Josh Sample, BA
Did you start the 2020 year off with a brand-new fitness goal to lose weight? Maybe you’re still unsure of what this year’s goal will be, or decided not to even make one If you relate to any of these, you’re not alone. If you’ve fallen behind or given up on your fitness goal, then you’re definitely not alone. Lots of people begin the year with lofty plans and ambitions, and plenty fall short of accomplishing them. For so many people, weight loss is a never-ending desire they strive to achieve year after year.
Whether you’d like to shed that baby weight, go down a pants size, or just look better for summer, weight loss might feel pretty tricky. Luckily, it’s not too late. Fitness is a marathon, not a sprint, and there is plenty of time to change your body before summer arrives. In reality, weight loss isn’t tricky at all. The reason we fall short of our goal isn’t due to a lack of desire, but a lack of knowledge.
Within the world of health and fitness, there’s a flood of nutrition guides to help us get that illustrious 6-pack. So many, that it can be overwhelming. My job today is to simplify the basics of what all these plans have in common: caloric awareness. This means that individuals usually aren’t aware of how many calories they consume in a day. Think about it; when was the last time you checked the label to see what was actually in the food you are eating? Most of us can’t recall. If our goal is to lose weight, how can we expect to do that if we don’t even know how many calories we’re consuming?
If you were to search the internet for advice on how many calories you should eat, you’re already thinking about your health incorrectly. Unfortunately, there is no universal recommendation for how much we should consume on a daily basis. Each individual is unique and has vastly different nutritional requirements that are dependent on gender, activity level, age, weight, and medical needs (just to name a few).
There is one simple truth. If your goal is to lose weight, then you need to be in a caloric deficit, meaning you need to be consuming less calories than you burn in a day. On the other hand, if your goal is to gain weight, then you need to be in a caloric surplus and consume more calories than you burn in a day. All that is great news, but how will you know how many calories you burn in a day?
There are quite a few ways to measure how many calories you burn. A viable option is to use an activity tracker, or more commonly an app, that will estimate it for you. Accuracy can vary from device to device. A physical heart rate monitor is arguably one of the best and most accurate ways to measure how many calories you burn. Your heart rate indicates how much effort it takes for you to perform a certain activity, and that effort determines the calories you burn. If a heart rate monitor indicates how many calories you burn, it’s likely to be more accurate because it’s taking your specific heart rate into account.
Unfortunately, your activity level is only a small piece of the equation. Fitness professionals will often say that you can’t outwork a bad diet. While staying active is important for a well-balanced life, you must address your diet if you want to see results. Reducing calories and eating healthy options will help you lose weight and keep it off. You can often use the same apps that track your calorie burn to also record the foods you eat. MyFitnessPal and Noom both give caloric breakdowns to track throughout the day, and make it easy to stay on your diet.
If you don’t think you can commit to tracking, simply looking at the nutrient value of the foods on your plate can work if you’re new to cutting calories. The average person can lose about a pound a week; anything more than that is likely water weight. For example, to lose one pound a week, you should aim for a caloric deficit of 500 calories a day, through both decreasing the calories you eat and increasing the calories you burn. Cutting just 500 calories a day is 3,500 calories a week, resulting in about a pound of fat.
It is imperative to your health journey that you follow these guidelines; however, fixating on a number can be a double-edged sword. While success does come from being in a caloric deficit, not all calories are created equal. The main types of calories that we need to survive are fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. These are called macronutrients and are required in large amounts for us to function. When you’re in a deficit, you need to make sure you are not depriving yourself from any of these 3 areas, otherwise you’re depriving the body of the nutrients it needs.
Protein is essential for weight loss as it preserves muscle mass. Not consuming enough protein will help you lose weight, but it will come from muscle tissue and not the fat you’re trying to lose. Conversely, eating enough protein helps build lean muscle mass. If you don’t focus on the quality of your calories, you won’t be losing weight in a healthy way.
If I’m cutting 500 calories out of my diet, won’t I be hungry all the time? While cutting those 500 calories, it’s important to add more healthy alternatives into your diet. Eating more lean protein, healthy fats, and fibrous carbs will fill you up and keep you satiated longer, preventing any unwanted binges or overeating.
Weight can be an intimidating number. Whether you’re trying to gain, maintain, or lose, it’s important to know your calories, but there’s no need to over-complicate it. If you’re trying to gain weight, make sure to be in a surplus. If you’re trying to maintain, make sure you’re burning as much as you consume. If you’re trying to lose weight, be sure you’re burning more than you consume.
Remember that the most important part of living a healthy lifestyle is being knowledgeable. Know yourself, the foods you’re eating, and the ways you can push yourself to be more active. If you can do that, there’s no doubt you’ll succeed with those 2020 goals.
Weight Management Made Simple