Last month I told you I wasn’t a dietitian, but I’ve stayed in a Holiday Inn. As an exercise physiologist and health coach, I’ve learned plenty about nutrition and weight loss. Eighty percent of the people who join Premier Health & Fitness Center list “Weight Loss” as their primary reason for joining, so I see lots of these folks. This is the first in an occasional series on weight loss and related topics.
Weight Loss vs. Fat Loss
The basic economy of weight loss is a caloric deficit, where calories burned exceed calories consumed. While it can be more complicated than that, a combination of decreased intake and increased output is a good place to start. If the caloric deficit is great enough to achieve weight loss, some of that loss may be in the form of muscle loss. This is a bad deal, since muscle is where the calories get burned. Preserving muscle requires these things:
Avoid too great a deficit. A deficit of about 250 kilocalories (kcal) produces a weight loss of one-half pound per week. Bonus reason to limit the deficit: The more gradually the weight is lost, the better the odds of keeping it off.
Eat enough protein. How much is a tricky question. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) is .4 grams of protein for every pound of body weight for healthy, sedentary adults; .6 grams/pound for active adults. For athletes and those doing intense exercise, 0.54-0.9 g/lb, or more is recommended. Try this Moroccan Spiced Salmon recipe.
Spread your protein intake throughout the day. You can’t likely use more than 20 to 30 grams, for women and men, respectively. (Here’s a good place to recommend consulting a licensed nutritionist or registered dietitian.)
Watch that glycemic index. Eat a healthy, balanced, low-glycemic-index meal 3 to 4 hours before your workout. More about this, below.
Resistance Training. The best way to limit muscle loss, and maybe even increase muscle, is to do resistance exercise 2 to 3 non-consecutive days per week.
The Tale of the Scales
If you’re trying to lose weight, the scales may not be the best tool to measure your progress. Many factors besides fat loss contribute to weight, which can fluctuate considerably from day to day and even throughout the day.
Hydration, for example, varies considerably. Two hours of yard work in hot and humid conditions can result in 2—3 lbs. of weight loss for a 160 lb. man.
If you’re going to weigh yourself, it’s best to weigh yourself no more that once per week, preferably on the same day at the same time of day and under the same conditions. That means on the same scale, wearing (or not wearing) the same clothes and shoes, not having eaten and well-hydrated. You might even want to go to the bathroom first.
A better way to tell if you’re losing weight is to notice how your clothes fit. If the pants that you had to suck in to button now fit comfortably, that’s all the information you need.
The Glycemic Index
All carbohydrates are not alike. Some have a different effect on the body than others. The glycemic index (GI) measures how quickly or slowly a carbohydrate is digested and how fast it raises blood glucose (or sugar) (BG), as well as the amount BG is raised after a meal.
Foods are rated on a scale from zero to 100. Pure glucose has a rating of 100. The faster and higher a food raises BG, the greater the insulin response. In response to high BG, the pancreas puts out lots of insulin, which causes the glucose to be taken up by the cells of the body. If there’s no need for it by working muscles (or other tissues), fat cells are the one tissue that will always take it. This can put you at greater risk to be overweight and obese, as well as for type-2 diabetes and high triglycerides.
Along with the carbohydrates, the other components of the meal help determine its GI. Fiber, fats, proteins and acidity lower the glycemic index of a meal. So, the red beans and rice dish at a local restaurant is made with white rice, by itself a higher GI food. But the dish is made with beans, high in fiber and protein. It also contains tomato sauce, an acidic ingredient. So the glycemic index low.
Here’s a more detailed explanation and a chart of GI for numerous foods. Remember, a low glycemic index does not necessarily make a food healthy. Bacon has a lower GI than beans.
Weight loss is difficult. Maintaining a healthy weight following weight loss can be harder. Nutrition can be complicated. All the more reason not to take nutritional advice from me or anyone not credentialed to provide it. Having a nutritional assessment and consultation with a licensed nutritionist or registered dietitian can be extremely helpful. Watch this space for more on this in the coming months. As always, if I can be of help with this, or anything else, please contact me at the below.