At its most basic level, changing your weight can be boiled down to three words:
Input versus output.
There are dozens of other considerations and factors at play when examining individual needs and health, but at its most elementary form, losing or gaining weight comes down to a math problem.
To gain weight, consume more calories than you burn. To lose weight, burn more calories than you consume.
The concept is simple. It's the doing that isn't easy.
Not all calories are created equal. I learned that early in my weight loss effort.
Using a diet app on my smartphone, I was able to enter my height, weight, target weight, and a timeline. The app did the math and allotted me 1,700 calories a day.
At first, I tried to keep as many of my favorite foods and beverages in my diet as possible. Instead of cutting them, my goal was to cut back.
But not all of my favorites gave me the sustenance I needed.
Included in my daily calories was at least 12 ounces of Mountain Dew. On the days I treated myself to a Polar Pop, I would end up with at least 32 ounces of fountain soda in my diet.
That's anywhere from 170 to 450 calories depleted from my daily 1,700. Every calorie counts, and those soda calories weren't doing anything to satiate hunger. Even though I was able to enjoy the flavor and caffeine boost of Mountain Dew, it was robbing me of more fulfilling meals.
Consuming a lot of soda calories left me hungry most days, which also tempted me into surpassing my calorie quota. Soft drinks are "empty calories" — they don't offer any nutritional benefit and don't curb hunger.
While I still haven't fully eliminated soft drinks from my diet, I've significantly cut back. Those spare calories are needed to eat more filling foods, including high-fiber and high-protein meals.
Vegetables, baked chicken and hard-boiled eggs are among some of my dietary staples these days. Eating filling foods at meal times prevents me from raiding the cupboards later in the day.
That doesn't mean I don't still impulse buy a Hershey's Cookies 'n' Creme bar at the gas station or sometimes indulge in a Polar Pop. But when I do, I have to give up other calories in the day.
Either that, or I exercise a little longer and a little harder. Remember: Input vs. output. If I want to consume a few extra calories, I need to make sure I burn more as well.
Last week, I had my annual doctor visit. During the visit, we addressed my weight and the best techniques to manage it.
At the end of each visit, I'm sent home with a printout of what we discussed. Among the Dupage Medical Group's tips for physical activity are three measurable elements to guide workouts:
- Get your heart pumping. This can be any aerobic activity, such as a brisk walk, a bike ride or swimming.
- Increments as short as 10 minutes can be effective and add up over the week.
- Get at least 2 1/2 hours of cumulative physical activity each week.
These are the basic rules of exercise I've followed in the past six months. My main form of exercise is walking, with an occasional 20-minute session on the stationary bike I bought three years ago (which primarily serves as a coat rack).
Thirty to 60-minute walks and 20-minute bike sessions add up. In December, I weighed 231 pounds. As of my doctor visit last week, I weighed in at 207.
For more energetic folks, higher-intensity workouts can burn even more calories and give more flexibility in daily caloric intake. But for those like me, who lean toward sedentary activities like reading and writing, a daily walk around the neighborhood can be all it takes to counteract a modest caloric intake.
Balancing the equation
When it comes to input vs. output, or eating vs. exercise, the equation depends on balance.
I knew when I started my weight loss journey that high-intensity exercise is not my strength. Managing calories is where I would more likely find success. In my weight loss plan, I put the majority of my focus on controlling my input.
Others who struggle with controlling diet may find workouts to be the path to success for weight loss.
It comes down to balance when trying to lose weight. To eat more calories, plan more exercise. To be less active, eat fewer calories.
The two sides of the equation are equally important. Be sure to incorporate both into a healthy weight management plan.
Julie Barichello is an assistant editor at The Times documenting her weight management and health improvement journey. To share your own weight management story, contact her at 815-431-4072 or firstname.lastname@example.org.