Healthy weight and mathematics

Maintaining a healthy body weight is a simple matter of mathematics. If your energy intake is higher than your energy output, you’ll gain weight, and if you use more energy than you eat, you’ll lose weight.

Energy in = Energy Out

As simple as that!

Pffft – yeah, right!

Our bodies are burning energy even when we are doing nothing, and because we have not mastered the art of photosynthesis, that energy must come from food. If you eat more food and hence consume more energy than you need, you will store the excess as fatty tissue. It’s not rocket science, even if it is maths!

This not-so-tricky maths gets in the way of things! As is the case with most people, I like eating!  I’d like to be able to eat more and maintain a healthy body weight. To do this, I need to use more energy.

Is there a way I can increase my energy expenditure without noticing it?

Our energy use is divided into three components:

  1. Basal Metabolic Rate or BMR. This is the energy we use merely being alive. It is the amount of energy we use when we are at rest, after just waking up and with an empty belly. It accounts for around 60% of the energy sedentary people use each day. BMR is influenced by gender, age, and body mass. Essentially the bigger you are the more energy you need to keep your body idling. The older you get, the less energy you use. (So if your a little old(er) lady like me you’re not burning up much!)
  2. Thermic Effect of Food or TEF is the extra energy we need to digest and absorb our food.  It takes energy to break down the food in our digestive system and get it into our bloodstream. TEF is a bit like a service fee. The energy in our food needs to be converted into the type of energy our body can use, and this comes at a cost. It turns out that protein needs more energy to be converted into usable energy. TEF accounts for around 10 – 15% of our average daily energy expenditure.
  3. Activity Thermogenesis (AT) is the energy used up in moving around and is further broken into two categories.
      1. Exercise-related activity thermogenesis is the energy we use in deliberate exercise such as going to the gym, running, lifting weights, etc.
      2. Non-exercise activity thermogenesis or NEAT is the incidental energy we use in walking around, picking up the kettle, sitting, standing, talking, shopping, cooking, doing the housework. The stuff we usually don’t change into active wear for!

Energy expenditure

We have the power to control activity thermogenesis. Since it makes up between 25 – 30% of the energy a sedentary person uses, it is the pathway to tipping the balance in favour of weight loss or gain.

Let’s pause for a little more maths.

  1. Every day has 24 hours.
  2. Let’s say you sleep for 8 of those hours where you are running on your BMR.
  3. That leaves 16 hours for you to burn up more energy.
  4. You spend one of your 16 waking hours at the gym (or running/swimming/whatever) and the other 15 hours doing the rest of life.
  5. That means only 6% of the time is used for exercise activity thermogenesis! For most people living ordinary urban lives, we sit on our butts for most of the other 15 hours! That means for 94% of our waking hours, we are using low levels of energy.

 

Thermogensis

Can you increase the amount of energy you burn in those other 15 hours?

The solution is self-evident! You have to increase the amount of energy you expend in all activities! Be more active and less sedentary! Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy!

In real life…not as easy as it sounds.

Life is busy. You can’t spend 5 hours at the gym every day. You have to go to work. You have to get to work, you have to look after your family. You have to DO life. You may not have time to increase your exercise-related activity, but you can increase the amount of energy you expend in non-exercise related activities?

How do you increase NEAT-ness in your life?

Here are a few suggestions. (some more sensible than others!)

  1. Fidget! Fidgeting wastes heaps of energy! Be careful you don’t annoy too many people though.
  2. Don’t sit when you can stand. If you work in an office, get a standing desk.
  3. Don’t stand still if you can fidget or move from side to side or jiggle around on the spot.
  4. Get your smart gadgets to buzz you if you are sitting still for too long.
  5. Walk to the next office to talk to someone rather than ring or email them.
  6. Ditch the remote control. Tape the remote to the TV, so you have to get up to change channels etc.
  7. Don’t sit in front of the telly and do nothing. If you’re going to watch telly – do something! Lie on the floor & do yoga stretches, get some hand weights or resistance bands and do a few (hundred) biceps curls while you’re bingeing on the newest must-watch show.  Alternate arms with legs and do some squats, lunges, hopping, hula hooping, etc.
  8. Don’t drive when you can walk or cycle. Pick a minimum distance and walk it. For instance, only drive if your destination is more than 3 km away.
  9. If you do have to drive, there are ways to do a sneaky car workout! It might not use much extra energy, but it’s better than nothing!
  10. Carry heavy things. Carry heavy things further.
  11. Park the car further away from the entrance when you go to the shops
  12. Get off the bus a stop earlier.
  13. Do 50 quick squats/lunges/calf raises while you’re brushing your teeth.
  14. Crank up the tunes while you’re doing the housework and dance like no-one is watching. If you’re doing the housework, probably nobody is watching! Check out these tips for exercises while cleaning. (some are a bit intense!)
  15. Play outdoors with your children/spouse/friends
  16. Take active holidays.
  17. Go for a hike rather than the movies.
  18. Choose more active leisure pursuits. Play tennis, not trivia. Go bowling.
  19. Choose a more active job! A labourer is going to use a lot more energy than an accountant!
  20. Wear fewer clothes and live in a colder climate! If you need to keep yourself warm, you’ll expend more energy.

The bottom line is, just move MORE and move more often.


Just for the record, sitting is NOT the new smoking. Research shows that the increase in mortality brought about by an excessively sedentary life is around 10%. The increase in mortality due to smoking is approximately 80%. So while both are bad for you, sitting is healthy compared to smoking!

