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How To Lose Weight When Healthy Diet and Exercise Aren't Working

I lost 45kg in initial weight loss at age 21. Then gained and lost 30kg with my first pregnancy at age 28. Continuing the life long journey.



Whether you have had a few swings already at losing weight or are just starting to consider trying, I hope that this article may offer valuable insight on key principles of weight loss as well as provide life long tools for your success.

Human Thermodynamics Put Simply

I'm not going to bore you by explaining the laws of thermodynamics in relation to the human body. But consider it simply, energy in versus energy out.

Our bodies require energy to function. And our bodies use energy to metabolise, maintain optimal body temperature and exercise (ie energy out). We acquire energy in food. Calories or kilojoules are units of measurement we use to quantify the amount of energy we consume. Making it possible for us to count the calories eat and drink (ie energy in).

The very key basic principle to controlling our body's fat is this; if you consume more calories than you use, your body will store excess energy as fat. And if you use more energy than you consume, your body will use stored fat for energy it needs. Therefore the only approach to lose weight is to use more energy than you consume.

This is what we call "healthy diet and exercise".


Why We Fail at Healthy Diet and Exercise

We hear people say healthy 'diet and exercise' but the term is so vague. What does it even mean? Truth be told it is more complicated than it sounds. But the simplicity of the term makes us feel pretty inadequate when we eat healthy foods, walk regularly and still see no results or even experience weight gain.

So what's the problem? For starters our idea of "healthy foods" is often misinformed. And the amount of energy burned during exercise is commonly over estimated. Meaning even when we are "eating healthy and exercising", we can still be consuming a lot more than were burning.

This was a mistake I was making before I accomplished my goals. I ate two salad sandwiches for lunch everyday for a month and followed up with a 20min walk. I was frustrated to find I'd gained weight when I was doing everything right (as far as I knew). Then I learned about calories. Long story short, the sandwiches were worth 900 calories for the two of them and my walk was only burning about 200 of them.

Your Personal Basal Metabolic Rate

Your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the number of calories a day your body uses in a stationary state (like a coma). We determine the amount of energy our metabolic processes require to function each day with a formula that factors in your personal sex, age, height and weight. The formula:

BMR (kcal / day) = 10 * weight (kg) + 6.25 * height (cm) – 5 * age (y) + s (kcal / day),

[where s is +5 for males and -161 for females]

But hey, I promised this would simple! What gives? No, you don't have to do this math yourself. There are loads of BMR calculators online. Simply type "BMR calculator" into your search engine and fill in your personal data to learn your personal BMR.

Why? Because this number means a lot. Your BMR typically accounts for 60-75% of your daily energy output. The rest is made up from physical exertion. So knowing your BMR is almost imperative to take control of your weight by accounting energy in versus energy out.

NOTE: Your BMR changes as your weight does! So as you lose weight it's important to recalculate your BMR to adjust your deficit goals.

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Creating a Calorie Deficit

Creating a 'calorie deficit' in your diet simply means ensuring more energy out that in. Depending on how much weight you want to lose, and where you're at in your journey will largely dictate the size of the deficit you'll want to aim for but -500 calories a day is a good place to begin.

Planning your calorie consumption ahead can reduce the likelihood of falling outside of your goals. Start by adding calories burned during specific exercise you plan to do with your BMR and aim to consume 500 calories less than that.

For example: If my BMR is 1640 and I aim to do 30 minutes on an elliptical machine, which will burn roughly 300 calories than this would equal 1940 calories of energy out and I would aim to consume 500 less than this in energy in. Therefore I would aim to eat 1440 calories a day.

FUN FACT: 1kg of human fat = 7000 cal

This means if you created a deficit of 500 calories a day, it would take you 14 days to lose one kilogram of fat. Believe it or not this is good progress but does explain why people give up on diets and exercise quickly. Because it can be a while between results on the scales.


Calories Burned During Exercise

So hang on, how do I know how many calories thirty minutes on an elliptical will burn? This again depends on your personal factors like weight. And also comes with a formula. That formula:

Total calories burned = MET*weight in kg=calories/hour

MET represents the 'metabolic equivalent for task' which is sort of like an intensity scale for different physical activities. But this is another head scratcher that we don't have to worry about. The internet has it all readily available, we just have to search for a 'calories burned while exercising' calculator and enter in the data.


Use Apps to Track Energy In Vs Energy Out

All of this information can be overwhelming and we're just trying to lose a little weight, not be rocket scientists! So the good news is whilst it's valuable to know and at least half understand this stuff, we don't have to memorise it or hurt ourselves trying to do the math involved. There are websites and applications available for this! And a lot of them are free.

Apps that track calories not only save you time and mental energy by calculating things like your BMR and calories burned during exercise for you. They also have huge databases with the nutritional information of almost any kind of food or beverage meaning you might not even have to check the nutrition table.


Things to Avoid Whilst Trying to Lose Weight

Starvation Mode - Because achieving our weight loss goals isn't hard enough as it is. Our bodies are also equipped with this survivalist adaptation referred to as 'starvation mode'. If our energy intake becomes insufficient to sustain ourselves for prolonged periods, our metabolism slows right down and our body starts burning muscle instead of fat stores to keep the body alive in times of famine. So be careful not to eat too little or over do it with exercise.

High Cortisol Levels - Our wonderful 'fight or flight' hormone, cortisol is awesome to have in life threatening situations. But unfortunately raised levels of cortisol cause weight gain thanks to some disruption they cause in our blood glucose control. Stress of everyday life can raise our cortisol levels, as can prolonged high intensity exercise so chill out as often as possible and avoid doing more than 40mins of intense cardio.

Tips and Hints

Caffeine - the most common active ingredient in diet pills for a good reason! Not only is caffeine a stimulant it also doubles as an appetite suppressant. The milk and sugar in a typical cup of coffee can equate to as much as 150 calories per cup though, so explore alternatives such as no doz tablets if this is something you want to try. They're a lot cheaper than diet specific supplements.

Active Wear - Encourage yourself to be as active and energetic as possible by having a whole weeks worth of active wear in your wardrobe. It doesn't have to be made up of expensive brand! Just some comfy gym pants, singlettes and sneakers. That way you're ready for action and won't have any excuses.

Feedback is Appreciated

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2020 Stephanie Purser

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