by your body if you stay in bed all day inactive. This is the minimum amount of calories that your body needs to perform all bodily functions without starving. So this is the minimum number of calories you should be eating everyday. Going way too below this number may affect your metabolism and actually hamper weight loss. Always seek a doctor’s advice if you are going below your BMR. There are several calculators available online to calculate your BMR and other numbers. I use Fitness Frog Calculators. Another good one is Scooby’s calculator which is a little more detailed. 
  • TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure)  – This is the total calories that you need in a day for your activity level. If you want to maintain your weight, you will be eating at your TDEE. If you want to lose weight, you will be eating below your TDEE. To gain weight, (yes you guessed right) you would be eating more than your TDEE. The more weight you need to lose, the more should be the difference between your actual consumption and TDEE. But keep in mind that your intake should never go below BMR unless advised. Determining the optimum calorie intake can be a trial and error and might need adjustments over a period of weeks. Don’t lose heart if the weight goes up during this time. It is just an adjustment period and your body will be happy once you will find the balance. Assuming you have around 30 pounds or more to lose, beginning with TDEE-20% could be a good starting point. Again, this is just a suggestion and I would recommend determining what works for you and sticking with it. Each person is unique and what works for one might not work for another. Also monitor your energy levels. You should not be feeling too tired or hungry all the time. Here is another good calculator for TDEE.
  • Once you determine your daily calorie needs, take your body measurements and weight. Tracking body measurements on a monthly or biweekly basis can give you a good idea of where you are headed and you can make adjustments in your diet and exercise accordingly. Taking before and after pictures help too. Also keep noticing how your clothes fit over the time. Dress size and measurements are better indicators than just the number on the scale.
  • Body Fat percentage is also a good number to keep track of. But measuring body fat percentage might require a special device or getting it measured at a gym. More information is available here.

All this information might feel very overwhelming and confusing, but it is worth all the effort to get a clear understanding. So do not feel discouraged and make an effort to square away the numbers. It is also important to keep adjusting goals after a considerable weight loss and also depending on your body, age and health requirements.

Do not make huge impossible goals in the beginning. Start off slow. Commit to 30 mins of walking or a sport for three times a week and do it. Slowly increase the activity as you feel comfortable. Do not push too hard but also do not cut yourselves a lot of slack. Once you get into exercising, adding strength training helps tremendously. More about it in future posts as well (I am tempted to write about everything right here!)

For diet, cutting out too many foods in the beginning might not be a good idea. It will result in you craving a lot and then binge eating. So cut out junk food slowly. Say you will limit your soda intake to 1-can a day. Slowly bring it down to 1 per week and then eliminate completely. Similarly with other items. As you are cutting down on junk foods, keep adding healthy ones for better nutrition and to keep yourself satiated. Also moderation is the key. You don’t have to vow not to eat those nachos ever! You can still have chips, nachos, fried food, pizza etc BUT in moderation! Train yourself to stop at say 5-10 nachos. Try not to finish the entire bag 🙂 Make a habit of  reading food labels and decide on your serving based on that.

This is such a huge topic with so much to talk about that it is impossible to cover everything in one post. I hope the tips in this post can help you get started and motivate to begin your journey. Stay tuned for more!

Some quotes:

“You must take the first step. The first steps will take some effort, maybe pain. But after that, everything that has to be done is real-life movement.” ~Ben Stein

“You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

Hope you will take the first step soon enough and then keep going!

njoi!

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