Taking Control of Your Weight

As a strength and conditioning coach, one of the most common conversations I have with athletes is whether they should gain or lose weight.

Of course, when you are talking to athletes the conversation revolves around function for his or her sport. In the real world, which is where I personally live at this point of my life, the conversation is normally centered around weight loss for health and/or cosmetic reasons. At 47 years old with four children and a wife I absolutely adore, weight loss and cardiovascular health are the main concerns of my training. I still enjoy lifting heavy and even competing in strength sports, but it’s simply not the priority.

The Science

In this article, I am going to explain the science behind weight loss and weight gain. I am also going to explain the different aspects of each. Finally, I am going to give you some simple tips to help with each. I am also going to explain why some people have an easier time losing weight while others have an easier time gaining. When this article is over, the weight loss and weight gain mystery will be solved. Then you will have to ask yourself if you are willing to do what it takes. We are all capable of losing and gaining weight, but most of us are not willing to do the work. I believe my readers are capable of doing whatever they want.

I am going to start with weight loss because losing weight has the potential to help the most people. Being overweight contributes heavily to the development of type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is preventable, which is the sad part. The Center for Disease Control has made the prediction that children born in 2000 have a 1 in 3 chance of developing type 2 diabetes in their lifetime. Guys, we have to do better as a society. This is one of the negatives of being an affluent country. Proportions continually increase while activity levels continue to decrease.

Calorie Intake

At the end of the day, weight loss and weight gain comes down to calorie intake versus calorie expenditure. It’s simple math guys. That’s why I get so mad when one of my athletes or adult clients tells me they can’t lose weight or gain weight. The truth is each of us have the ability to lose or gain, but we might not be willing to do whatever it takes. Let’s take a look at the aspects that go into losing weight.

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The first thing to figure out whether you are losing weight or gaining weight is how many calories you are burning every day. There are four components to account for when figuring out daily calorie expenditure, and they are resting metabolic rate, thermic effect of food, physical activity levels, and nonexercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) is the amount of calories one might burn staying in bed and avoiding activity. It’s the calories needed by the body to function – for example pumping the heart and breathing with the lungs. RMR is also a reflection of the energy required to produce hormones, which is why people with hypoactive thyroid glands have a tougher time losing weight while individuals with a hyperactive thyroid gland lose weight easily. Both of these issues are correctable of course. There are equations you can use to figure out your RMR, which you can easily look up on a search engine. I am going to give you one equation at the end to figure out the total daily expenditure, which is the really important number to understand.

Thermic effect of food is defined as energy expenditure above the resting metabolic rate in response to ingestion of food. This is the energy needed to digest, absorb, transport, and assimilate the food we eat. One thing to consider is the thermic effects of food vary. Fat has the lowest thermic effect of food at 3%, carbohydrates at 5-10%, and protein with the highest at 20-30%. This is one of the reasons why some of the latest research shows that people consuming 400+ extra calories per day in protein are still not gaining weight. Of course protein also has a satiety effect – meaning protein makes you feel full. I guess to a small degree not all calories are created equal. However keep in mind the thermic effect of food only accounts for around 10% of the calories ingested, so don’t go too crazy on the protein tonight.

Physical Activity

Physical Activity Level (PAL) accounts for 10-30% of the calories consumed. Obviously, more exercise will result in more calories burned. However, if you’re thinking you will exercise your calories away, let me first give you an idea of what that looks like. It takes about one mile of walking or 2,000 steps (if you are counting steps) to burn 100 calories, and it takes 3,500 calories to burn one pound of fat. Therefore you are going to need to walk 35 miles just to burn off one pound of fat, and that’s only if you don’t increase your current calories. The point is that exercise along with getting a grip on your nutrition is the ticket to long term health.

Besides just burning fat, cardiovascular work helps to increase the thermic effect of food, which is why those short walks after dinner are so good for us. Of course, strengthening the heart is a bonus as well, and now is a good time to say health is a lot more than just burning calories and fat. Strength training should be a part of the process as well.

Strength training leads to an increase in the thermic effect of food as well along with an overall increase in the resting metabolic rate. Moderate weight training isn’t going to increase the RMR much, but it will lead to an increase in the thermic effect of food and a strengthening of the bones and joints. I hope you’re starting to see a holistic effect is going to be your best bet.

Nonexercise Activity Thermogenesis is probably the reason why some people seem to eat whatever they want while never gaining weight. My mother is 70 years old, stands 5’5”, and weighs 125 pounds. She can absolutely out-eat any man I have ever known if she wants to. However, she is the most active woman I have ever known. She’s up every morning at 5am cleaning the house, getting ready for the day, and simply moving around. She never sits still. If you will look closely, there is always a reason why some people lose weight easily and some do not. The people who struggle are probably not very active, while the skinny ones who make us all so mad never seem to chill out.

