Thou Shalt Know Your Numbers
The Ten Commandments of Weight Loss
Time and again, I've seen many overweight or obese patients lose the weight-loss battle because they were not willing to take the time to understand what their weight numbers meant, or they did not set realistic weight loss goals or they didn't realize how important self-monitoring was. And, to be honest, this is not an easy task for most of us, especially in the beginning. But it definitely pays off, and it pays big!
You have to know your enemy before you can hope to overcome him. To be liberated from the bondage of excessive weight, you have to understand several crucial issues about how the human body gains and loses weight, what a normal weight is, and how to set realistic goals for weight loss, both on the short and the long-term.
This is why I start my weight loss program with asking you to familiarize yourself with your weight numbers. Over the next two weeks, you will practice and acquire skills that will empower you to be in control, rather than a victim, when it comes to your weight issues.
Proper weight management is, in a lot of ways, similar to budget management. You have to count what goes in and what comes out and aim for the right balance. If you want to lose weight, you have to burn more calories then you are taking in. It's as simple as that.
Know Your Body Mass Index (BMI)
Some people are taller, some are smaller. Some have larger frames, some are thin. How can I know if I have excessive weight, and what is the normal weight range for me, you may ask.
Fortunately, there is a tool that allows us to eliminate all the variables and tell with a high degree of certainty if somebody is overweight or obese and by how much. It works both in both men and women, and it's called the body mass index, or BMI. A normal BMI is between 20-25. Being overweight corresponds to a BMI between 25 and 30, and obesity is a BMI over 30, with morbid obesity at BMIs over 40. There is extensive scientific support for using the BMI as a measure for body weight as well as for assigning medical risk to various degrees of weight gain.
Know Your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) And Daily Calorie Needs
The basal metabolic rate is the minimum amount of energy your body needs to stay alive at rest. You may be encouraged to learn that, for most adults, their body burns in excess of 1,000 calories a day even if they sit and do absolutely nothing the whole day. If that sounds surprising, think about our bodies as a machine that is never turned off (until we die, that is). Even when we sleep, our heart is still beating, our liver and most other organs, including the brain (remember those dreams from the other night :-)) are still working, and thus burning energy.
When we move around or exercise, our muscles burn additional energy, on top of the BMR. This is a simple, yet extremely important concept to comprehend in weight management. Physical activity is the ONLY variable energy component that we have total control over. The more we move, the more calories we burn, and vice-versa.
There are some other interesting details to discuss under this topic, and we will get to them later, but for now, please become familiar with your individual BMR and total daily caloric needs.
Know How Many Calories Are In A Pound
Do you know how many calories are in a pound?
In other words, it takes 3,500 calories to gain one pound. Conversely, a 3,500 caloric deficit will translate into one pound of weight loss.
This is another important number to remember. And I'm happy to tell you that this equation is valid for everybody, contrary to what some patients are telling me when they feel they are gaining weight from drinking water or even just breathing...
The nice thing about this number is that it is a multiple of 7, which means we can expect a weight-loss of about 1 lb/week if we achieve a daily caloric deficit of about 500 calories. More on this later.
Know How Many Calories Are In The Foods You Eat In A Day
Trying to lose weight without having a clear idea about how many calories are in the foods we eat is similar to trying to get out of debt while using credit cards without a budget or a debt resolution plan. Yet I often see patients who claim they have tried to lose weight for many years, but when I ask if they ever counted their calories, almost invariably their answer is "No".
To be clear, I am not suggesting here that you should become obsessed with counting calories for the rest of your life. But if you want to lose weight, you have to do this for a while. It will be an enlightening experience, I promise!
To find out how many calories are in the foods you ate today, go to the calorie counter.
Know How To Set Realistic Goals
I know you are anxious to lose weight. Fast. And all of it, if possible.
Please take a moment, though, and consider this: How long did it take for you to gain the excess weight you now have? A month? A year? Many years?
As frustrating as it may seem, slower weight loss is better. The consensus among specialists is that weight-loss rates faster than 2 lbs/week are not sustainable on the long-term. What this should mean for you, as you embark on this life-changing experience of weight control, is that crash diets are not the solution. You may even be able to confirm what I just said from personal experience - you may have tried a low (or very low) calorie diet in the past, and you probably lost a sizable amount of weight, only to regain it later, often with a bonus. I will revisit this issue in more detail in future lessons.
An evidence-based, realistic weight loss goal is to lose about 5% of you current weight in six months, and 10% in six months. For most people, this means losing 1-2 lbs/week. If you manage to do this, you should consider yourself successful.
I am aware that for some of you this may sound disappointing, but keep in mind that you do not (and should not) stop after six months. In addition, you should know that there are measurable, in fact significant health benefits associated with even a 5% weight loss: blood pressure gets better, cholesterol levels come down, arthritis and inflammation improve, insulin resistance gets better and the risk of diabetes goes down, etc. So there is plenty of reasons to celebrate even what may seem, to a superficial eye, only modest weight loss.
Get In The Habit Of Self-Monitoring
Self-monitoring is one of the important ingreadients for success when it comes to weight-loss. By self monitoring I mean keeping detailed, accurate, daily records of your food intake and physical activity.
One study evaluated the relationship between self-monitoring and weight loss in 56 obese subjects participating in a structured behavioral therapy program . Each week participants were given a log to record all food and calorie consumption. A weekly monitoring index was developed based on the number of times food intake was adequately recorded.
The results showed that not monitoring was associated with weight gain, and weight loss increased proportionally with increased self-monitoring. Weight change was +9.3, -1.7, -5.9, and -31.2 lb for self-monitoring indexes 1 through 4, respectively.
Source:  Baker RC, Kirschenbaum DS. Self-monitoring may be necessary for successful weight control. Behav Ther 1993;24:377-394.
Are There People Who Manage to Monitor Themselves?
Meet John Stone. An athlete in high school, he first became lazy, then fat, unhealthy, antisocial, and lost all his self-confidence in the process. Eventually, he reached to point where he knew he had to make some changes. And change he did! I embeded a video of his amazing transformation below:
Viewing his transformation, I think you will agree with me when I say he did an amazing job! But do you know what the secret of his success was? In his own words:
"Looking in the mirror was enough motivation to get me started, but I knew that I would need a more powerful motivator as I progressed past the "novelty stage" and hit the plateaus with which we are all so familiar. With that in mind, I decided to keep very strict records of my food intake, my supplement intake, my weight and cardio workouts and my body weight and body fat percentage." (emphasis ours).
Even though John did other things worthy of notice, strict self-monitoring made his transformation possible. I hope he will be an inspiration for you, too. I don't think you need to copy everything he did - in fact, his diet may not be the best for weight loss (his primary interest is now body-building). But he is 100% right when it comes to investing energy in self-monitoring efforts.
Note: This is a free version of the fist chapter of my weight loss program. As soon as we are done with updating the program, you will have the opportunity to create an account and access the other 9 commandments for weight loss, plus many other resources.
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