Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Eat to Shrink

The next few posts are made up of selected portions of a dieting guide I originally wrote two years ago for a fatty friend of mine who never ended up reading it.  Do yourself a favor and don't repeat her mistake.  The guide itself has been edited and altered as necessary over the years to reflect more accurate information as it comes to my attention.  I've broken it into a few posts so you don't succumb to information overload.
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One of the most important things to keep in mind while dieting is patience.  Understanding that you are forcing your body to change, and that these changes will come slowly, will help you through difficult points in your journey.  Remember that this is a psychological as well as physical battle and staying in control will be easier if you first prepare yourself mentally.  Having as many facts as possible will reduce the “gray areas” of your diet and make it easier to follow as well.

Food can be broken down into three macronutrients: proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.  All food with calories (and therefore nutritional value) is made up of one or more of these macronutrients.  Fat is the most calorie-rich, with 9 calories per gram of fat.  Carbohydrates and proteins both contain 4 calories per gram, although they behave differently in the body.  You can further differentiate between different types of fats, carbohydrates and proteins.  But more on that later.

First let’s break down what you’ve been eating.  Catalog what you eat during several consecutive days and calculate your caloric intake.  Read labels or use internet sites such as  Being completely honest with yourself throughout this entire process is the only way you will be able to accurately determine how to proceed.  I cannot stress enough the importance of precision, so measure, measure, measure!  Investing in a food scale or even a set of measuring cups is a great idea, and getting into the habit of quantifying everything you eat—rather than estimating based on hazy memories—is a lot easier than it sounds.    Once you have your average daily intake you can calculate where to start your diet.  Generally a 20% decrease is enough for most people to drop a few pounds. 

You can also start by calculating your Basal Metabolic Rate (also known as your resting metabolic rate).  This will tell you how many calories you would need to consume to maintain your current condition if you lay in bed all day.  The formula is as follows:
BMR = 66 + (9.6 X BODYWEIGHT (kg)) + (1.7 X HEIGHT (cm)) + (4.7 X AGE (years))
1 lb = .454 kg
1 inch = 2.54 cm

Now, to calculate how many calories you would need to consume on a regular day (when you weren’t in bed) you must determine your activity level.
Very Light Activity: Desk job, no real physical activity. (1.2)
Light Activity: Desk job, some physical activity. (1.4)
Moderate Activity: Physically demanding job, or desk job and vigorous physical activity (one workout). (1.6)
High Activity: Physically demanding job and one workout, or desk job and two workouts. (1.8)
Extreme Activity: Physically demanding job and two workouts. (2.0)
Now multiply your BMR by the number in parentheses next to your activity level.  It is important to be honest on this one too; better to underestimate than overestimate, in my opinion.  I would consider myself (an intense weight-lifter and competitive bodybuilder) a 1.6-1.8 depending on whether or not I am doing cardio as well as lifting (and preparing for a competition).  Now you have your estimated caloric needs for one average day (BMR’). 

Compare this number to your previous calculations of your daily average intake.  Are you eating more than you should?  Less?  Ideally you would be consuming right around the same amount as your BMR’ dictates.  As I mentioned before, a 20% decrease is usually enough to drop a few pounds, but not drastic enough to cause any real discomfort yet.  Calculate a 20% decrease from whichever number is higher and you’ve got your starting point. 

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