The Calculation

So how does one figure out how many calories they are currently burning? The United States Department of Health and Human Services contracted a panel of expert scientists to develop an equation to estimate one’s daily energy expenditure based on age, gender, weight, height, and daily activity level. Here’s what that looks like:

  • For a male, the equation is: 662 – (9.53 x age) + [Physical Activity Level x (15.9 x weight + 540 x height)]
  • For a female, the equation is 354 – (6.91 x age) + [Physical Activity Level x (9.35 x weight + 726 x height)]

For the Physical Activity Level, the following is how you determine the value:

  • 1.00 Sedentary – someone who sits all day.
  • 1.11 Low Level of Physical Activity – someone who sits most of the day except to walk around to accomplish a few tasks.
  • 1.25 Active – someone who exercises one hour every single day
  • 1.48 Very Active – someone who exercises several hours every day (like a marathon runner)

Goals and Tips

Once you figure out your daily expenditure, then you need to decide your goals. Do you want to gain weight or lose weight?

If you want to lose weight, I suggest finding ways to limit calories and start exercising more. A great way to start is to increase your protein intake by one hundred calories while decreasing either fat or carbohydrates by two hundred calories. This is only one hundred calories per day, so you probably won’t even notice it much. However there is a chance the protein will increase the thermic effect of food you take in and make you feel more full or decrease your appetite. If you add in some extra cardiovascular work and strength training, you will slowly start losing weight without a huge feeling of hunger. Here are some other tips for losing weight:

  • Use smaller plates – Portion sizes are out of control in America. It’s literally killing us. We simply need to get back to moderation.
  • Increase the portion sizes of your fruits and vegetables – Clearly I am not talking about the heavy starches like potatoes and rice. I am referring to broccoli, kale, squash, and some fruits as well. You will experience a feeling of satiety making you satisfied to eat your 6 ounces of steak versus the normal 12 ounces. I am talking to myself right now.
  • Drink a glass or two of water before eating – Believe it or not, food is the way our bodies hydrate if we don’t take in enough liquids, not to mention the increased satiety.
  • Choose a solution you can stick to – The key is to decrease calories and increase activity levels. Find a way that works for you, and I want you to realize my way might not be the way that works for you. I love to lift weights, and you may hate it. I like protein and fat, and you might like carbs.
  • Don’t bring it in the house – Lately this is key for my success. I have only had one beer in about three weeks because it’s not in the house. It’s a habit, and I love the taste. If you put the two together, you have a calorie monster. The same goes for cookies, cake, or whatever is your weak spot.
  • Take a short walk after each meal – This will help to increase the thermic effect of food, and it will help increase activity levels. Plus a short walk is therapeutic, so leave your dang phone at home. I want you to spend time with the Creator (if you believe), and simply let the brain rest. Once again I am talking to myself.
  • Find ways to ease stress – Ok I am convinced I am writing this entire thing to myself.

Making a Difference

I was inspired to write this by my trip with Barbell Shrugged to Walmart’s HQ in Arkansas. I realized at that moment we have the chance to actually make a difference in general population throughout the world. We have a chance to affect the people in places like my hometown in Ashe County, North Carolina. We have a chance to bring science based health and fitness to the people who need it the most. When I realized that, my entire world flip flopped.

That doesn’t mean I have abandoned my muscle-bound freaks who love the iron. I still love you guys. To be sure you can use the same formula above to find out the amount of calories you have to surpass to gain muscle. It’s really difficult to gain lean muscle mass while in a caloric deficit. Therefore if you want to put on substantial pounds, you have to eat a lot.

I want to end by making one point. Whether you want to gain weight or lose weight, there is a mathematical equation to figure it out precisely. The first Law of Thermodynamics states energy is neither created nor destroyed but simply transformed. So when you tell me you eat all the time and simply can’t gain weight I know you are lying. It also means when you tell me you have been “eating good and hardly anything” I know you are lying. Calories don’t disappear, and they don’t expand once in your body.

I am not trying to be mean. I am trying to get all of you to have a moment of accountability. You need to look yourself in the mirror and take 100% responsibility for whatever you see in the reflection, whether good or bad. Only then can you start to make a difference to that very reflection. You have to stop blaming your parents, your spouse, or anyone else, and take full responsibility. You won’t believe what a freeing feeling that is because it will give you the power to transform yourself into whatever you can conceive. Now I want you to take the first step, and jump in front of that mirror.

Here's the best way to reach your diet goals in 2020...

Get nutrition coaching from the Mash Mafia.

* Fully Customized Nutrition Plans

* Expert Coaches to Guide You

* Real-World Solutions for Real-World Issues

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