How many calories do you eat? How many calories do you burn?

How many calories do you eat? How many calories do you burn?

How many calories do you eat?  How many calories do you burn?

So many people want to stop me in the hall or at the gym and just ask a “quick question.” They want to know why they aren’t losing weight despite their best efforts.  Trust me when I say, this is not a quick question.  I usually ask them to briefly tell me what they’ve been doing, and then I just listen.  Then I listen some more.  In my experience, if you let someone talk long enough, they will tell on themselves.  Their story usually starts with their dedication and consistency, and eventually ends with all of the times they cheat on their own plan within the week, for a variety of reasons.  Then I ask my question differently.  I acknowledge their hard work in the gym, but ask what they are eating.  Wow… the answers get interesting then.  These answers always define why I do this.  I hear about scattered plans.  These are people who are trying to put in the work, but simply do not know how to make it happen.

There is a lot of truth in the statistic that losing fat successfully is 80% based on nutrition and 20% based on exercise.  Do you have a plan?  Do you really know what you’re eating?  Are you just making “good choices” from day to day?  If you don’t have a clear cut plan, how can you measure your progress?  People often write out their workouts. If you’re training for a marathon, you have a plan.  You’re going to run X number of miles this week. Your long run will be on Sunday.  The next week you have a new plan, based on how your runs went this week.  If you weight train, you likely know which body parts you are training each day you plan to train, and can measure your success by how much you can lift, right?  So why not put that same organization into your food?

The 80/20 split I mentioned above should be encouraging, but it seems to be discouraging to most people.  Why do I think it is encouraging?  Because when “life” happens and I can’t get my workout in, I don’t need to panic.  I’ve been on plan with my nutrition, so a missed workout is not something to stress over.  Exercise is important, but it should not be a safety net for you to undo your off plan eating.  That doesn’t work anyway, by the way.  Trust me, I’ve tried that.  Most people find it discouraging to think of what they eat as being such a big part of their success.  Workouts are sexy.  It is much more fun to go on social media and brag about how much you can squat, how much sweat is dripping off your face, etc.  No one goes on Twitter and brags about their nutritional compliance, because that’s boring.  Like it or not, though, that’s where the “magic” lies.

Let’s talk a little about knowing your calorie intake and your energy expenditure.  First of all, when establishing a plan for yourself, you must read labels.  Do you actually measure out your portions?  Or eyeball it.  You need to create a 3,500 calorie deficit to lose a single pound.  So let’s say that eyeballing your portions leads to an extra 200 calories per day.  That’s 1,400 extra calories per week.  That makes a big difference in how quickly or slowly you progress towards your goals. 

Now let’s talk about that cardio equipment at the gym.  The machines are not accurate.  They can’t be.  How can they possibly know your fitness level and body composition? They can’t.  They use basic formulas.  Let’s say you get on a treadmill and enter your statistics.  If you’re a 150 pound woman with 32% body fat and are running next to a 150 pound woman with 22% body fat and are both running at the exact same pace and incline, the treadmill will display the exact same number of calories burned.  In reality,  however, the woman with lower body fat and more muscle is actually burning more calories. There are reports that indicate cardio machines overestimate calories burned by almost 20%.

Remember that the overall message here is to have a plan, and a large portion of your plan needs to be centered on your nutrition.  Without a plan, you will be frustrated and unsuccessful in the long run.  Nutrition does not have to be bland and boring. It can be fun and flavorful. Taking an active role in your nutrition can lead to fun times in the kitchen with your kids, while also demonstrating a healthy lifestyle for them.   

Exercise is great!  It is my main stress reliever.  I look forward to it.  I do not view it as a punishment for an off plan choice.  My point is that if you’re wanting to rely on exercise as damage control for dietary indiscretions, you will eventually resent exercise instead of appreciating the benefits.