Thursday, May 10, 2007

Eat Like a Rabbit...

I'm in the critical third week of my latest diet. My goal is to lose approximately 30 pounds. That sounds good, till you consider that I've been carrying around most of these pounds since the birth of my youngest daughter--who's about to finish third grade.


I can sugar-coat things all I want to (maybe not the best of metaphors) but the sad reality is that the reason I'm having such a hard time losing weight and, more importantly, making it stay lost, is that I tend to eat, and exercise, like a hobbit.

I love English muffins dripping with melted butter; I adore the scent of freshly baked pumpkin bread, sending little curls of tantalizing steam up in mesmerizing spirals of goodness; I never met a cookie I didn't like. My idea of a really good vegetable is Eggplant Parmesan, burbling with hot mozzarella. Give me all of that, a day just rainy enough to make it a good idea to stay indoors, and a library of my favorite books, and I'm in heaven--or at least as close as I'll get to it in this life.

I exercise like a hobbit, too--which is a nice way of saying that unless twelve dwarves show up unexpectedly on my doorstep and drag me off on a wild adventure wherein I'll steal a ring, help slay a dragon and lose weight inadvertently along the way, then chances are it's not going to happen.

I've tried many different types of diet, and I've come to the conclusion that all of them work equally well (or equally badly, depending on your perspective). You can lose weight on any of them, provided you do two things: Eat like a rabbit, and exercise as if you enjoy it.

Why eat like a rabbit? Why are the foods in Mr. McGregor's garden featured in such prominence on every legitimate diet plan out there? What strange magic lurks in a bowl of salad greens, preferably presented without highly-caloric dressings or toppings like croutons or cheese?

Actually, it's not magic; it's math.

For every pound you lose, you must consume 3500 calories less than your body actually needs. Or, to put it another way, every time you eat 3500 calories more than you burn off, you will gain one pound. There may be a few little quirks of metabolism that interfere with this process, but for average, healthy people, this equation will hold true nearly all of the time.

So suppose that you've been consuming 2200 calories a day, but your body only really burns 1700 a day. Those extra five hundred calories a day will add up to a pound of weight gain by the end of the week.

So to lose weight, you cut your daily food intake by five hundred calories a day, right?

Wrong! That will only return you to your 1700 calorie/day maintenance level. If you've only gained a little weight, you might lose it all, or most of it, by doing this. But most people are going to have to do more.

The best way, here, would be to cut an additional 250 calories a day while increasing your exercise to burn an additional 250 calories a day. But this means that your diet will be 750 calories a day less than you've become used to. How can you do that?

Some small cuts, like avoiding sugar or making an open-faced, no cheese or butter sandwich at lunchtime will help. But what will really help is to eat foods which are naturally low in calories but which will help you to fill up.

In other words, nix the pumpkin bread, and eat the bounty of Mr. McG's garden until your jaws ache from all the raw veggies. (Which would be fine if I actually liked raw veggies.)

What about the second part? Why exercise like you enjoy it?

Remember those 250 calories a day you need to burn? If you're like me, you dread exercise anyway, and no matter how hard you try to find one that's 'fun,' you know you don't really enjoy any of it.

But avoiding exercise means slowing down that weight loss process to the point where the sacrifices you're making on the diet front may come to seem fruitless; the only thing you're exercising is that sense of futility that makes you quit the whole process.

If you don't burn 250 calories a day more than you already do, though, you won't lose any weight; and that 250 number is the magic number needed to lose a single pound a week.

Here are some activities that will burn 250 calories, from this website:

  • 35 minutes on a bicycle
  • 90 minutes of weight training
  • 35 minutes of running
  • one hour of brisk walking
  • 45 minutes of dancing
Unfortunately, it doesn't say how many calories you burn running wildly off with a dozen dwarves without so much as a pocket-handkerchief.


4andcounting said...

Good luck! It is hard, even when you like things like raw vegetables. I have been trying to lose ten pounds, but not having much success. I have the exercise part down somewhat, but can't stop eating the junk. I hope you can find the will to make the changes.

Theresa said...

It's a cruel world, isn't it? Why, oh why can't donuts and mozzerella be low-cal and Mr McG's garden be full of nasty calories to be avoided? It's enough to break a hobbit's heart, really.

Red Cardigan said...

4andcounting, thanks for the encouragement! I think it can be hard to lose weight no matter how much you're trying to lose. A lot of my problems stem from the fact that as a mom, I tend to commit acts of drive-by eating--you know, where you fix something for the kids that has way too many calories for you, so you think, "I'll fix something healthy later," and then you get caught up in other stuff so you're starving by the time you sit down to eat, and then you just grab anything available.

And Theresa, I hear you! :) Though I suspect that if salad were fattening I'd probably want to eat it! Oh, well.