Right, it’s a thorny subject, but folk keep asking, so here we go…
I know a little bit about this, I’m not a health professional, but I’ve struggled to maintain a healthy weight since I was a teenager (and that was a while ago!) so I’ve been interested in how it works pretty much my entire adult life.
I have a scientific tendency anyway, and I think that’s the way to approach it. It is, after all, a physical/biological process we’re talking about. I think it’s important to get your head around that. There’s no magic involved here, everybody’s different, and the numbers stack up differently for each one of us. But, the process is always the same, we’re all human.
So, how’s it done? To steal a catch phrase from the Change4Life campaign: Eat Well, Move More. We’re all already moving more (yay us!) so it’s all about eating well.
Something to consider, as I ramble on through this massive missive, is the fact that we’re not talking about a diet here, we’re talking about your diet. Don’t think along the lines of “I want to lose weight, I must go on a diet” instead get used to thinking “I want to be a healthy weight, I must control what I eat”.
The science is the easy bit, the basics of it anyway, and we’re only interesting the basics here. If you consume more energy than your body uses, you will gain fat. If you consume less energy than your body uses, you will lose fat. This doesn’t always mean you will gain or lose weight, your body changes in other ways too, especially when you exercise, more so when you start to exercise, but I’ve already written about that.
It’s generally considered a good idea to make sure that what you eat is a healthy balance of protein, carbs and fat as well as vitamins, minerals etc. That, clearly, is down to the choice of what you eat. And a touch beyond what I’m going to talk about here, I’m going to concentrate on maintaining a healthy weight, not necessarily a healthy diet.
How do you know you’re not a healthy weight? Or, more to the point, you are? How do you measure it? It’s not as easy as it first seems. You weight on its own isn’t a good measure, what do you compare it too? BMI calculates a value based on height and weight, and there are guidelines of what’s healthy, or not. And it’s a good starting point, but there’s quite a range, and for folk with body compositions at either end of the scale, it’s of no real help. So use it by all means, but with caution. My preferred method these days is a body composition scale that calculates fat content. It is, after all, fat we’re talking about here. Those scales you have to stand on in bare feet, they cost a little more, but worth it, I think.
Ultimately, it’s about feeling comfortable, and no measurement can tell you that. Luckily enough it doesn’t need to! Measurement though is a key part of getting there, the only way to know if you’re consuming the right amount of energy is by tracking your body composition, for our purposes that means fat content.
Now that you’re busy every day/week checking your fat percentage you’re also going to need to know how much energy you’re getting from food. Most food these days has nutritional information on it. If you’re buying fresh, then look on line, fatsecret.com is pretty good, but there are plenty of other sites that will tell you how many calories are in your orange. Write it all down, log it on a spreadsheet or sign up on one of the websites. However you do it, whatever you consume, you record.
Once you’re recording both weight and food it’s time for a feedback loop. If your fat content keeps coming up, eat less. And there you have it, pages and pages all for that. Eat less. And you already knew it. It isn’t that easy I know. Trust me, I really do! I plan meals and prepare in advance as much as I can. That, and try, each day, to get in the mind-set that if I want to lose some of the fat, I’m going to feel hungry occasionally, and I’m going to miss beer, and cakes, and chocolate, and… Groan.
As I said at the beginning, I’m not a health professional, don’t take this as gospel. It’s been my experience that this works. People argue all sorts of reasons why calorie counting isn’t the answer, I’ve yet to hear one that makes any sense to me, but I’m always open to alternatives. Feel free to comment if you have one.