Thursday, August 5, 2010

No One Told Me There Would Be MATH

Okay, when I got started on this weight loss journey, I thought it would be relatively simple.  I would eat between 1000 and 1200 calories a day--high fiber, moderate protein and fat, low glycemic index, low sodium--and I would exercise.  The weight would magically disappear.  NOW, I hear that I'm not eating enough to sustain my life and that my body is going to hold onto fat tighter than a fat girl grips a danish.  Back up the ice cream truck.  I'm not eating enough food?? Where did that bizarre notion come from?? 

One of my new online support friends told me.  Don't get me wrong.  I'm very glad she told me.  But, boy did it ever burst my bubble.  This is what she pointed out to me... Instead of following some generic calorie rules, I am supposed to actually calculate how many calories I need to sustain my metabolism.  Okay, that part made sense, and the math wasn't terribly difficult*.  Then she told me I had to figure out how many calories I needed to NOT eat in order to lose a certain number of pounds a week.  That was starting to get complicated, but I could still manage it.  But it got worse.  This is the part that gets me every time. Apparently, if I do any sort of vigorous exercise, ie: water jogging, I need to calculate the calories I burn... and... I may cry here... EAT THEM BACK.  As my friend understated, "it's very counter-intuitive."  I couldn't agree more.  When I told another friend about this conundrum she scoffed and argued that I'd lost my mind and that it made no sense.  I am exercising to lose weight, so I need to eat back all the calories I burn?  Wait, what?? That sounds like malarkey. 

Right before my head started to spin a la "The Exorcist" I had an epiphany.  It all made total sense.  The human body needs a certain amount of nutrition to maintain its metabolism.  In order to lose weight, one needs to eat fewer calories.  And if that person also wants to exercise in order to gain muscle mass and cardio benefit, she needs to boost her caloric intake to meet that minimum.  AHA!!  My body needs fuel!  Because it is a very large body, it needs extra fuel... more fuel than a 150 pound body.  (My "duh" moment.)  And, if I make that large body work hard, it's going to need more calories to function.  Makes sense.  It does.  Really.

I went online and found a calorie calculator at the Mayo Clinic website.  I was using one at, but I think it is set too high.  The LS calculator wanted me to eat something like 1866 calories a day plus eat back almost 600 calories for exercising.  That's almost 2500 calories a day!  A thousand calories more than I eat now? Crazy.  I think not.  Not going to happen.  Anyway, the Mayo Clinic is well-respected and I trust it.  I plugged in my age, height, weight, gender, and selected "lose weight" and it told me how much to eat.  Problem solved!  No!  Dang it all. 

The calorie calculator told me to eat sixteen hundred calories per day and exercise 30 - 60 minutes per day.  Huh?  Why are these two calculations so wildly different?  Which one do I follow?  I am going to follow the Mayo Clinic recommendation... but unless I hear someone actually tell me to eat 1600 cal/day I am going to shave a few hundred calories off it just to be on the safe side.  I will aim for 1400 calories per day, but if I only eat 1200 I am not ging to stress over it.  Not only does eating so much scare me, I don't know if I can choke down that much food. 

Does anyone have any information on this subject?  Any thoughts they'd like to share?  Is 1200 calories a day really not enough food for me at this weight and exercise level?  I seek answers.

*I took math all the way through calculus...a LONG time ago.  It's gone.  Kaput.  Nowadays I need a map, a calculator, a GPS, and a 12 year old to figure out long division.


  1. I went by livestrongs recommendations for the first 6 weeks of my journey and it was actually pretty accurate. At the time my weight was approx. 180 and I'm 5'2. It suggested I eat about 1400 calories in order to lose 2 lbs a week. And when I stayed in that range and ate my exercise calories back I did indeed lose weight. I recently purchased a bodybugg as a gift to myself so I could have a more accurate picture of what I was burning on a day to day basis and while I'm down to about 170 now, my activity level has increased significantly in the past 2 months so I have my calories set at 1700 a day, that being based on my average daily calorie buen of at least 3000.
    I think you should try to eat as close to at least the 1600 the mayo clinic site stated. If you go much lower than that I think your body will rebel against you and hold onto everything it can.

  2. I also think it's a good idea to mix it up. If you don't eat all of your calories one day, then make it up the next. It will help keep the body guessing. I try to have a cheat day on Saturday, which doesn't mean I go overboard, but I let my body have one "less structured" day a week.

    Hang on, it's going to be a bumpy ride, but you will make it and learn from it. That's what is amazing-that we all still continue to learn.

  3. I'm banging my head against the scale...

  4. Final answer... My BMR (via the calculator posted in the pages section) is 2130. I want to lose 3 lb a week, so I need to reduce intake to 600 calories per day. HA! But, if I burn off 600 calories per day by exercising, I should eat approximately 1200 calories per day. I'm going with this one. It makes the most sense to me. I think the calorie calculators at Livestrong are much too high.

  5. Final answer #2:
    I spent most of my water workout thinking about this today...
    BMR calculator based on age, gender, height and weight... calculated for "sedentary" came up with 2500 cal/day. If I then want to lose 3 lb a week, I eat 1500 fewer calories, which leaves me 1000/day. That sounds a lot more accurate than 600 per day! Then I eat back any calories I burn doing exercise.

  6. Replenish the fuel from a workout..drink a cup of chocolate milk.