Monday, January 14, 2008

our body is an amazing homeostatic organism


we're very efficient at being constant. with this in mind, it's no wonder it's so hard for us to make lasting change in our lives.

like many women, I've had periods when I'm at my "perfect" weight and periods when I'm not. and, of course, there are the transitional periods in between -- yes, times of weight loss and weight gain.

I have a very simple theory about body weight and nutrition.

because our bodies are so darn efficient, it's very easy for most of us to maintain a constant weight. we have physical cravings for just the right amount of calories to sustain our current weight.

we don't over-eat based on physical cravings, but rather because of emotional eating. yes, emotional eating: we're happy, we're sad, we're celebrating, we're lonely, we're rewarding ourselves -- all non-physical reasons for eating.

if we listen to our bodies, and our bodies don't crave more calories than we need, then we won't overeat.

caloric deficit (under-eating) is another ball of wax altogether. it's hard to deficit ourselves. it takes discipline and conscious decision-making. we have to fight the physical cravings and the emotional desires. however, in order to lose weight, we need to create a negative caloric balance (aka a caloric deficit).

so, how do we do that? there are three components to weight loss (or gain or maintenance):

first, you need to know how many calories your body needs everyday (your caloric expenditure). short of lab testing, you can estimate this using a number of on-line calculators. I use a tool called http://www.fitday.com. it's a free online food and activity journal. by entering information about myself, fitday helps me estimate my basal caloric needs and my lifestyle caloric needs. then, I can enter my fitness activities each day for an estimate of my exercise caloric expenditure. voila! I now have a pretty accurate estimate of how many calories my body needs each day.

next, you need to know how many calories you're putting into your body (your caloric intake). to do this, you need to keep a record of your nutrition. I also use fitday for this. in order to accurately enter your food each day, you need to become a label whore (yes, read those labels), weigh, and measure your food. the biggest nutrition mistake I see in my practice is that folks underestimate what they're eating. we've been taught that a "portion" is much larger than it really is so we need to reset that measure. the second most common mistake is that folks insist that they eat "right" meaning they're eating healthy food, but they have no idea how many calories they're eating. so, you need to know what you're putting into your body in order to make positive change.

lastly, you need to make a conscious decision each day to deficit yourself. a safe, healthy rate of weight loss is 1-2 pounds a week, so a deficit of 500 - 1,000 calories would be ideal. this is the hard part, because you're going to feel hungry unless you fill your plate with foods that aren't calorie dense (ie lots of fruits and vegetables to fill your belly).

so, if one of your goals for the coming season is to lose weight, you have the tools that you need to achieve that goal right at your fingertips:

  1. caloric expenditure
  2. caloric intake
  3. caloric deficit
good luck to you in achieving your goals!


(editor's note: while this entry focuses on weight loss, I'm aware that there are also women who struggle with weight gain. the same principals apply.)

6 comments:

TreBone said...

Thanks for posting this! These three simple but powerful tools can change lives.

velogirl said...

you're very welcome, Trebone. and you know about weight loss, don't you.

Beth said...

i work(ed) at ucsf, and they sometimes need participants for different "studies." there was one on calcium intake, that i decided i'd participate in. for three days (it seemed like an eternity!), i had to do exactly what you said-- keep track of ALL of my food/liquid consumption, weigh it, keep labels, etc.- so the nutritionist could then measure my calcium, etc.

well, i don't think i was a very good study participant, because i did it over a weekend i was riding my bike a ton-- so my food chart looked kinda whack. we got a "report" back of our daily caloric intake, what percentage of vitamins/minerals we were intaking compared to standards... and mine was something crazy like 5,300 calories and 4500% of daily whatever on somethings they were measuring! so, i think it was sufficient to say, that i was the outlier on that study.

i kinda laugh, thinking that in the academic journal this thing gets published they will have some graphs, and i will be the little "x" way far away that is making the scale all funny.

velogirl said...

Beth, I think it's kinda cool you were the outlyer.

interesting that you mention calcium. as athletes who eat pre-packaged athletic food, we all intake xxx% of our nutrients (like calcium). just look at the label on a Luna Bar or a Power Bar sometime. and then I've got clients who still think they need to supplement.

that's the other cool thing about keeping a food journal -- you get a great report about your micro-nutrient intake and any possible deficiencies.

bbElf (a.k.a. panda) said...

I've used fitday & love it, but recently came to the realization that if I really want to get a handle on my weight issues I have to let it go. It's been easier than anticipated, luckily; I eat when I'm hungry and eat mostly clean plant foods, and try not to worry about it. The only time I count is during my rest weeks.

For sure it isn't foolproof, but so far so good, and for once I've been far enough removed to identify my triggers...

velogirl said...

Panda, that's so good that you understand how you "work." I've found that fitday.com is best for "check off the list" kinda folks like me. I'm very motivated my completing a task, not necessarily seeing a result. but I've also found that I don't see the result unless I do complete the task. does that make sense?

but I have clients who go nutsy using fitday.com.