Monday, August 6, 2012

The Holy Grail of Weight Loss and How It Is Totally Within Your Reach

Many of us want to lose weight at some point in our lives, whether it be 5 pounds or 50.  Many of us have tried diet after diet (Atkins, anyone??) that may or may not succeed, but always fail when we go back to our "regular" way of eating.  Now I know this is a vegan blog, and eating vegan food DOES help with weight loss (especially when you limit sugar and eliminate oil). I know many of you, however, love meat and dairy too much to give it up, and still want to lose weight.  I'm here to say, don't write off what I say here just because I don't eat the foods you love.  You can still lose the weight if you eat that stuff.  It will be easier if you eat a vegan diet, but it is totally DOABLE is you choose to eat non-vegan food too. 

 Full disclosure guys.  In the summer of 2006 I was between my first and second years in graduate school and I weighed 152 pounds.  This may surprise some of you who have only known me for the past few years.  For those of you who don't know me, I'm stand just slightly over 61 inches tall and currently weigh 120 pounds.  I was not athletic at all, (being a violinist and literally feeling chained to the practice room for 5+ hours a day didn't help) and chose poor foods, especially that first year in grad school. 


I went on Weight Watchers and quickly lost down to 130, but could not get below it.  I stayed there until 2009 when I got married and moved to AZ.  I started running soon after moving here.  That didn't help me lose more weight (more on that phenomenon later) but it helped me start to gain a base level of fitness.

June 2010 rolled around.  I read "Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease" and "The China Study" and decided that we were switching to a low-fat vegan diet.  I dropped down to 117 pounds within a month.  That was awesome.

In October 2010, my husband and I moved to Show Low, AZ and started to get more serious about our running as we started training for more races and setting ambitious goals.  This is where things got tricky.  As I started piling on the miles, I started to gain weight back.  I know that staying anywhere under 130 is still in the healthy range for me, but I am at my happiest around 120.  The more I ran, the hungrier I became, and the more I would eat.  Even while eating wonderful low-fat vegan foods!

After expressing my frustration to my husband, he said, "Why don't you just count calories?  It seems to be a very scientific way to see what you are expending and what you are taking in."  It made sense, but it seemed so overwhelming!  I sat down and looked up my calorie needs.  What I found out really surprised me....For my small frame, I only need about 1500 calories a day to maintain my weight, and I need just a LITTLE bit more on running days.

Here is a snapshot of my exercise.  My usual short runs are about 6 miles long, and long distance runs are in the 10-12 mile range.  Since my June marathon I have adopted this schedule because I have found I am the happiest with running these amounts.  Not overwhelming, but not easy either.  Don't make the mistake that since you put in an hour of any exercise a day you are entitled to a 6 taco lunch.  No, not even a 2 taco lunch.

put that taco down....

A 6 mile run for me only burns about 400 calories.  That's my body.  Everybody is slightly different, of course.

Here is a quote you can take to the bank.  It's by me.

"Everybody overestimates their calorie needs and exercise expenditures and underestimates their calorie intake."

Yes, I did just quote myself....

Another great quote?  

"Running makes me fat"
John McClung

The hard truth is, running is great for you.  It makes your heart and lungs stronger and everyone needs it.  But it makes you hungry.  If you eat what your brain tells you to eat while maintaining an intense exercise regimen, you will probably gain weight.  If you want running to make you lose weight, you have to count the calories of what you eat and compare it closely to what you need (maintenance needs + exercise needs).

No, I'm not good at math.  I'm famously terrible at it.  I seem to be missing the math gene....Surprising since everyone in my family has some niche of math they are good at besides me.  And my dad, well he's good at all of math.  He's just one of those folks.  

Here's me...
This could totally have been a test sheet of mine in high school.  My homeschooling mom was very patient with me!

The goods news is though, counting calorie intake and needs is not hard  math.  It's simply putting your information into a calculator and letting the software do the work for you.  It's easy to track and calculate for even the most right brained of folks.  (Me)

So, forget maintaining, say you want to lose some weight.  Here are the stats if I want to lose weight.  Your stats will be different, but can be computed using the resources that I will talk about later.

Say I want to lose 1 pound per week from my 120 pound, 61 inch tall frame.  I need 1251 calories a day, and on an exercise day when I run my usual 6 miles, I need no more than 1450.  That's a far cry from the 2000 calorie average we hear about all the time!  

Now that I had my needs figured out (and you can't skirt figuring them out, no matter how much you may hate math.  Calorie needs for your body are there whether you admit to them or not and your body will gain if you feed it more than it needs....) how did I go about tracking everything?  Enter my favorite calorie counting website.  I actually use it as an app on my Kindle Fire and I know some people who use it on their smart phones.  It is free, extensive, and sooo helpful!  You put in your foods, it calculates it for you, tells you what you have used and what you have left.  I try to underestimate my exercise though, because I know that this calculator tends to overestimate my exercise calories burned. 

I started counting calories around November of 2011, and I lost 10 pounds (down to 116) by the time our January cruise to Hawaii rolled around.  It's HARD to lose weight when you have less to lose, and this is the only way that works for me.

What does this have to do with being vegan you say?  If I eat my wonderful fresh and healthy vegan food, it is a piece of cake to stay within my calories.  Meat, cheese, mayo, butter and milk are very calorie dense.  Think about milk for example.  It's baby cow growth food!   It's meant to turn cute little wide-eyed wobbly kneed creatures into big 2 ton (still adorable) can-run-over-you-if-they-want-to walking packages of beef.  I would rather not turn into one of those.  On the other hand, 2 cups of romaine lettuce is 16 calories.  

Our menu for tonight?  No, it's not just lettuce. No, we aren't rabbits.
Pictured:  John and Me and what everybody seems to think our dinner consists entirely of....
Tonight we are having homemade pitas stuffed with hummus, cucumbers, tomatoes, onions and lettuce.  All for under 400 calories.  Dessert:  A few squares of vegan dark chocolate.  Oh so tasty.

Losing weight is totally within your reach.  Stop the gimmick diets and face the plain truth of what your body needs, and what it doesn't.  Don't feed it 2000 calories a day if you only need 1500!  And if you only need 1500, feed it high quality food so you get all the vitamins and minerals you need from a spectacular, healthy, and reasonably portioned whole-foods diet.

If I can do it, anyone can.  It's not rocket science.

If it were, with my natural math skills,  I would be sooo out of luck.


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