It’s funny as I sit here writing, there is some seriously twangy old school Hank Williams on the radio upstairs, and I totally dig it! It seems the more I listen to this genre of music the more I like it, and I think it’s because those old country song writers just tell it like it is.
Now I’m certain that I just made some people cringe at the mention of Country music, I may have even lost some cool points, and the old stereotypes of lost dogs and ex wives probably come to mind too. However, one of the main reasons I like those old country guys is because they were brutally honest.
And when it comes to today’s topic, the topic of eating, I’ve got to be brutally honest, we as Americans simply do too damn much of it! I mean name a holiday that is celebrated without food or drink. Seriously, we even celebrate Cinco De Mayo, which gives most folks a reason to run to the nearest mexican restaurant for margaritas and the never ending basket of chips and salsa, but has little to do with our own country.
There is certainly nothing wrong with celebrating Mexican heritage or celebrating with food on occasion, but if you’re at a Mexican restaurant or anywhere for that matter, look around and you’ll quickly realize we are a society OBSESSED with food. The statistics give us a pretty clear indication that this obsession with food has had a nasty effect on our waistline.
One of the biggest misconceptions in the fitness industry to date has been that exercise can be applied as a means to help with our country’s weight problem, but that simply is not true, at least not to the degree that most would have you believe. If there were a hierarchy of importance for fat loss, exercise does not top that chart, changing your eating does, and that means a nutrition plan that improves the nutrient density of your food, while providing less total calories.
The second misconception is that those who exercise can eat anything because the exercise cancels it out. This line of thinking is probably one of the most dangerous to those looking for long term fat loss solutions, because it so very easy to overeat and takes much more time and energy to achieve the same calorie deficit through exercise.
When working with clients, it’s like clockwork, once I mention that calories need to be the focus for fat loss they immediately ask how many calories they need to eat to lose body fat. Of course I could figure someone’s calorie needs with a simple equation or you can find any one of a million websites to help you do this, but I always stress that we really need to start to learn/experiment enough on our own to discover that information.
Because quite frankly, that calorie recommendation equation could in fact be way off. As an example, last fall I was focused on dropping a bit of body fat, and found that approximately 2000 calories was my deficit, that kept me from being too hungry, and still allowed me to enjoy some treats from time to time. I didn’t feel deprived (I can’t say how incredibly important this is) and dropped about 20 lbs over the course of a few months, and didn’t change my exercise habits a bit.
However, using the harris benedict equation, a common equation used to determine calorie needs, it stated I could lose 1 lb a week while consuming 2600 calories daily. If I would have chosen 2600 calories as my target I surely would have been frustrated by the lack of progress after a few weeks, as I’m certain I would not have dropped an ounce of body fat, due to the simple fact that I would have been in calorie maintenance.
I was very careful in my planning and portion control when I started my fat reduction plan and it paid off. Trying to add in an additional 600 calories worth of exercise daily really wasn’t realistic for me as I’m already in the gym 4 days a week, but reducing my intake by 600 calories just took a little planning. Now I know not everyone wants to count calories forever and I get that, so that is why it is so important to control your portion sizes, and not give into the mindset that exercising is like a get out of jail free card when it comes to food.
It is no secret that our portions are much larger than they used to be, and eating too large of portions means more calories and less success with your fat loss plan. A historic look at a McDonalds value meal is pretty telling of portions alone. Around 1960 the average McDonalds meal was approximately 590 calories, which isn’t bad for one meal. However, the meals offered today are in upwards of 1,550 calories, almost 300% more than 50 years ago.*
Large portions and ultimately too many calories coupled with the mindset that you can eat whatever you want because you exercise, is a recipe for lackluster results. While exercising should be a part of your plan, the people with the most success will have been the ones who were able to control their calorie intake, and use exercise for what I think it should be, an endeavor that is fun and enjoyable, instead of a punishment for having a piece of cake.
So if fat loss is in your future, focus on your eating and educate yourself on your portions and total calories, because this is the first and most effective way to reduce body fat. There are other factors to be considered of course and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the value of strength training and protein content when on a fat loss diet, but those will be topics to cover another day.
*And I’m certainly not suggesting one eat McDonalds either for obvious reasons:)
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