Chief Physician for Dr. Bo’s Diet
Have you ever looked at the nutrition labels on the food you eat? Or used the “calories burned” icon on the treadmill or elliptical machine? Chances are you have. When trying to lose, maintain, or even gain weight, it’s important to gauge the number of calories you are getting. But do you even know the number of calories you need? Chances are, no. The single most common question I get asked as a weight-loss specialist is “How many calories should I be eating to lose weight?”
There is only one basic truth to weight loss: you need to burn more calories than you consume. This doesn’t mean that you need to run like a gerbil on a wheel and eat celery sticks all day, but you need an understanding of your body and the energy it needs to thrive. If you learn how many calories your body needs per day, getting to or staying at a healthy weight becomes far less challenging.
Calories are the measurement of energy in the food we eat as well as the energy our bodies use daily. Your metabolic rate is how many calories your body burns in a day—essentially, how quickly your body burns energy. The trick to weight loss is to balance the calories eaten with the energy needs of your metabolism. I often hear people complain that they have a “slow metabolism” and that is why they can’t seem to lose weight. While some people actually have a slow metabolism, many people are simply consuming far more calories than their body needs, and certainly more than they think they eat. Eating the right amount is important, since just an extra 500 calories per day for a single week will result in a full one-pound gain!
Food labels tend to assume that both men and women need anywhere from 1,500 to 2,500 calories per day, which is a large and deceptive caloric range. In order to get an exact measurement and know with accuracy how many calories you need per day, a basal metabolic rate (BMR) test is what you need. An individualized BMR test pinpoints the precise number of calories your body needs each day to lose or maintain weight effectively.
Metabolic rate testing is all about individualizing a patient’s weight-loss plan. A machine known as a calorimeter will determine your unique caloric needs, a number which changes as we age and go through hormonal changes. The test is noninvasive and only takes a matter of minutes to complete. We are not a one-size-fits-all nation, but for some reason we all try to follow the same cookie-cutter diet plans, with little success. We can all point to one friend or another who was successful on a specific diet program, but when you tried it, you failed to achieve the same results. Our different bodies have different chemistry and different caloric needs.
Every person has a unique resting metabolic rate: the number of calories your body would burn if you did nothing more than sit in a chair all day. Your resting metabolic rate is related to your lean body mass, or the fat-free parts of your body made up of lean muscle and internal organs. One of the single most important things you can do is to maintain your lean body mass. As you lose weight, you do not want to lose the part of your body that actually helps you burn energy. A carefully crafted nutrition plan is of paramount importance. Something seemingly insignificant, like insufficient protein in your diet, will cause a decrease in lean body mass. This is a problem affecting many people, including children, whose main sources of calories are starch carbohydrates and processed foods. This can account for a decrease in metabolic function as well.
Exercise that helps build muscle will increase your lean body mass and increase your basal metabolic rate too, allowing you to consume more food without tipping the scale. Any activity helps, and if you’re completely sedentary, walking is a good start. Eventually you can add exercises that build muscle strength. It is important to remember that exercise, while building lean body mass, burns far less calories than you think. Don’t reward yourself with dessert thinking you’ve canceled it out by walking, when chances are you haven’t. Staying at or below your caloric needs nutritionally is truly the only way to lose or maintain weight.
If you find that despite lowering your caloric intake you still can’t lose weight, or if you have tried multiple diets with no success, there may be more at play. Have you given up and chalked yourself up as a diet failure or resigned to never achieving the healthy body you want? Don’t blame yourself; it may not be your fault. A small percentage of people suffer from actual medical conditions that have decreased their metabolism, making it almost impossible to lose weight without treatment. Early detection can identify patients suffering with slow metabolism, and they may begin the process of identifying the underlying medical cause. Generally, once the physiological problem has been treated effectively, the patient is suddenly able to diet successfully and maintain the weight loss.
Remember, it is all about balance—once you know your needs, the key to successful weight management is to balance the calories you eat with the calories you burn. Your metabolic rate test provides information about what is right for you, not anyone else. Use this to your advantage. v
Dr. Bo Rosenblat is a board-certified medical doctor and chief physician of Dr. Bo’s Diet Center, with office locations in Hewlett and Manhasset. For more information about Dr. Bo’s Diet program, please call 516-284-8248 or visit www.DrBosDiet.com.