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:
- caloric expenditure
- caloric intake
- caloric deficit
(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.)