Source:

Levin J.A. Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis. Nutrition Reviews Vol 26 No 1 pp S82-S97

 

 

 

Eat food, mostly plants – not too much.

Sishi rolls

My sister found this pamphlet when she was going through a box of old papers with my mum a few weeks ago. It’s from a c1950 Westinghouse Refrigerator User Manual.

Fridge

The part that particularly grabbed my attention was last sentence – the bit about brown vs white sugar! It points out to me that poor dietary advice has been around forever!

What is a healthy diet?

When it comes to diets just exactly who should we believe? There’s such a variety with the claims often contradicting each other. We could try:

Vegan – strictly only plants

Vegetarian- plants but also sometimes honey, eggs and dairy

Paleo – the food Ugg the cave man would be able to source back in the day – like 40,000 + years ago and way before McDonalds.

Whole 30 – beware this one has lots of rules! Whole30 program website

FODMAP – designed to help those with irritable bowel syndrome

Mediterranean – rich in veggies, olive oil, and fish like the food traditionally eaten in Italy and Greece

Ketogenic – when I was at Uni ketosis was a BAD thing. This diet has no carbs, just lots of protein and fat. 

5:2 diet – based on intermittent fasting. Fast for two days then eat what you like the other days. Developed by Dr Michael Mosley

The Clever Guts diet – another from Dr Mosley

No sugar

No cabs after 5

Atkins – only Generation X’ers and before will remember this one!

There are so many variations on how to eat healthily!  The array of information available these days is overwhelming. Even with my background in food science I find it hard to keep up.

Porridge with walnuts and banana
Porridge (aka oatmeal) with banana and walnuts

Food as more than fuel

A healthy buffet selection
A healthy buffet selection from the Grand Hyatt, Incheon.

In my late teens and in my early 20’s, I was anorexic and for a short time bulimic. I ate very little. I weighed about 47 kg and got annoyed if I went over 50kg. My BMI was less than 17. (A Healthy BMI is between 19 an 24) I exercised hard and stayed very fit but perhaps not healthy. I used to replay the words from the Ford Pills Diet ad over and over in my head. It was on TV when I was only 7 but it obviously had left its mark!

Are you too fat, too fat,  too fat to fit in the Ford Pill Figure?

Before intermittent fasting was a “thing”, I used to fast all day Saturday, with the idea I could eat what I liked on Sunday. I remember waking up in the middle of the night, dizzy and light headed. I had frequent hypoglycaemic events not because I was diabetic but because I didn’t eat often enough. I was an absolute pain in the neck when it came to eating out!

Cup cakes
Definitely a sometimes food! (Molly’s Cupcakes, New York)

I did a Food Technology degree at University and on reflection, this was no doubt my way of becoming a “food expert” and validating what I was doing. After Uni, I went on to work in the food manufacturing industry for a few years before moving into laboratory equipment sales. It is not uncommon for people with eating disorders to work with food in one form or another[1]. Apart from my day job I had a side hustle – being a fitness instructor. More reasons to exercise and stay thin.

Once I was married, I would cook hugely elaborate meals. My husband also enjoyed cooking and we would often spend almost the entire weekend planning, shopping, preparing and cooking fabulous menus which I didn’t eat much of. Food was always on the agenda as a hobby, and as a fuel.

I am pleased to say that as I have gotten older I have become more sensible with my diet although it is still a balancing act of energy in vs energy out.

A bowl of yogurt with blueberries and banana
Homemade yogurt with blueberries, granola and banana.

I still enjoy cooking and now that I am cooking only for myself (and I’m past the wine and wedges phase) I make it an intentional act to cook a decent meal a few times a week. There are always leftovers, so I have enough for those nights when I have less time.  I plan my weekly meals (let’s say that again:  I aim to plan my weekly meals because sometimes I don’t!!) – mainly because it means I don’t waste so much food or have to face the decision of what to cook each night.

I remain interested in nutrition and have considered returning to study in this field. When I was doing my first degree, issues like antioxidants and gut bacteria weren’t even on the horizon. Coconut oil was a BAD thing!

Nowadays, I also look out for foods that will have a protective factor against the diseases of older age.  There is some talk (but little evidence) that turmeric will reduce the inflammation that contributes to arthritis and dementia. I am now taking turmeric tablets. It can’t hurt, and it might help. In a previous post I spoke about good mood food,  food that feeds your gut bacteria and is thought to contribute to positive physical and mental health.

Snapseed 13

Finding the right food balance.

In the end I think we all know that no fad diet will work. There is no magic bullet. If you want to lose weight you need to use more energy than you consume. If you want to be healthy you need variety. You need to be flexible and not place any unnecessary restrictions on what you can and can’t eat. Get your advice from reputable sources that don’t have a vested interest and are not trying to sell you something. I have not fact checked any of the websites I have linked to in the above list – so do your own research. I think you need to be careful if someone is making money out of selling you a fad diet.

The best dietary advice I have heard recently is summed up in seven words from Michael Pollan:

“eat food, mostly plants – not too much”

The eat food part is the trickiest part to decipher. By this he means eat real food, not processed; food your great grandma would recognise as food.

[1] https://patient.info/health/eating-disorders/features/working-with-food-when-you-have-an-eating-disorder

The little imaginary fellow on my other shoulder keeps telling me how bourgeois this line of reasoning is.  A great many people on our Earth will find this concern about he best way to eat to stay healthy ridiculous because they have NO food.. We should be grateful we have the food in the first place and do our best not to waste it and distribute it more equitably – but that’s a whole other topic for a different blog post!