4. Education: What is body fat?

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I once thought that my body fat was nothing more than the fat I ingested in my diet deposited to my belly and love handles. As little as six years ago I thought that by limiting my fat intake, I would control body fat. But, lo and behold I was gaining weight even without a great deal of fat intake. I didn’t understand what was happening.

Now I feel silly for ever thinking that. But, as I talk to more and more people I’m finding that it’s myths like that that are prevent many people from losing weight. The purpose of this educational series is to review the things that I know now that make it much easier for me to understand how to control my weight, that I didn’t know six years ago.

*The number of fat cells in your body is pretty much constant after puberty.
*Fat cells are your like your fuel tank. You body stores extra energy there to be used later when your body runs out of the energy supplied directly from your food intake.
*Your fat cells grow in size as they store more energy – that’s called gaining weight.
*A gram of fat contains 9 calories. No wonder our bodies like to store energy in fat. Protein only stores 4 calories per gram. On a normal day, you burn 9 calories in about 20 minutes.
*If you continually feed your body more calories than it needs, it will eventually store some of those calories in your fat.
*Your wonderful body does covert fat in your diet more readily to fat in your belly, but extra calories from protein and carbohydrates can and will be converted body fat.
*One pound of body fat can supply your body’s energy needs for about a day and a half. If you’re 10 pounds overweight, you have enough energy to go without eating for 18 days (although your body would need other vital nutrients to stay alive).
*Fat was our ancestors’ insurance policy against famine. They ate well when food was ample and then subsisted on their stored calories in times when external calories weren’t as readily available.
*Liposuction can remove fat from one part of your body, but if you keep taking in more calories than your burn, your body will just store the extra calories in the remaining fat cells in your body leading to some weird features (e.g. trim belly, fat arms).
*The distribution of fat differs from person to person. Men tend to have fat cells in the midsection, while women have them in the breasts, buttocks and legs.
*Our body’s tend to prioritize where it stores fat. For example, my body tends to store energy on my midsection and under chin first. When I reach maximum capacity in those places it tends to distribut to other parts of my body like my fingers and face. It comes off in the reverse order. For me, it drops off my face and fingers, then my mid-section and chin.

Click here for a GREAT article about fat cells in the body.

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4. Education

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When I was overweight, I really couldn’t tell you why I was overweight. Generally I knew that I was eating too much and/or not exercising enough. But, I didn’t know how to go about figuring out how much I should eat or how much I should exercise.

But, my lack of knowledge was even more basic than that. Before I educated myself, I had only a vague notion on what fat was and how it worked. I didn’t know where that cut-off was between fat and thin. I didn’t know exactly what a calorie was or how fat, protein and carbs worked. At one time, I actually thought that you got fat by eating fattening foods. I didn’t know how body fat differed from fat in your diet. I didn’t know how my body takes the food I eat everyday and breaks it down into the pieces that keep us humming.

After talking with many people, I realized that most people don’t know these things either. It’s a complicated subject matter, which pushes some to try to simplify it into an easily understandable system.

For me it was important to learn the fundamentals of how the body worked in order to be successful at controlling my weight. I didn’t want to follow a dumbed-down system, but not understand why I was doing what I was doing.

As the answers came, I realized weight control touches on many different traditional subject matters. It spans physics, biology, chemistry, economics, psychology, statistics, finance, medicine, health with a heavy dose of math mixed in.

For the next several posts I’m going to deep dive into weight loss education. I’m going to step you through the process of how I came to understand weight – at it’s base level – which helps me successfully control my weight.

Cost of calories

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I’m taking a short break from my road map to weight loss. Calories have become cheaper, easier to acquire and to consume over the last several thousand years. Twenty-five thousand years ago, most humans spent much of their time finding, preparing and chewing food just to meet their basic caloric needs.

Now, we can buy our daily caloric needs with income that takes minutes to earn and we can take in those calories in a few bites. I thought it might be helpful to put some numbers to this thought for illustrative purposes. I found a site to help me.

According to that link, in 1929 we spent 22.7% of our income on food in total (at home and away from home). In 2005 this figure dropped to 11.5%. WOW!!!! I know, numbers probably bore you, but for the anlytically minded (like myself) this is huge. Just 77 years ago we spent $22.70 of every $100 of income on food. Now we spend $11.50. That’s a drop of $11.20. Furthermore, the percentage of income spent on food at restaurants has increased from 15% of our food budget in 1929 to 43% of our food budget in 2005.

Translating this another way, $1 today can buy about 150 calories of food, on average. That same dollar (adjusted for inflation) could only buy about 75 calories in 1929. Of course there are wide variations on the cost of calories for specific foods, but I’m talking averages here. So, today you can get your caloric needs on about $10-$15/day, whereas in 1929 it would cost you $20-$30 in today’s dollars.

