Friday, December 13, 2013
Ever have an experience where you learn one tiny thing, and it makes a million other tiny things you already knew relate to each other in a whole new way? Like a light bulb goes off? I had one of those moments in the last couple of days.
I'm sure most of us around this site have read and know that eating too little can actually interfere with weight loss. I also knew that the reasons were because when your body goes into starvation stress mode, it tends to spare fat and use muscle for fuel, which in turn, reduces your metabolism. What I didn't know was HOW little is too little.
So I did some research.
Consensus seems to be that at a minimum, you must take in AT LEAST enough calories to meet your basal metabolic rate. You can find lots of calculators for that on this site or others, but for me, that seems to be somewhere between 1550 and 1660 calories. This is the absolute base number of calories your body needs to keep all of your systems going. In order to really figure out what you need though, you also have to take into account the number of calories you burn throughout the day through exercise or just normal movement. This number is your Total Daily Energy Expenditure or TDEE. Again, you can find a bunch of calculators online that will figure this out based on your activity level, but I decided to use my BodyMedia armband for this number, since that's more specific to my body. For me, my TDEE ranges anywhere from about 2400 (if I'm sick and stay on the couch all day) to days like today where I worked out and was otherwise active and will end the day at closer to 3400 calories burned.
So how much do you eat? A lot of places will give you a general number around 1200 calories a day, which - in terms of calories in/calories out ONLY - could be quite nice for me, as I'd be getting a 1200 calorie deficit EVEN on days when I do nothing. 1200 calories won't come close to meeting my BMR needs though, so my metabolism would slow down, and my body wouldn't lose like it's supposed to. I've actually experienced this very thing before.
For me, it seems the sweet spot for losing weight is about 1700-1900 calories a day - at least for right now. The fun thing is that this is still a 500+ calorie deficit even on my slowest days and more than 1000 calories in deficit on workout days, so that still puts me on track for the nice, safe 1-3 pounds per week. All of a sudden, I get why this is the rate everyone says it's "safe" to lose at!
Training for this half marathon has really made me focus on my food intake, and I'm not sure I would have connected all these dots without it. For the next couple of months, finishing this race will take precedence over even losing weight, and that freedom has given me the chance to really figure out the way food fuels my body. For instance, I know I can't eat a ton of carbs, but I also know my body doesn't do well with exercise on too low of carbs either. Because of that, I'm keeping my carbs as low as I can while still exercising well, and I'm avoiding almost all grains (I'm still having tiny bits of quinoa and gluten free oats) and all refined sugar. The carbs I get I'm getting from sweet potatoes, fruit, and on a rare occasion, honey! I'm getting my protein and fats from healthy, natural sources, and aside from the Diet Coke a day habit I can't seem to break, I haven't eaten any processed food since the weekend of Thanksgiving. For now, my calorie breakdown is about 33% each from carbs, protein, and fat, with carbs being a slightly lower percent on non-workout days. It seems to be working, as my fitness is improving faster than ever and I'm feeling really great.
It's nerve-wrecking to eat more, I've got to admit. It's strange to think that I can have that tablespoon of natural peanut butter with my apple, because I've still easily got the calories. I had a meatloaf muffin for dinner tonight, and I still had to make a snack later to hit my calorie count. It's certainly a new experience on this journey. What I do know is that, watching the scale every day, I'm not gaining. I'm in fact slowly losing, and I'm doing that while feeling great in the midst of a half marathon training plan.
At the very least, I learned something new this week, and the feeling of puzzle pieces sliding together makes me feel one step closer to figuring out what my body needs and how to best fuel it for weight loss and for the rest of my life!