When we talk about energy balance in weight management, we're talking about
the balance between the energy that you get from the foods you eat and the energy
that your body burns in everyday activities such as walking, dressing, growing
hair... even breathing! Energy that comes into the body through the food we
eat is measured in calories.
Now for the balancing part.
If you eat food containing more calories than you use up, your weight will increase,
as the extra calories that are not used will be stored as fat. The opposite
is true for weight loss: when your energy use, or the number of calories that
you burn, is higher than the number of calories you consume, you lose weight.
So to maintain your weight, keep your energy balance in mind. Energy in is
food; energy out is exercise.
There are three ways that you can tip that energy balance equation towards
Reduce your total daily calories: Eat less. Reducing your food intake
by 500 calories a day (that's 3,500 calories a week) will help you lose one
pound a week. That's due to the fact that to lose one pound of fat, you will
need to use 3,500 calories more than what you eat, since one pound of body fat
equals about 3,500 calories.
Maintain normal calories and increase energy use: Eat the same number
of calories and exercise more. You'll be tipping the energy balance towards
needing more than your body gets with food, so your body will burn fat to get
the extra energy it needs.
Reduce your calorie intake and increase your energy use: Eat less and
exercise more. If the thought of eating 500 calories less a day turns you off,
no problem! You can still lose weight if you eat only 250 calories less per
day and exercise enough to burn the other 250 calories. A simple way to burn
off these extra calories is walking about two and one-half miles.
Lowering calories will require you to think about what you eat, to make sure
that you fuel your body properly without tipping the balance. There are lots
of healthy, great tasting foods out there that will keep you satisfied and help
you achieve your weight goals.
Keep in mind, though, as you approach your weight loss goal, that your body's
energy needs will change as well. This is because it takes less for your body
to carry around less weight! So, you will have to adjust your caloric intake
the more weight you lose.
If all this seems overwhelming, talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian.
They can help you meet your individual needs in your weight-loss journey by
guiding you towards making healthy choices towards effective weight loss.
Although we know that many factors influence the way we eat, it is still not
well understood what controls normal eating behaviour.
Is our environment making us overweight?
Partly. Can we blame it on technology? Perhaps. The phone, the remote control,
riding the elevator or the escalator instead of taking the stairs, driving the
car instead of walking – all promote less energy use.
Although what we eat and how much we eat is influenced by a number of factors
such as sight, taste, and smell, it is also influenced by genetic, psychological,
and social factors. Scientists have discovered that appetite and metabolism
are controlled by a complex system of hormones and nerve cells in an intricate
communication between the body and the brain.
Leptin tells your brain that you're full.
The discovery in 1994 of the hormone leptin, which is involved in regulating
the energy balances in the body, helped shed some light on this situation. Leptin
is your body's thermostat to help with long-term weight maintenance. When your
body has consumed enough food, leptin sends your brain a message that you are
full and don't need more food, decreasing your appetite.
So what makes you hungry even if you've just eaten? Scientists believe it is
caused by a communication breakdown. The brain ignores the signals that it gets
from leptin and other hormones involved in appetite control.
And then there is a "set point" weight.
It is also believed that leptin is involved in regulating a "set point"
for your body weight, which is automatically set by your brain and body. Your
body is set up through evolution to vigorously defend your setpoint weight.
That's why, even though you eat less, you may burn less fat and stop losing
weight. But you can reset your setpoint in order to continue losing weight.
You just need to increase your heart rate through moderate exercise, such as
a brisk walk for half an hour a day.
While sliding into a smaller size may be your long-term goal, try to approach
it one day at a time. Set short-term goals for yourself – it will make the task
less daunting. Track your progress and reward yourself as you reach milestones.
Have a plan, and know what you have to do to meet your goal.
Don't try to lose too much – or too little.
For weight loss to be beneficial to your health and to have a long-lasting effect,
you should aim to lose 1 to 2 pounds a week. To do this, you need to use 500
to 1000 more calories a day than you take in. Losing
more than that will result in loss of water and muscle, not fat.
A reasonable goal may be to reduce your body weight by 5% to 10%. If your weight
is 200 pounds, and your body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference are not
in the healthy range, aim to lose 10 to 20 pounds. But make sure to put a realistic
time frame on achieving your goal. Talk to your doctor about a realistic goal
Your doctor, a dietitian, and other professionals can help you to determine
your ideal healthy body weight, introduce you to healthy weight-loss strategies,
teach you sensible weight-maintenance tips, and help you with expectations.
If you have an occasional setback by overeating or eating foods that you should
avoid, don't despair! There is no such thing as a "forbidden" food,
and your diet should reflect that. You can get back on track with your next
meal. If it happens more often, identify the issues or triggers that made you
overeat. Replace tempting unhealthy food choices with healthy alternatives by
focusing on a variety of foods that are healthier instead of on what you're
"not supposed to eat."
You have decided that it is time. You are on your way to a new you! You know
you can do it, but just to be safe, gather resources around you to make sure
that you are prepared every step of the way.
Find a friend to lean on.
It can be a tough long journey. But it needn't be. Drawing on support from family,
friends, and other sources can make the journey easier. Surround yourself with
positive, encouraging people who understand and share your commitment towards
developing a healthy lifestyle. Find people who are good listeners. And find
an exercise buddy who shares the priority you've placed on developing a healthier
lifestyle. Ideally, a support person might be someone who is also involved in
a weight-loss program.
You have many options.
There are as many different approaches as there are individuals. Some people
may prefer to follow a weight-loss program on their own without a buddy system.
However, they might need to talk to a doctor who specializes in obesity, or
other professional, such as a dietitian or personal trainer, on an individual
basis to help them stay on track. Others might seek support in a group setting
by joining a weight loss program. Depending on what you want to get out of joining
the group, your rewards may come through the sense of community, support, and
encouragement, from helpful suggestions from others who are traveling the same
road, and from feeling and knowing that you're not alone. And your ultimate
reward will be your better health.