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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.


I am 155 pounds and am trying to get down to about 130 by eating 1,500 calories a day and exercising when I can. One of your articles claimed that the basal metabolic rate for a 130 lb. woman is 1,200-1,300 calories. But the article also stated the same woman should eat 2,000 calories a day. Why are 700 extra calories needed? 2,000 calories a day seems like a generous allotment for a 130 lb. woman, particularly if she is sometimes fairly sedentary - is this really accurate?


(Article continued below.)

To answer this question in full requires an explanation of what the Basal Metabolic Rate actually is. This is the minimum amount of calories your body needs to subsist if you have no activity whatsoever throughout the day. "No activity whatsoever" means exactly that - you remained in bed all day and did not budge. While sitting at a desk may not seem active, you are still burning more calories than if you had stayed in bed and slept the day away. If you were to get out of bed, get a glass of water and putter around the house a bit, you are already using more calories than your BMR. If you go to work for 8 or 9 hours, hit the stairmaster for 45 minutes when you get off, come home, cook dinner and play with the kids (or pets), your body needs significantly more than 1,300 calories. Even if you leave out the stairmaster, you need way more than 1,300 calories! Check out this calorie calculator and you'll see how easy it is to rack up calories burned.

So how many calories does the average 130-pound woman really need to maintain her weight? There really is no exact answer - 2,000 calories is just an average, ballpark figure. A female athlete in her early 20s who is training very seriously for competition may need 3,000 calories or even more. A 35-year-old woman who never exercises, works at a desk all day and spends her evenings in front of the television may need less than 2,000. Two women who are the same age and have approximately the same lifestyle may have radically different caloric needs. One may naturally have more muscle mass than the other. Or perhaps one fidgets a lot and just automatically moves around more. Maybe one inherited higher BMR genes. There are a lot of factors to take into consideration. In addition, your caloric needs change as your lifestyle does. If a new mother finds she doesn't have the time to go on her long-distance runs as often as she used to, she also won't need as many calories as before. If you twist your knee and are laid up for weeks, you can't expect to eat the same as when you were active and remain the same weight. A thyroid problem will play havoc with your metabolism. People also lose muscle mass as they age, and their caloric needs lessen with every decade. The only exception is a formerly sedentary person who discovers the joys of exercise. In that case, they may build extra muscle that will help keep their caloric needs elevated.

The only way you can know how many calories you need every day is to experiment and observe. Once you are down to your desired weight, start gradually adding calories back, maybe a hundred at a time, and keep track of your weight. Keep in mind that dieting in itself lowers your metabolism, so you need to give your body time to readjust to eating an amount of calories that is more in line with what it really needs. Don't worry - your metabolism will eventually return to normal. Be patient. You also need to really be aware of what you are eating and when - you only need to eat when you are hungry, and you only need to eat enough to get you through the morning, afternoon or night. Many of us have forgotten what our hunger mechanism really feels like - we eat when we're bored, and we not only eat until we're full, we eat until we are positively stuffed. Habits like these are guaranteed to bring on weight gain. When you're reaching for food, are you feeling hunger or is it something else - an emotion, perhaps? People often mistake thirst for hunger - have a glass of water before you eat a snack and you may discover you didn't really want the snack after all. Relearn what actual hunger really feels like. You also should feel satisfied, not sluggish, after a meal. If you feel good about your weight, are maintaining it and you aren't in a state of constant starvation - in fact, you feel pretty good most of the time - that means you are eating the proper amount of calories. And in that case, it really doesn't matter whether it's 2,000, 1,800 or 2,200 calories. Those are all just numbers, and remember - it's nourishment that counts, not numbers.

Got a question? Send it to us at editor@allspiritfitness.com.

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