Saturday, August 8, 2009

Thoughts on Exercise, Healthy Eating, and Weight Loss

After having Alex (17 months ago), I weighed 10 lbs over what I weighed before I got pregnant. I wanted to lose it, but I didn't actively do anything other than exercise here and there and try not to eat too many sweets. I lost some weight, probably from the extra calories I burned pumping milk (do you burn as much pumping as you do nursing?), so that I was only 5 lbs overweight. Then I decided I really wanted to get back to my pre-pregnancy weight, and for that matter, I'd like to lose 10 to 15 lbs more.

Now realize that I'm not huge. I've never been a stick, but I would consider myself fairly healthy (I wear a size 10, if that gives you an idea), but according to the BMI, I'm "overweight." I thought it might be nice to get down a little before I get pregnant again (though I don't know when that will be). Even though I haven't also always eaten healthily, I have tried not to overeat and I've always been active, playing sports and exercising, so I've never really had to "lose weight" before (not that I couldn't have used it, I just haven't "had to"). The last time I really weighed at a healthy weight was when I was dancing 14 hours a week—and no, I'm not a dancer, but I really enjoyed taking dance classes in college and one semester I was taking 2 or 3 classes as well as helping a senior dance major on her senior project. I had fun and I lost weight—what a great combination.

So here I am for the first time in my life attempting to consciously lose weight.

Now I'm the type of person that I want as much information as possible so that I can understand a subject—and this is especially true when it comes to health and fitness. Plus, some of the subjects I've been writing about for my freelance work deal with health, so I've learned a lot that way. Through my researching, I've learned somewhat about how to lose weight, eat healthy, and exercise properly.

So when I first starting trying to lose weight, I basically just started exercising 4 days a week for an hour each day and sort of tried not to eat too much. The result, I lost a couple pounds, but my weight loss wasn't at all consistent and my weight would fluctuate from week to week (one week, I'd lose 3 pounds and the next week it was back). So on to plan B.

I needed to watch better what I ate. Because of my research, I'm pretty much against any diet that tells you to cut out a big chunk of your diet—such as carbs. All parts of your diet—carbohydrates, grains, protein, dairy, fruits, vegetables, etc.—are important to your health. Even fats are necessary (though what kind of fat you eat matters, and it's not like we're lacking fat in our diets). So I'm not much for fad dieting. Really, the main thing about dieting to lose weight is to eat less calories than you burn each day. I decided to aim for 1500 calories. That way if I went over, then I would only eat around 1800 (which is still good). If I aimed for 1800 and went over, then I wouldn't likely lose any weight.

Another bad thing about some diets are those that have you eat only like 1000 calories a day. You get excited when you lose 12 pounds in two weeks, but most people don't realize what that does to your body. Did you know that when you decrease your calorie intake that much that your metabolism slows? Your metabolism controls how many calories are burned each day. The slower it is, the less calories you burn.

When you decrease your caloric intake that much, your body thinks there is a famine and there isn't much to eat (I guess your stomach can't see the cookies in your pantry!). To help you through the famine, your body slows down your metabolism. I don't know how long it takes for your body's metabolism to slow, but it's this process that causes what is called yo-yo dieting. You decrease calories, your metabolism slows down, and when you lose the weight you wanted to lose and start eating more, you gain more weight than you lost because you're not burning as many calories as you used to.

That's why it's good for you to lose weight slowly. Rather than 12 lbs in a week, it's better to lose 1/2 to 1 lb a week so that your body doesn't freak out and think you don't have any food to eat.

So anyway, I've been really watching what I eat more. I've been having more salads with this great dressing that is vinegar based rather than oil based (i.e. 20 calories and no fat rather than 10 to 20 grams of fat per serving). I've been eating mostly chicken and eggs for my meat/protein, trying to buy and eat more fruit (including fruit smoothies—yum!), and decreasing my proportions so I eat around 500 calories a meal (and I usually have snacks, so I usually do eat closer to 1800 calories).

The result? In the last 6 weeks I've lost 6 lbs (12 total since Alex was born), so you can see that dieting along with exercising really helps. And I don't try to eat only certain foods. I just try to have a balanced diet. And I also haven't cut anything out, including sweets. What would be the point in living if I didn't have foods I enjoyed? I got some Skinny Cow ice cream treats that are only 140 calories and 1.5 grams of fat, but taste great. And sometimes I have Oreos, but I only eat 2 at a time. It's all about moderation.

I also read somewhere that it helps you to have one day a week where you splurge—even to the point where you eat as much junk food, etc. that you want. The theory is that by doing so, your body will definitely know there isn't a famine so it won't slow your metabolism. It also helps you to stay on your diet because you are able to eat whatever you want at least once in awhile. I don't know if that's true, but I've been letting go somewhat on Saturdays, just in case eating more once a week helps (and it doesn't seem to hurt so far, since I'm still losing). I don't go all out, though, by eating anything and everything. It's hard to change your thinking from three small meals a day to eating whatever whenever. So I usually only eat a little more than normal.

I guess the whole point of this entry is to say I'm proud of myself. First time I've tried to lose weight and I'm doing pretty well. I do wonder what will happen when I reach my goal weight, though. How many calories should I eat to maintain my weight? Will I have to be careful about what I eat and how much forever? (Probably.) Oh, well. As long as I'm getting treats here and there and splurging once in awhile (when I go out to eat, etc.) and exercising, it will be worth it.