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Q & A

Got a question about some aspect of mind-body-spirit fitness? Ask! It can be as earthly as "Can a heart monitor really enhance my workout?" (the short answer to that is yes) or as heady as, "Don't I need to sell all my worldly goods and go live on a mountain top to find enlightenment?" (the short answer here is no). Needless to say, we can't answer every question we receive, but we will take one every month and answer it here. If you've got a burning need to know about something, email us, and you may find your query featured next time around.

If my recommended caloric intake is between 1400 and 1600 calories a day how can I burn more than I eat? I can't even imagine working out to the point of daily burning more than 1400 calories! I'm 145 lbs. and 29 years old and am moderately active. Taking an hour-long yoga or spinning class or running 3 – 4 miles is my normal routine, 3 to 4 times a week. I have been doing a food log and I know I don't eat the best but I have started to monitor this and tweak some of my bad habits. I can't seem to lose even a pound! Am I doing something wrong with the math? I have a goal to lose 15 – 20 pounds.

(Article continued below.)

While there's no way to judge your math skills from your email, it is clear that you have a few misconceptions about how the numbers play a part in your calorie intake and outgo. You don't have to burn 1400 or more calories a day through exercise alone to lose weight. Otherwise, the only thin people in this world would be elite athletes who spend most of their days in intensive training. You are actually burning calories all the time, even when you're sleeping. Sitting at the computer, driving your car, cooking and even digesting your dinner all use up calories. There's something called the Basal Metabolic Rate, which is the amount of calories your body burns just by existing — it's what you would burn if you just laid around all day. The average woman's BMR is generally somewhere between 1100 and 1300 calories, and it's higher the more muscle mass she has. Your daily activities will add another couple hundred calories to that. So even without the exercise you are already burning a lot of calories! Add your workouts onto that (for another 300 – 500 calories per hour, depending on intensity) and you are most likely burning over 1600 calories a day. Isn't that a relief?

That said, there are a number of ways you can tweak your exercise and diet program further so that you do start dropping some weight. It's wonderful that you are keeping a food log and you're obviously uncovering a number of eating habits that could use improvement. Keep in mind, however, that your food log is only going to be as accurate as the numbers you enter into it. One of the biggest mistakes people make when it comes to keeping a food log is portion size. If you are looking at the numbers and they don't really seem to add up to all that much, you may want to spend a few days seriously measuring the food that you eat and writing down the real, not the imagined, calorie count. You may be surprised. And don't worry — you won't have to spend your whole life measuring. It won't take long before you learn how to eyeball real portion sizes. And if you are eating something out of a bag or a box, really keep an eye on the Nutritional Information label. That bag of chips may say it contains 140 calories per serving, but look closer — it could have 3 whole servings, which means there are 420 calories total! If you know you are going to polish off the whole bag once you get started, you may want to pass up the chips altogether. Add more low-calorie, fiber-rich items to your diet. That's why veggies are so great — if you eat a lot of them, you've filled yourself up on a relatively small amount of calories.

As for your exercise program, do you remember just a few moments ago that I mentioned something about muscle mass burning more calories? Have you already figured out that I'm going to suggest you add strength training to your routine? Now is a great time for you to start lifting a few weights — a lot of women hit their 30s and wonder why they start to gain weight. It's because they are losing muscle mass. The easiest way to slow down, and perhaps even stop losing muscle is by taking the effort to keep building it. Your cardio activities are good. You may want to add a little more intensity — dial up the bike a bit more when you're spinning, run just a little harder. The Yoga is good too, for your flexibility and sense of wellbeing. But you're doing nothing to really keep your muscle mass up to speed. You won't need to lift heavy weights — just develop a good half-hour or 45-minute routine a couple days a week. So head for the gym, have a trainer help work out a good routine, and get to it! And once you have a weight training program together, keep track of your dress size more than the number on the scale — muscle mass is more compact than fat mass, but it also weighs more, so you may see your size dip before your actual weight does. Cardio is great, but weight training will give you muscle tone that will really improve the way your body looks and feels.

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