“I just don’t get it, Paul,” Teddy began, “I eat right. I exercise. I cut back on my drinking. I’m trying to do everything we’ve discussed, getting more sleep, eating all those vegetables and stuff, I even tried that meditation crap that you suggested. But, I just can’t seem to lose any weight! Nothing. I haven’t dropped a single pound. I guess there’s just something wrong with me. Maybe all those techniques just won’t work for me. I mean, yeah, I feel better and my clothes are starting to fit again, but why can’t I lose the weight? Where do we go from here?”
So, began a recent one-on-one coaching call with our friend Teddy.
I introduced you to Teddy in a post that I broadcast last week (you can find that here in case you missed it). You’ll remember that he’s frustrated that he’s not losing much weight even though he’s working out 2-3 times per week for the past several months and trying to be mindful about his diet.
So, let’s get to it and examine Teddy’s experience with nutrition and exercise to better understand and explain some of the challenges someone in midlife might encounter when hoping to lose weight.
The inescapable arithmetic
To begin, we’ll need to get a bit mathematical and slightly technical to introduce the inescapable arithmetic of weight loss.
The equation is a simple one:
When we take in more energy than we put out we create an energy imbalance. That imbalance leads to weight gain. While lots of factors can impact the energy we take in and put out, for the most part, how much food we consume and how active we are, are the primary variables.
Mathematically it might look like this:
If Energy In > Energy Out = Weight Gain
If Energy In
When Energy In = Energy Out = Homeostasis (neither gain nor loss)
Seems pretty simple and straightforward, doesn’t it?
Let’s dig into Teddy’s situation a bit deeper.
Based on his height, weight, and age, we can estimate what his daily caloric intake ought to be to maintain his current weight. We start by calculating his Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) which approximates how much energy he consumes by simply being alive. Our bodies expend energy even when we’re sleeping. RMR includes all those necessary biological processes, like our heartbeat, breathing, and brain activity, as well as some minimal movement.
Teddy’s RMR works out to about 1850 kcal.
Outside of his workouts and the occasional round of golf, he’s not very active. He works at a desk most of the day, drives to and from work, and aside for a little bit of housework and yard work, doesn’t move around all that much.
All of that adds up to a total of about 2300 kcal per day to maintain energy balance. If he consumes more than those 2300, his body will store that energy and he’ll gain weight. Likewise, if he consumes less than 2300 kcal on any given day, he would tap into stored energy and theoretically lose weight.
I say “theoretically“ here because, as simple as the math above seems, there are a number of complexities involved that can confound his weight loss, particularly in midlife. They include Ted’s hormonal balances, the quantity and quality of his sleep, how stressed he is, even the health and diversity of his gut microbiome. We’ll explore each of these factors more fully in future installments.
Back to the math…
For this discussion, let’s stay focused on the arithmetic.
When we use the term “weight loss” we are usually talking about burning off fat. The amount of potential energy stored in 1 lb of fat is 3500 kcal. So, to lose 1 lb of fat we need to create an energy imbalance of 3500 kcal. We often call that energy imbalance a “calorie deficit”. To say it another way, to create a calorie deficit of 3500 kcal, we can consume 3500 kcal fewer than we expend, or expend 3500 kcal more than we consume, or any combination thereof. However we get there, that caloric deficit will, eventually, result in a loss of 1 lb of fat.
This is so convenient!
For fitness and nutrition coaches, the number 3500 is really convenient! It’s easily divisible by seven. With seven days in each week, it works out quite nicely that to burn off 1 lb of fat in a week, we need to create a calorie deficit of 500 kcal per day.
And, we mostly agree that a weight loss of 1 lb per week is realistic and sustainable.
Applying this reasoning to my friend Ted, to map a path toward 1 lb of weight loss each week, we could coach him to increase his activity by 500 kcal per day, or limit his consumption to 1800 kcal, or a combination of those two approaches.
So, now that we’ve got the math down, and Teddy understands the process by which a person can begin to systematically lose weight, we need to thoroughly understand as much about Teddy’s personality, habits, environment, and support network as we can to successfully coach him about changes that he’s willing to make and stick with over an extended period of time.
In my next post, I’ll go into a bit more detail of the plan we mapped out for Ted and some really interesting things we’ve discovered from his day to day life that are likely to inhibit his progress unless he comes to terms with them.
Look for my next installment, titled “But, I LOVE Chicken Parm!!!”
Meanwhile, if you’ve been struggling and frustrated with your own efforts to shed that persistent belly fat or hate the double and triple chins that seem to be multiplying, hit me back with a reply or reach out directly to Jules: firstname.lastname@example.org. She’s putting the finishing touches on her small group nutrition coaching program and we’re still on target to launch that in early May.
As always, thanks very much for your support!
Be strong and have fun,