Well it must be fall! It seems that I have been asked this question daily this week.
If you have not taken our free intro class, here is a quick essay on our food philosophy at Cyklus. Wanna save some time? There is only one way to lose weight. You have to eat less than your body uses. Controlling your appetite is easier when you both understand the concept of Glycemic Index and know just how many calories you should be eating in a day. You can find a calorie calculator at the bottom of the right sidebar.
Portion control is tough. I struggle with it daily! Unfortunately, at the end of the day, reducing your caloric intake to less than what you use is the only way that you will lose or keep off weight. You may be thinking “Can’t I just increase my activity levels and burn the food through exercise?”
Sure! Let’s run the numbers. A pound of fat is 3500 calories. You can maybe burn 500 in a cycling class over an hour. So that’s… one seventh of a pound per hour of work. Seven hours per week of training to lose one pound. Sound tough? Sound slow?
It is tough and slow, and sadly it gets worse. Studies show that in most cases, people trying to train off weight tend to add those calories back into their diet. In fact, it is well documented that neither diet nor exercise works without the other. There is an 80% failure rate for those trying to lose weight on diet or exercise alone.
The good news is that if you put them together, your chances of success go way up. Fitness and healthy living go hand in hand. Both are a choice you make. Walking into a class at Cyklus is a great choice. The post exercise endorphins make you sleep better and feel less stress, and the cardiovascular efforts make you live longer as your heart gets stronger. Combine this with a healthy body weight (and that is a variable thing! Skinny does not equal healthy!) and you will increase your chances of a long and healthy life.
Appetite control is important for everyone for a few reasons. We are all aging every day. As we get older, our Basal Metabolic Rate is decreasing. Our activity levels tend to decrease with age as well. Your Basal Metabolic Rate is simply the estimated amount of calories you burn each day at your activity levels. We have a BMR calculator on the sidebar of most Cyklus website pages.
Calories. Yup, ya gotta count them. Well, not each and every one, but if you know your BMR, and you learn the calories of some of your food habits, it can make it easier to adjust your portions on the fly. Maybe your goal is to lose weight. Maybe to keep it stable. Or even to put some pounds on in a healthy way.
The right way to do this is with a food scale and so on… but almost no one does this. You can make big changes by just learning what your BMR is (say 1500 for now), and that your daily fancy coffee is 400 calories… and you see where I am going with this. Awareness is the first step. Start to understand your BMR, and get to know the approximate calories of your food habits. You can then see the impact of some of your consumption choices.
The next thing is to be aware of is the GI scale. It’s a beautiful tool that I use to help me keep my appetite at bay. It stands for Glycemic Index, and it is simply a comparison of a specific food to pure glucose with respect to how quickly or slowly it affects your blood sugar. Glucose represents 100 on the scale and everything else becomes blood sugar at a slower rate (with respective GI ratings of less than 100).
Blood sugar matters. When it’s high, your body stores the excess as glycogen and fat. When it’s low, your body asks you for food (damn that appetite!) as it starts using onboard glycogen first, then fat as fuel to keep it going.
High GI foods tend to make your blood sugar high quickly, which forces your body to store that sugar as fat quickly. Remember, your body developed long before the corner store. It always acts to save each meal as fat as quickly as it can because it does not know when the next meal is coming.
When you eat low GI foods, the food is digested more slowly, and your blood sugar increases at a slower rate. Thus it is a longer period of time until your blood sugar lowers, and thus a longer period of time until your appetite returns.
So you eat a little less without feeling hungry. It’s that easy. There are many web pages with GI scales on the internet. Look up the GI of the things you ate this week. Know as you eat something if it is going to “stick to your ribs” or leave you hungry in two hours. That is the magic of the GI scale: your choices are informed, and you can be aware that what your appetite will do in two hours is determined by what you put in your mouth right now.
No big changes are necessary. Do some form of exercise three times a week, and get your calorie intake at or just below your Basal Metabolic Rate. In fact, avoid drastic change. If you want weight loss, you certainly want it for more than a few months. Crash diets don’t work. Knowledge and habit control does.
I offer no other diet advice other than the best thing I have ever heard: “eat food, mostly plants, not too much”. The protein, fat, carb and nutrient proportions are your decision. There is a lot of debate as to what is a healthy or unhealthy diet. Myself, I am a 20 year vegetarian, but my kid certainly isn’t. Eat what makes you happy.
If being healthy makes you happy, eat the things that might make you more healthy then. I leave it to you to do the research. I leave it to you to define “healthy” (for the planet? for me?). Seek the advice of a pro like your doctor or a dietician if you want to change the current foods you eat. But among the foods you are currently consuming, certainly some are lower on the GI scale than others. Knowing this can help you control your appetite, and, if you wish, eat a little less.
Even through the holiday season.
P.S.: Thanks to Michael Pollan for the great quote “eat food, mostly plants, not too much”