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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 45 years old and I weigh 155 pounds with approximately 29% body fat. I had my BMR done and I was told that I needed to eat around 1,249 calories daily in order to lose weight. This seems low to me. What do you think? Also, what do you think about eating small meals and eating after 7 p.m.?

(Article continued below.)

When you have your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) done, usually you are told how many calories your body needs to just exist. The BMR does not figure in movement of any sort, not even sitting at your desk or walking around the house. BMR is the amount of calories your body would burn if you just laid around all day. To live normally you actually burn another several hundred calories per day on top of your BMR, and that's without taking exercise into consideration. Are you sure that 1249 is the number you were given for weight loss, or is it your actual BMR? It sounds like it may be the latter, because that is rather a low figure, unless you are completely sedentary and plan to stay that way. And if you intend to remain sedentary while on a weight loss program, you will be losing out on a lot of health benefits. Studies indicate that a thin couch potato is less healthy than an overweight person who exercises regularly.

Weight loss is purely a matter of math — you need to burn more calories than you are taking in. The best way to do that is to both eat less and become more active. If you want to be able to eat more than 1249 calories a day and lose weight, it can definitely be done, as long as you follow an exercise plan. Exercise benefits you two ways — the actual activity burns calories, and the amount burnt increases with the intensity of the exercise. You also burn more calories over the long term if you do some form of strength training. Strength training builds muscle mass, which burns many more calories than the equivalent amount of fat, even while resting. Muscle mass (a toned physique, in other words) also looks a whole lot better than fat mass. You are in your mid-40s and at this age, building muscle mass is extremely important for a number of reasons. You have been gradually losing muscle since your 20s, which is why you may have noticed your metabolism slowing down over the years. If you diet without strength training, chances are that the weight you lose will be muscle mass, not fat. You may wind up thinner, but you will be flabbier, and your BMR will shrink, meaning that you will gain weight even more easily than you did before. Retaining muscle, or building more, is crucial for you right now — it helps keep your bones strong and it will keep you vital and active into your retirement years. Now is the time to work on gaining back the muscle you have been losing, both to help your weight loss and just for general, all-around health.

As for your other two questions, eating frequent small meals, say, every three hours, really is better than eating larger meals two or three times a day. Frequent, small meals help regulate your metabolism, and keep you from getting too hungry and overeating as a result. As for eating after 7 p.m. — what's mainly important is the amount of calories you eat overall in a day. There is nothing wrong with having a small meal in the evening. Since most people are not active at night, you probably don't need a big meal, and you certainly shouldn't mindlessly snack in front of the television (the latter is just common sense). But if you are hungry, you don't need to starve yourself. Just limit what you eat to no more than a couple hundred calories, preferably less — and make sure that this is factored into your diet plan.

If you really want to lose weight, what you need to do first is assess what you are eating now. It is highly recommended that you keep a food journal for a few days — a whole week, if you can. Write down everything you eat and be realistic about the measurements. A serving of rice, for example, is around 150 – 170 calories. A serving equals ¾ cup. Is that how much you are putting on your plate, or is your "serving" actually more than that? When people do the math and adjust for realistic portions, they are often surprised at how much they are really eating. In addition, a food journal will give you an idea of the quality of food you are eating — does your diet consist of a lot of starches and sugars and few vegetables? Are you eating whole grains and lean protein, or refined flour and fried foods? You will probably discover you can reduce your calorie intake almost immediately by modifying your current eating habits. Keep in mind that the amount of food you are currently consuming is supporting your current weight. Reduce that amount by a couple hundred calories a day and you are already on the road to losing weight. Add exercise to the mix so that you burn an extra couple hundred calories a day and that comes to a 400-calorie deficit. This is the basis of a solid and sensible weight loss program. Approaching an eating and exercise plan this way is much more realistic than trying to work around a BMR.

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