This is going to sound a little crazy and perhaps obsessive, but I have a chart of my weight on a weekly basis that goes back fifteen years. Regardless of how good or bad the numbers read, it’s all there in black and white; a journal of my expanding and contracting life, which at its extreme ends, reveals about a 100 pound difference.
I still update my weight journal each week, and occasionally review the history, as it is as much a chronicle of my life as any photo album or detailed diary. I can compare the dates and numbers with different circumstances in my life, from breakups and shakeups and through times of illness, to prepping and training for various events. If I want to get really gritty, I can match it up with actual photos I have of myself to see what I looked like at that moment in time, at exactly that weight and waist circumference.
Over the years, it is anything but consistent or linear. Far from being a steady path, it roller-coasters out of control at times and places I never expected or recalled. There are stories everywhere, hidden in those numbers.
Ultimately, it serves as a reminder, a road map of where I’ve been and where I want to go. The dramatic swings are diminished now. I have new, tighter boundaries that I still grapple with and bounce between. Like everyone else, I have a top number that I hope to never see again, since it feels like complete personal failure, and an all-time low that I actively chase down from time to time.
Reviewing all the data, combining it with more than a decade of working with others in the health and wellness field, the most intriguing element is this: those numbers have very little to do with exercise, and almost everything to do with food. To wit, I have been very active and fat, and very lean and practically idle.
It may not sound like a revelation, but when you consider the obesity epidemic, the fact that two-thirds of our population is overweight, and that I’ve never, ever had a single client whose goal or interest was to get fatter (to the contrary, they all want the opposite), it’s certainly something to chew on.
This is especially pertinent since summer is here, and everyone is scrambling to find the latest workout trend, or squeeze in another cardio session in the hopes of looking their very best. Getting out and moving is great, and a little vanity isn’t bad either, but if we’re striving to be less fat, the results are more likely to come from piling less on our plates, than piling on Pilates sessions.
And here’s why: exercise, unless combined with a refined food protocol, is likely to get you limited results. It can absolutely improve overall health, decrease risks of heart disease and diabetes and other ailments, and certain programs can make you stronger, more mobile, and provide stress relief, but as a modality for fat loss in and of itself, it’s mostly ineffective.
If we must create a 3,500 calorie deficit to drop a single pound, that equates to covering about five miles a day, every day, on foot for an entire week to see the scale drop a full measure. Most people don’t have the time on a daily basis, or the long-term patience or consistency to see this through, especially if their goal is to lose more than three or four pounds. And if you have to lose 20 pounds? That’s five months of nonstop workouts without a break.
On the other end, most of us can stand to make some pretty dramatic cuts to our caloric intake, without any real loss of time. Cutting 500 calories a day can be as simple as dropping that bagel with peanut butter, that flavored coffee drink, or all those little treats we pepper ourselves with each day. We may mourn the loss of those habits and rituals, but in the name of tight pants, and the very real health consequences and burdens that come from carrying extra weight, it’s a worthwhile sacrifice.
Consider your colleague who has a penchant for soft drinks and downs the equivalent of four 12-ounce cans a day. If he were to replace that with water, he would lose more than a pound a week without ever leaving his desk, or ever hopping on a treadmill.
Taken to the extreme, consider the morbidly obese, who, when admitted to medical care, are not immediately put on a demanding workout regimen for fat loss, but instead have their calories slashed and strictly monitored. They lose incredibly significant amounts of weight even in a bedridden state, with zero activity.
Chances are you’re not in that condition, so here’s a downsized example: if you chronically consume 3,000 calories a day, but only require 2,000, making the adjustment will result in a two-pound loss per week. In order to create that same deficit through exercise, you’d have to walk or run about 10 miles a day, every day for an entire week. And that can be tough to swallow.
The real magic of fat loss happens when smart caloric protocols are supplemented by activity. It allows us to create a sizable caloric deficit without being terribly restrictive in one area (diet) and terribly addictive in the other (exercise). It’s also the formula that has proven to be the most successful for persons involved with the National Weight Control Registry, which monitors long-term weight loss. The American Council on Exercise, and professionals from the Mayo Clinic concur.
Regardless of your journey, where you may have been and where you may want to go, if your goal is to get leaner, don’t neglect the incredible impact some simple dietary changes can make in the wake of your next workout.
In other news…
Now that you have your caloric intake in check, why not take on a new physical challenge, like Le Tour de B-Cycle. The city-wide event challenges participants to visit all 32 northern B-Cycle stations in a single day. The payoff? A sweet t-shirt and some serious bragging rights. But you best get busy, the deal ends July 21.
If that’s not quite your speed, then consider joining the San Antonio Housing Authority at 818 S. Flores for their next group ride on Saturday, July 13 at 9 a.m. This is a casual ride that will go as far as Mission San Jose. For a course map and info on upcoming group rides, click on the images below.
Tom Trevino is a writer and wellness coach based out of San Antonio. His column, “The Feed,” covers anything and everything related to health and wellness. He holds a B.A. from the University of Texas at San Antonio, with certification and training from the Cooper Institute. He has a fondness for dogs, NPR, the New York Times, and anything on two wheels. When he’s not writing, training, or cooking, you can find him wandering the aisles of Central Market.