Updated: Oct 20
I’ve been fighting the good fight for a long time. When I graduated high school I was a lean, mean 195 pounds. A varsity athlete in three sports, I never had to think about my weight. Well, college came with its “Freshman Fifteen,” as did the “Love Weight” described when someone gains weight in a happy relationship. By the end of college I was close to 250 pounds.
For my height, my ideal weight range maxes out at 205 pounds. I spent the majority of my twenties working out whenever I wanted to lose weight. And I’d do ok with it, usually dropping down into the 220-230 range. But I could never get below this mark, even if I increased my workout levels to excessive levels. Invariably I’d burn out or hurt myself and the exercising would stop. And of course the weight would come back and stay there until the celestial bodies would align themselves in such a way that I’d be inspired to get back to the gym.
As a full-fledged adult, I have had two separate times where I’ve managed to get my weight into my ideal range and maintain it for a decent amount of time. Both times involved tracking my food intake and counting calories.
My 80/20 Rule (80 diet, 20% exercise) is not some profound number derived through years of extensive clinical trials and data analysis. It’s based on a simple concept: One bad meal can undo all the hard work and exercise you do in an entire week. Let’s say you run 5 days a week. For three miles each time. That’s about 500 calories burned in a day, or 2500 calories in a week. That’s pretty good. More exercise than most of my patients do in a week. Now, let’s say one of those days, Friday or Saturday night, your friends call you up and ask you to go out to dinner. Once drinks are accounted for, appetizers, entrees, and deserts are taken into consideration, it is remarkably easy to erase all that hard work. When a single Big Mac meal can contains more than 1000 calories and coffees at Starbucks routinely exceed 500 calories, it only takes a couple trips to fast food restaurants to negate the calorie credits earned through exercise.
I don’t wholly discount exercise as a tool in losing weight; lean muscle is much more efficient at burning calories after all. But when you really get down to it, watching what you eat is significantly more important. And calorie counting is not dependent on physical activity. If you’ve suffered a significant injury to a knee or your back, exercising can be limited or even impossible. But anyone can track their meals.
The great thing about life these days is…There’s an App for that! There are several calorie-counting apps you can install right on your mobile phone. Now, every time you eat, you use the app to help you do your counting. No more forgetting your journal at home; its with you all the time. Though there are several good apps out there, my personal favorite is Lose It. Like many such apps, you’ll set your target goal and it will adjust your daily calories accordingly. It will very slowly shrink you daily calorie allowance, so you aren’t feeling a sudden drop in food intake. It also has a fairly robust library of all types of foods, from homemade to restaurant to foods from different cultures. And finally…you’ll be able to earn “Calorie Credits”, which credits you with additional available calories when you exercise.
The last thing I’d like to add is that managing your weight is a journey. Most journeys are filled with both high points and rough patches. And invariably you WILL have one of those days where you crash your diet and undo several days of work. The important thing is that you pick yourself back up again. Don’t let those days or even weekend trips derail you from your goal.