After having a discussion with my sister about diet and exercise, I decided to do a post highlighting some of the biggest misconceptions about diet and exercise.
First, lets discuss the whole concept of "dieting". Everybody has a diet, so that means everyone is essentially dieting. Diet is what you eat. When you go on a new diet, you are decidedly changing what you eat to try to cause some sort of change. Some people go on diets to lose weight, others go on diets to gain weight. You can not go on a diet to lose fat nor can you go on a diet to gain muscle. What you eat does not determine how energy is stored or used.
Wait, you say, what do you mean energy? I'm eating food! We all know that food has calories. A calorie is a unit of energy. Humans (and other animals) eat food in order to get the calories it contains. Some food has very little calories, like celery. A cup of diced celery has 19 calories. Some food has a lot of calories, like a chicken burrito from a popular restaurant chain. It has 950 calories. Calories are not bad or good just like watts and volts are not bad or good. Humans tend to prefer those food items with more calories. Unhealthy things often taste good to us because our brain knows it contains a lot of calories. Why? Survival. If cavemen preferred low calorie food, they would not have had enough energy to run from lions and probably would have gotten eaten by them. So now, we still have those preferences, but we are not out running from lions anymore. We are consuming more energy than we need. Not only that, but we are eating processed foods with ingredients that are designed to trick our minds and our bodies. The natural triggers to stop consuming energy are being tampered with. I will go into more depth on that in a later post, first lets just assume that our food is not tricking us.
I am a fairly tall man with a little bit of a belly. According to daily caloric needs calculator, a person my age, height, weight, and exercise level needs to consume an average of 2544 calories a day to maintain my current weight, average 2035 to lose weight gradually, and average 1880 calories for extreme fat loss. First, let me point out a few things about this calculator. One, it's not exact. It asked a few basic questions about me and spit out a number. It is entirely possible that my actual number of calories a day to maintain weight is closer to 2200 or perhaps 2700. Everyone's body operates differently. The only way a person will truly know is by trial and error. For now we'll just assume that its in the right ballpark. You may have notices that I said "average" in reference to how many calories you take in a day. Humans are experts in adaptation. If you get into a certain eating routine, your body will adapt to it and adjust accordingly. For example, say you decided to try a crash diet and drastically reduce the amount of calories you consume. At first, your body will do what you expect, less calories means less weight so boom, you lose a few pounds and you're really hungry. Then, however, your body starts to make adjustments. It thinks you are starving and that there may be a food shortage, so it slows everything down. The result is that your maintenance number starts to drop and you're still really hungry. So hungry that you cheat on your new crash diet and pig out on a pizza. Guess what? You just ate over your new maintenance amount and now you're on your way to gaining weight again. The best way to avoid having your body adjust a decrease in caloric intake is to vary it up. One day eat 2544, the next eat 10% less, 10% more the next. The idea is to keep your body on your toes.
Not surprisingly, the same goes for exercise. My sister takes an aerobics class three times a week and has been doing so for years now. When she first started, she noticed an immediate difference. She lost some weight and gained some muscle but eventually she hit a wall. Why? Because her body got use to the amount and intensity of exercise she was doing. She thought that switching up her routine would be a good idea, and it generally is, but she switched to a different style of aerobics..at the same intensity. What she probably should have done was either find a harder aerobics class or throw in a different activity like running, biking, or swimming, just as long as is was more intense than the aerobics she was already doing. I suggested that she might start lifting weights and not the 5 pound dumbbells she was using in her aerobics routine. She, like a lot of women I've encountered, was reluctant to give weights a try for fear of bulking up. That's crazy! For one, it is not easy to "bulk up". If it were, every man on earth would look like the Incredible Hulk. Two, women have a natural tendency to not bulk up. Three, many women who bulk up a little after working really hard at it, find that they actually like it. Muscle tends to grow in a way that is very flattering. "But what about those lady bodybuilders? They look weird." Don't worry. You are not going to look like that unless you: work out for at least eight hours a day, five days a week, AND take steroids.
Bottom line: Keep your body on its toes, don't overeat and underwork.