Stuck? Can't get the scale to move? The information in this blog might help you. These are also excellent techniques to apply even if you aren't plateaued- This information is good for everyone to know. I'm a firm believer that knowledge is power!
The very first thing you want to do is be honest with yourself about what you are eating. Are you slipping extra food in there you don't acknowledge? Pretending that cookies are 25 calories a piece? Drinking sugary drinks with the theory that since they slide down so quick the calories don't count? If this is the case get real with yourself, then read.
The next thing you want to do is determine your BMR. I used to do this by an actual mathematical formula, but then I found this web site (there are other BMR calculators online, but this one is my fav because it has other numbers you need on there, too): http://www.freedieting.com/tools/calorie_calculator.htm Simply enter in your information and then select "Basal Metabolic Rate" (that's what BMR stands for, by the way) in the drop-down menu. BMR is approximately the number of calories that you would burn if you were to just lie around all day. This is a number you do NOT want to go under very often.
Next, choose the drop-down option in the box that has the amount of days/intensity you exercise. The numbers that come up below will give you maintenance, weight loss, and extreme weight loss. Here's one place where I have a beef with this site: The "extreme weight loss" number is almost always less than your BMR. Forget that! For max weight loss, simply bring your caloric intake down to your BMR number. The biggest..... no.... scratch that.... The SOLE cause I've seen of stalled weight loss in a reduced-calorie diet is people eating less than their BMR. When you eat too little, your body slows down it's metabolism in an act of self-preservation in case you should suddenly become comatose. If you raise it to just above your BMR you will actually burn more calories than the added number you are consuming. People have a hard time believing me on this one, until they actually start DOING it. Then they are simply amazed!
The next thing you want to do to maximize your weight loss AND preserve muscle is be careful to get enough protein. I've found a fairly safe and effective ratio for someone is a split of about 40% of calories from each protein and carbs and 20% from fats, most of which you want to be healthy fats. This is pretty easy to figure out if you remember the following things:
- Both Protein and Carbs have 4 calories per gram
- Fat has 9 calories per gram.
(By the way, I cover this information in my blog "Carbs, Fat, Protein" here: http://itallmakesadifference.blogspot.com/2010/03/carbs-fat-and-protein.html)
So, let's say your BMR is 1450 calories and you decide that, to be safe, you want to come in at around 1500 calories a day. (Trust me, the extra 50 calories won't matter to a hill of beans in the big picture of weight loss, and since everyone is an individual and the BMR calculator is approximate I always advise to raise the amount slightly just to make sure you are getting enough.)
All you have to do is multiply 1500 by .4 to know how much 40% is of your calories- in this case it is 600. Divide this by 4 (the amount of calories in a gram of both carbs and protein), and you come up with 150. So on a 1500 calorie diet, you want to get about 150 grams of each carbs and protein.
The remaining calories, then, will of course come from fat. (Or you can multiply 1500 by .2 for 20%, but I find it's easier to just work with the remaining calories.) At any rate, by either method the answer for a 1500 calorie diet is 300 calories from fat. Simply divide 300 by 9 (the amount of calories in a gram of fat), and you get the grams of fat you want to shoot for in a day. In this case, it's 33.33. For simplicity's sake, lets round this up to 35. (Yeah, I know that's about 15 more calories a day, but it's no big deal!)
So we have determined that someone on a 1500 calorie diet is going to aim to get in a day:
- 150g protein
- 150g carbs
- 35g fat
Try as much as possible to get an even amount of carbs and protein within each meal, and try to make as much of your fats as possible from healthy/natural sources (the fats in your meats, olive & canola oils, avocados, nuts, etc.). This will, of course, require tracking your foods. There is a pretty good free on-line tracker on sparkpeople.com that breaks down the macro nutrients (protein, carbs, fat). You have to make an account to use it, but I've found it invaluable.
It's an interesting way to eat that requires some adjustment. You will find that things like french fries will very quickly throw your numbers way out of whack. You will start to determine if eating something like chocolate cake is worth it to you to feel bloated and see a rise on the scale the next day (it's the carbs, and they'll burn off quick enough once you go back to your exercise and the 40/40/20 way of eating- I cover this in my blog here: http://itallmakesadifference.blogspot.com/2010/05/unexplained-gain-is-nothing-to-sweat.html). You won't look at food the same after eating like this for a while, and in my opinion that's a good thing.
I'll be honest: Most people have an easier time raising their calories than they do raising their protein and lowering their fat. Why? Because it requires truly changing the way they eat, and folks love their carbs. But if you keep doing what you've been doing, you'll keep looking like you've been looking.
It's your body. It's your choice. But now at least you have the tools to make a difference.