So…what’s my point? This seems to be one of the reasons why, as a nation, we are fat. In less than 8 decades, a mere blink of the eye in human history, we’ve substantially improved our ability to get the calories we need to survive. Just think how much we’ve improved over the last several thousand years. Thousands of years ago, it’s likely that calorie gathering, prep and chewing took 6-8 hours per day, whereas now it can take less than an hour. What are we doing with all that extra time?

Also, consider that we’ve made food more tasty and appealing. Mix cheap and easy calories, delectability and lots of free time that can be spent shoveling delectable treats into our mouths and what do you get? Fat America.

I think we’ve solved the problem of hunger – for the most part – in our country. Now, we need to do a better job of educating people about how to control their weight.

3. Commitment to goal

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If you’ve read this far then you might have recognized that you have a weight problem (#1) and you might have a desire to do something about it (#2). The next step on my roadmap to weight loss success is committing to your goal.

What’s preventing you from comitting today? What’s preventing you from committing right now? Nike says, Just Do It. If you aren’t committing right now, make a list of all the reasons why not. Do you have any valid reasons? The only real valid excuse is that you’re pregnant. Are you pregnant?

Some may want to enjoy the holidays without the guilt of straying from a diet plan. But, you’ll feel the guilt when you wake up January 2 with 15 extra pounds hanging from your gut. Take this opportunity to learn how to enjoy the holidays without haivng eat large volumes of food. Savor the taste with smaller portions. Rediscover activities such as board games that you can use to connect with your family members. Get out and play a T-Day or Christmas day game of touch football. Several in my family enjoy a 5k run on T-Day morning. It has become a standing tradition that is now in its 14th year.

There are tons of other excuses to put off shedding the pounds. Let me know if you have any others and I’ll give you some ideas on why it’s not valid.

Ultimately delaying commitment is a sure sign that you likely won’t have the follow-through when it counts.

Commit. Today.

Read my previous post on commitment.

2. Desire to do something about it (Part II)

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I left this one dangling on my previous post. Desire is a tough one. Some people have the desire, some don’t. Some try to convince themselves that they have the desire, but they really don’t.

How do you get the desire to lose weight? I had a couple of shocking moments that woke me up from a self-denial daze. I jumped on a scale and it showed a number I never thought I’d see. And, I noticed that people who were 5-6 inches taller than me weighed less than I did.

That was enough to light my fire of desire. And, it’s stayed lit ever since. Some type of veil-lifting experience seems to be how many get the desire to lose weight.

Do any of these sound familiar?
“Life’s too short to worry or obsess about what I eat.”
“I enjoy my food more than I enjoy being skinny.”
“I have no willpower.”
“Food gives me the escape I need.”

These are self-defeating statements and they become irrelevant when you have a heart attack or get diagnosed with type II diabetes or some other life altering and life threatening issue.

And, perhaps that’s it. It’s easy to say when your 25, 35 or even 45 that life’s too short to worry about what you eat. And, while controlling your weight does improve your chances of avoiding ailments, it’s not a sure thing. So, the payoff of good health simply isn’t worth the immediate cost for many people.

However, I’m only 35 and I already know at least a half dozen people who were shocked into becoming very interested in their diet because of some medical treatment. A few of them were close to dying. They had their chest spread open, people were inside them working on them like they were a broken car. They had long and painful recoveries and plenty of time to think about all the damage they did to their bodies for all of those years.

You probably know someone like that too. If you do, have a chat with them. Ask them what it was like when they thought it was about to be over. The one’s I know told me that they were scared like nothing before. They weren’t ready to go. They felt foolish for being so pig-headed for years and not being smart enough to know that the day would come when it would all catch up to them. They weren’t ready to go. They had grandkids that they wanted to watch grow up. They hadn’t made it to the Grand Canyon yet. They had just retired and hadn’t had the opportunity to find their new lives. They just wanted to feel like they still had some control over how long they’re going to live.

I know several others that didn’t get to experience the shock. They’re gone.

Desire is a funny thing. I was lucky enough to get a major jolt to my desire long before I had an ailment do it for me. I know that I’m not 100% protected from from weight-related diseases and there are trade-offs and risks to my activities as well (e.g. just two weeks ago a woman was run over and killed on her bicycle 2 miles from my house), but I still find that it’s worth it to try to stay healthy.

Of course, health isn’t the only benefit that I receive. I enjoy the activities that I’m involved with. There’s something about rising in the wee hourse of the morning a few times a year to get to an event that I like. When the alarms goes off, I often question what the heck I’m doing, but by the end of the day I’m satisfied. Eating well helps me enjoy those days even more.

I hope you’ll find something about being healthy that’ll inspire you as well and I certainly hope that you don’t wait for the schock of fear to inspire you.