Fitness Misconceptions Part 3
The other night I was on the phone with my mom and she asked me if I’ve ever heard of the HCG diet. As I only know HCG to be a pregnancy hormone, I could not possibly have any idea what she’s talking about. WRONG. Apparently her friend has lost some weight on this HCG diet, which entails eating 500 calories a day and supplementing with HCG. Per my mother’s relay of this information, the idea is that you’ll lose weight as if you were burning calories for two.
To say the least, I was skeptical. To say the most, I was absolutely horrified. My initial reaction is that unless this diet is supplemented with an IV drip, it’s dangerous and a bad idea. Being the nerdy grad student I’ve been conditioned to be, I looked up some articles on this. Basically the literature says that HCG has nothing to do with weight loss, and as I suspected, no matter what you’re supplementing with, at 500 calories, you’re basically starving yourself. Thus, you’re guaranteed to loose weight. Also, it actually has an opposite effect on long-term weight loss. If you’re interested, here are a few of the articles I reviewed
If you’re reading this you’ve likely wondered how many calories you should be consuming every day. Some calculators will give you a general idea based on your height and weight, but as discussed in the last post, this differs for everyone. Your individual intake varies based upon your metabolism (directly impacted by your muscle mass) and your daily activity level.
So I find many women on diets aim for 1200 calories a day. I’m sure you’ve heard of that number, but where did it come from? Seriously. Where did it come from? All I’ve got is that an intake of 1200 calories is assumed to be the minimum number of calories necessary for survival. SURVIVAL. As in, legit just surviving, not to live the lifestyle most of us live.
Let me take this back to basics. If you were in a coma, the amount of calories your body expended every day would be called your basal metabolic rate (BMR.) I’m pretty sure your body doesn’t even actually drop that low while you sleep. In fact, to calculate BMR, you’re supposed to have not eaten for an extended period of time (keep in mind I’m always hungry, but I think it’s 12-24 hours.) So the person on a feeding tube in a coma would be just surviving. As conscious humans who move around, we are more concerned with our resting metabolic rate (RMR.) This is basically how your body burns calories just sitting around doing nothing. (This is higher in people with higher muscle mass. Yes. I will keep plugging weight training wherever an opportunity presents itself.) But we hardly just sit for the entire day. We get up. We get dressed. We go to work. In fact, most people spend most of their day at work. Thus, the type of job you have also impacts how many calories you spend in a day. Sedentary workers expend less than active workers.
Now that we’ve laid this all out, I’ll give you an example. Let’s pretend we have two people that both work 40 hours a week, both sleep 49 hours a week, and for the sake of the example, do absolutely nothing else. One person is a cardiac ICU nurse. This person works 12-hour shifts and lifts people all day long. The other person works from home at a desk 8 hours a day. Can you imagine both of these people requiring the same number of calories for the day? One is obviously doing more physical work than each other. We haven’t even accounted for each of their genetic differences. We’ve only got 2 people in this example, so how are we supposed to decide if 1200 calories works for every person on a diet?
The fact of the matter is we cannot. We cannot assume. Furthermore, how easy will it be for someone who eats 1500 calories a day and wants to lose 5lbs to drop to 1200 calories compared to someone who eats 3000+ calories a day and wants to lose 40lbs or more? While the second person’s body would not experience detrimental harm, it would feel like starvation to cut 1800 calories out of his/her diet. We just established that some people eat only 1200 calories a day, and we’re about to ask someone to drop 1800 calories from their diet cold turkey. On that note, how likely is this second person to maintain this diet before getting out of control hungry and binge eating the entire fridge? The goal is to make SUSTAINABLE changes.
So at the end of all this we still don’t know how many calories we should be burning. The ways to get gold standard testing are invasive and/or costly. The BodyBugg that I mentioned in the last post is still a good way to go. If you wear it all day on a normal day, it will give you a good idea of how many calories you expend; thus you’ll know how many calories to take in. I’m lazy and haven’t done that in a while. I use a free app called My Fitness Pal. I put in my height, weight, and weight goals. It gave me a reasonable amount of calories to eat everyday with a reasonable speed at which to attain my goals and tracks exercise. My favorite feature is the barcode scanner. You can scan the barcode of the food you eat with your phone, and the information will pop up. This way you don’t have to input all of the nutritional data. This app also tracks the nutritional value of your food and lets you how you’re doing nutritionally, which is also very important. You can even track wit your friends! (Don’t worry, it won’t show what or how much you eat, just post good stuff for encouragement)
So 1200 calories might not be the right number for you. Maybe you’re a superhero and can just drop down to that and be okay. I cannot. I love to eat. Keep in mind that weight is a number that doesn’t give any information about body composition.