Weight Loss 101: Clearing the fog of information


Paleo, Adkins, South Beach, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, the HCG Diet, Slim for Life. And so many many other weight loss plans.

It’s easy to get lost in the confusion of what is best, what’s a fad and what is the best plan for you. In fact, the deluge of information can be so overwhelming that many people just give up.

Underneath all of these products and systems is the fact that over two-thirds of American adults are obese — defined as having a body mass index, or BMI, greater than 30 — and more than one-third of children and adolescents are either overweight or obese, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Let’s see if we can break through the fog and confusion of this information overload and get back to the basics of weight, weight loss and what it takes

to find a healthy weight range for an individual.

Let’s start with some definitions.

Total body weight: The combination of both lean body mass and fat mass.

Lean body mass: Consists of the muscles, bones, nervous tissue, skin blood and organs.

Fat mass: Made up of both essential fat and storage fat. For men, 2 to 5 percent body fat is generally thought to be essential and for women the percentages are 10 to 13 percent. These percentages represent the lowest amount acceptable for essential body fat for men and women, with acceptable ranges of body fat for men from 18 to 24 percent and 25 percent for women.

Calories: The basic unit of energy to fuel life. Made up of macronutrients, these are most often measured as kilocalories or Kcal. Most Americans, however, are familiar with the term “calorie.”

3,500: The number of calories in a pound.

Calorie deficit: Burning or using more calories than one consumes.

Macronutrients: This grouping of nutrients is needed in large quantities for normal growth and development. The three macronutrients are carbohydrates, protein and fat.

Carbohydrates: The macronutrient containing 4 cal/gram and are the body’s preferred source of energy.

Protein: The macronutrient containing 4 cal/gram. These are the building blocks of human and animal structure.

Fats: This macronutrient contains 9 cal/gram. Fats are the most energy-dense of the macronutrients.

Alcohol: While not a macronutrient, it’s important to note that alcohol contains 7 cal/gram.

So shouldn’t weight loss be as simple as using more calories than you consume?

The answer is yes and no. If it were that simple there would be no obesity epidemic, no ‘weight loss industry’ and gyms and health clubs would truly be able to focus on fitness.

So, just how do calories add up or down to add or lose a pound?

Theoretically, 3,500 calories equals one pound. Again, in theory, by creating a 500 calorie deficit each day either through exercise or decreased caloric intake, an individual would create a calorie deficit of 3,500 each week, which would equal a pound lost in that week.

In a perfect world this is guaranteed. But the world isn’t quite perfect and in the world of weight loss all calories aren’t created equally.

Let’s see if we can break through all of this. Let’s look at the phrase “weight loss.” For most people, weight is measured on a scale and by pounds. But remember, that number is made up of both lean body mass and fat mass, and when the number on the scale changes there’s no way to know what changed without measuring body composition.

Rapid weight loss almost always represents a loss of both lean body mass and fat mass.

“If you lose a lot of weight very quickly, it may not be fat that you’re losing. It might be water weight or even lean tissue,” writes Dr. Donald D. Hensrud, a Mayo Clinic faculty member.

Ideally, what you really want is to maintain and/or increase the amount of lean body mass and decrease the amount of body fat. This takes patience and a willingness to commit to both a solid nutrition plan and an exercise plan that not only fits into your life but can be sustained as a way of life and not just used as a quick-fix diet.

True, sustainable weight change that results in an increase in lean body mass and a decrease in fat mass takes time, energy, support and a willingness to commit to the plan. Contact your local health and fitness experts to help you achieve the results you’re ready to embrace.

Leslie Snyder is senior program director of Healthy Living at the Walla Walla YMCA. She holds professional certifications with the American Council on Exercise as a health coach, personal trainer and group fitness instructor. Contact her at lsnyder@wwymca.org.


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