Tuesday, April 14, 2009

My Plan in a Nutshell (Part II)

Alright, I'll admit it; I've procrastinated. I promised a second part to "my plan" (part I is here) and it's taken too long. I honestly have thought about this on and off, frearing that it's all too convoluted, but all I can do is put it together the best I can. After all, it's just basic math. But somehow, when I try to write it out, it sounds overly complicated. It's not; it's just math.

Once again, the standard disclaimer applies: This is what works for me. It may not work for you, and it certainly isn't expected to work for everyone. (Although, I'll say it, I'd be surprised to find it not work for someone.) But there are some different schools of thought regarding the finer points, so I'm not going to stomp my foot and insist that my way is better. It's not. It's just my way.

Now, on with today's topic: creating and maintaining a caloric deficit.

First off, losing weight is fundamentally simple. It's even better than that vague off-hand remark so often thrown around. It's not just, "Eat less and exercise more." It's this: Eat 500-1000 calories fewer than you burn. That's it. Bam. Done.

(Note, what follows is lengthy and somewhat complicated. I've posted a simpler method at the bottom. It's not my method, but it works for many people.)

OK, fine. More information. First, you have to figure out how many calories you per per day without exercise. I'll call this the AMR (active metabolic rate). Note that I'm not talking about BMR (basal metabolic rate), as we really don't care about that. We want to include those calories burned by getting ready for work, walking around during work, and chasing the kids or dog around after work. That all counts. But don't count what you burn during exercise (yet). Unless you're very, very consistent with your workouts, you're going to want to account for that separately. (Yes, this is one of those finer points, but I'll give my reasoning soon enough.)

So, how to figure that out? If, like me, you use Fitday, you're set. It'll do the math for you. If not, I'm pretty impressed by the recommendations from NutritionData. Leave the "minutes/day of additional exercise" blank and, unless you have a very active job or home life, select "somewhat active" (if you are relatively homebound, you might want to select "sedentary"). So, for my height and weight, it tells me that I'll need to eat 2511 calories per day to maintain my weight (without exercise). That's my AMR, my starting point.

Now, of course, I don't want to maintain my weight! I want to lose weight. That means that I should shave off 500-1000 calories per day. That sets me at eating between 1511-2011 calories per day. (Yes, that is quite a bit more than the 1200 calorie per day diet many of us have been recommended for decades.)

But wait, it gets better. Don't you exercise? I know I do. You know what I love about exercise? (Well, other than the adrenaline, endorphins, challenge, accomplishment, and ever-increasing strength, of course.) It lets me eat more. No, strike that, it requires that I eat more. If I go out for a walk, I probably don't need to eat more. But when I go on a long-ish bike ride and burn over 500 calories (or often over 1000 calories), I will eat more. I want to make sure that I feed my body properly, not punish it for going above and beyond. So, let's say I burn an extra 300 calories. Now I get to tack that on to my food allowance for the day. Instead of eating between 1511-2011 calories, I should eat between 1811-2311 calories on that day. And I'll still lose weight.

I do adjust per day. Some people argue against that, but let's just say that this keeps me sane, and that's what matters to me (and the people who have to survive being around me). It also, I believe, is teaching me to eat per my needs. Why eat more on days when I don't do much, and why fight off fatigue and headache on days where I push myself to an extreme?

So, the formula boils down to this:

(AMR) + (calories burned from exercise) - (500 or 1000) = daily calorie allowance

For my example of burning 300 calories, it ges like this:

2511 + 300 - 500 = 2311 (this is the upper limit)
2511 + 300 - 1000 = 1811 (this is the lower limit)

To lose weight, eat between 1811-2311 calories on that day.

That's a ton of math to do, I know. It works for me because I use fitday (the offline version). Some people use spreadsheets, or there are other tools that figure out net caloric deficits. Fitday does the math for me and all I look at every day is my deficit. Is it between 500 and 1000 calories? If so, I'm good.

(It's safe to start reading again here.)

Now, I promised a simpler method for people overwhelmed by the above. Figure out your average minimum exercise. Go back to NutritionData and (re)submit your information with your exercise. (Or switch to "active" or "very active".) It'll give you an AMR which includes your exercise calories. Take 500-1000 calories off of that and eat within that range every day. (For example, it gives me 2784 calories if I include my exercise, so I'd shoot for 1784-2284 calories per day.)

Now, again, this works for many people, but it doesn't work for me because it doesn't allow me to make up for calories burned on long hikes, long bike rides, or psuedo-brick workouts.

Wow, that's not much of a nutshell, is it? Ah, well, that's part II. I think I had a part III planned, though I can't currently remember what it was for. I'm sure it will come to me. When it does, I promise to make it more brief and coherent than today's post. Well, I promise to try. That counts, right?

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