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Losing Weight: When Two Rights Still Make a Wrong


Denise, from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has a common problem. She is doing everything she can to lead a healthy lifestyle, but the stubborn pounds refuse to leave her body.

I've read your advice, and I have completely revamped my nutritional intake to high-quality proteins, whole grains, vegetables, fruits and fat-free dairy. I even started buying salmon to cook for myself a couple of times a week.

On the exercise front, I am walking and using my pedometer, but the weight is not coming off. Every time I increase my walking to more than about 7,500 steps, I get groin and foot pain. (The doctor says the pain is from arthritis-no surprise there!) It's very discouraging to be trying as hard as I am and not lose any weight at all. In fact, I've gained everything back! I guess I need to go to plan B, whatever that is. Thanks for listening. Any advice?

I have both advice from an expert and insight from my own experience. Recently, I interviewed a national expert about the complexities of achieving weight loss. During our discussion, the good doctor reminded me that to lose weight, a person must focus on the amount of calories consumed daily in addition to pursuing a healthy lifestyle. That is, a person like you can be eating nutritious food, exercising regularly, staying hydrated, getting adequate sleep and so on, and still gain weight-if the calories consumed are equal to or greater than what the body needs.

Is How You Eat as Important as What You Eat?

Determining what your body needs to maintain, increase or lose weight is dictated by the scale. If you are gaining weight, you are taking in more calories than you need. (They may be healthy ones, but they are still surplus.) If you are maintaining your weight, then you are consuming the amount of calories your body burns. Once you take in fewer calories than your body burns, you begin to lose weight.

The question then becomes how many calories your unique body needs. The answer may surprise you.

I participated in a research study and found that even with intense, daily exercise, my 5-foot-1-inch body requires only 1,200 calories daily to maintain my weight. If I consume more than 1,200 calories a day (let's say I eat two extra cookies), I will begin gaining.

I was shocked at how few calories I needed to sustain my weight, given my exercise level. Before the study, I thought that I should be able to eat anything I want because of my exercise habits. Evidently, overestimating the calories we can eat without gaining weight is a common mistake.

You must also assess another variable: how your metabolism works. Individuals who have a high rate of metabolism can burn as many as 500 more calories a day than we slugs can; it's the luck of the genetic draw. Knowing this information, you see why the doctor is right-merely eating healthfully won't necessarily trigger weight loss.

Another complication is that most of us underestimate the number of calories we consume by about 20-25 percent. That's a big number! But it's easy to see how oversights happen. Misjudging portion sizes or forgetting about incidental snacks causes errors to creep in.

When I calculate my calories for the day, I add a 15 percent fudge factor to keep myself honest and to offset the difference between what I think I consumed and what I actually consumed. You may want to make a similar adjustment when you calculate calories.

I also advise you to talk with your doctor and a registered dietitian to examine your diet in detail. You may be surprised to find a significant discrepancy between how many calories you are actually consuming and what you think you are consuming.

Denise, you have taken giant steps toward improving your health. Now you must take a few extra steps to achieve the fitness and weight-loss goal of your dream.

Photo courtesy of rachelulgado on Flickr


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