Balancing Your Weight
Carolyn Classick-Kohn,MS,RD

You've hear the energy balance equation expressed before in practical terms:
"Eat less and exercise more, and you will lose weight"  But how does this apply in real life?

Can you just eat less and lose weight? What if you just increased your physical activity and ate the same amount of food - what would happen? Finding the right balance to the energy equation is a challenge, and what works for one person, may not for another. One thing is clear: if you want to change your body weight, youíve got make a change in either your intake of food, your output of energy, and according to scientific evidence, doing both works best in the long run.

Weight Change = Total energy intake - Total energy expended

Thatís the basic equation, and that is what gets out of balance when weight gain occurs.

Total energy intake is simply the food you eat. Total energy expended includes all the things your body does that require energy. About 60% of the energy your body burns (measured as calories) is for maintaining basic body functions like keeping your body at a constant temperature, internal organ function, keeping your heart beating, and the chemical processes your body performs every day just to stay alive. So, if you need 2,000 calories to maintain your body weight, 1200 of those calories would go to these basic body functions. Then, another 10% of your calorie needs are used just to digest food (thermic effect of food). Adding this up, about 70% of the energy expended by your body is just for staying alive and maintaining your body weight. For the most part, this part of the energy balance equation is outside of your control. That leaves 30% of your calorie needs left for physical activity, or moving your body. This is the part of the energy expended side of the equation that is in your control, the part that you can do something about, the part that is affected by how much and how often you consciously move or donít your body throughout the day.

Youíve already got a plan for changing your energy intake (food). By cutting down on your intake of food by 500-750 calories each day, this can reduce your body weight by 1 to 1-1/2 pounds a week by itself. Reducing your food intake any further than that can be very difficult to maintain - too little food, too much hunger and deprivation - thatís very tough to do long enough to have a real effect on your body weight. Besides that, it has been shown that eating a very low calorie diet doesnít cause any more weight loss than eating a moderately reduce calorie plan over time, so why do that? So, in order to lose weight faster, instead of eating less, you can move your body more. An increase of 500 calories expended per day will add another 1 pound of weight loss per week.

Evidence that physical activity really makes a difference can be shown in two ways. Low levels of physical activity are associated with weight gain in both men and women. And, the reverse is true: increased levels of physical activity are associated with lower levels of body fat and lower levels of weight gain over time.

Does exercise by itself work in weight loss?

While increased physical activity increases loss of body fat and helps to maintain healthy body weight by suppressing weight gain, just increasing physical activity by itself, without cutting down on food intake is probably not enough for most people to cause a satisfying weight loss. Thatís why doing both works best.

Gaining weight while following a weight loss plan?

While this seems completely contrary to the whole principle of the body weight equation, it is entirely possible that you can start a new exercise plan and reduce your calorie intake, following a healthy eating plan diligently, and step on the scale a week later and find, to your disappointment, that you have actually gained weight!

How does this happen?

Two things can happen in the short term: when you burn your stored energy (a nice way to say extra body fat!) it releases water in the process. The water released during the burning of body fat actually weighs more than the fat youíve lost, causing a short term weight gain instead of weight loss. (Remember, fat floats because it is lighter than water) Do not despair. You are still losing fat, and this is just a temporary condition, the water will be expelled, and your body weight will drop.

The second thing that can happen is that when you start a new exercise plan, you tend to gain muscle tissue, which weighs more than the fat you lose. So, you step on the scale and weigh more than you did when you were sedentary, causing some people to think, why bother? While this is not a temporary condition, do not despair. The muscle you gain burns more energy and allows you to maintain your new body weight with higher calorie requirements than the same body that used to be fat instead of muscle. The bottom line is, exercise increases muscle tissue and decreases fat and allows you to eat more calories without gaining weight. Now, if you still have some additional fat along with the new muscle, you have to work on getting rid of that by following your reduced calorie plan and continuing to exercise, burning that stored energy up. The end result will be a new body with less fat, more muscle, and because you have muscles that are now toned and in good working condition, your energy level will increase. Your new body will be easier to move - it will be easier to say yes to exercise and ďnoĒ to the couch when your muscles are in good working order.

Movement of any kind burns calories - emphasize just increasing your daily movement. Instead of sitting while watching t.v., do some light calisthenics, yoga, toning exercises. Walk more, take the stairs when you can. Build up a plan to move more and engage in a exercise class if possible. Check the memberís area for exercise videos, and a fitness analysis that will help you exercise safely. Balance is the key to the energy equation!