I appreciate the positive responses and “club” name ideas shared by readers of my earlier blog, But What if I Can’t Lose Weight. I am starting a new series to provide ideas, topics and suggestions that may help you move forward in your quest for weight loss and improved health and fitness especially when progress is slower than expected. I hope the topics and ideas shared will provide new ways for readers to think about the basics of nutrition, fitness and health and how they can apply them in their own lives to see success and reach goals.
Many of us experience weight loss at a slower pace than desired and are frustrated. Some of us are in this situation because of medical conditions or changes in life stage, which have altered how our bodies respond to diet and exercise. For others, following the recommendations and calculations does not bring the desired results. Whatever the reason you are finding that you are working hard and the weight is not responding as you had hoped, perhaps one or more of the topics we cover in this new series will make a difference in your quest for success. To get this new series started we are going to take a closer look at why we are all not metabolically equal.
Metabolism is not only the rate at which the body uses energy but also the efficiency in which available energy and nutrients are used. There are several methods that can be used to calculate estimated energy needs by nutrition professionals with the Harris Benedict equation being the most common. However, this equation and calculation "could" be what is keeping you from having weight loss success. How?
The Harris Benedict equation uses gender, age, height and weight to calculate an estimated BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) or the amount of energy the body requires to perform functions for living such as thinking, digestion, breathing, growth and repair. This is the energy required 24/7 just to lie in bed and do little else. An activity factor is also added to the calculation to provide your daily estimation of energy needs. Many nutrition professionals assume lifestyles that are more sedentary. If you work at a desk job and are not an active person, the calculation may be accurate. However, if you live an active life either in the type of work you do, the leisure activities you enjoy or a combination of the two, the calculation may be a little low.
Calculating your estimated nutrient needs is more of an art than an exact science and what the body needs on a given day differs based on what you are doing, if your body is in a state of repair from illness or injury and if the available energy can be properly utilized. Since knowing exactly how many calories are necessary on a given day is difficult from just a calculation, nutrition professionals typically provide a calorie range. When you work with a nutrition professional such as a Registered Dietitian, they are able to use their knowledge and experience to provide thoughts and ideas for small changes that may help in your specific situation. Here are several suggestions that may help you do some fine-tuning on your own to help you jump-start your metabolic rate or efficiency that may help you see improved weight loss success.
One of the flaws with the tried and true HB equation is that is does not provide any calculated factors for body composition. Our body type is genetically determined and is not something we can change. However, it does affect the way our body uses nutrients. An ectomorphic body type tends to have a fast metabolism with a smaller body frame and has more difficulty building muscle. An endomorphic body type on the other hand tends to have a naturally lower metabolic rate but is able to build muscle more easily. When things are out of balance, an endomorph easily increases fat stores because of a larger number of fat cells. Fat is less metabolic than muscle and having more muscle mass will affect the energy you need and the energy you use even though it is not something that is included in the calculations. If you have a higher level of muscle, you will likely have higher energy needs than the equation will calculate.
Digestion uses energy, so the number of times you eat in a day can affect the amount of energy you are using. The composition of your meals can also have an effect on the utilization of energy and nutrients. I will save the discussion on low carbohydrate or high protein diets for another time but I will say that making small adjustments in your meal composition may make a difference in your weight loss efforts. If you have a medical condition or take medications that affect the way you utilize glucose, a 45-50% intake of carbohydrate may be most beneficial. If you routinely participate in cardio exercise routines that last longer than an hour, a 60-65% carbohydrate intake may be more beneficial. If your nutrient intake is not equally balanced or you are taking supplements that create an unfavorable balance in some nutrients, this may have an effect as well. Looking at not only what you eat but how often and in what nutrient ratio is something that may help you find small changes to try to see if it makes a difference in moving the scale.
Exercise machines or lists that estimate energy expenditure can really be unreliable and can over or under estimate the affects of exercise. If you are having trouble seeing the results you are looking for, it is worth making a small investment in a heart rate monitor. Heart rate monitors can help you make sure your exercise routine is not too easy or too intense as well as letting you know how many calories your body burned during your activity. When you know exactly how many calories you are burning, you are better able to balance that output with the correct intake to meet your goals.
The calculations used by the HB equation or any other means of establishing estimated nutrient needs are ballpark numbers, they are not exact. Body type, activity level and meal composition and timing may indicate an energy need higher than the estimation you are following. If you are someone that routinely stays in your estimated calorie range and it is slightly lower than what the body needs, this could keep the body in a "perceived" starvation state where it will not release fat reserves. This can especially be true if you are routinely always eating at the low end or slightly below your range and exercising a great deal with defined muscle mass.
The Bottom Line -- We live in a dieting society and the thought is always that lower calorie intake is better. That is not always true especially if you are an active person that is fit. Perhaps increasing your calories by 300 calories on each end of your range for a month will help to move the body out of its stuck state. Try to make sure you do not under eat the range and accept that slightly over eating the range a time or two each week can be ok. Don't freak out if you see your weight go up by a pound or two initially, this can be a very good indication that your body was in a perceived starvation state and that it needed more to fuel your lifestyle and body type. Commit to the trial for one month and try to only step on the scale one time per week during that time. Re-evaluate where things stand in a month to see if there is a shift.
Welcome to the weight busters club! Hang in there, have hope and share this information with others that you think would benefit. We may take smaller steps than other people, but together we can rejoice in those small steps just as we do with those that take big ones.
How do you think your body composition affects your energy needs?
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