A client came to me with the goal of improving her overall wellness, which included losing weight. Her next appointment was to meet with a dietitian. But first, we had to establish the frame work for her eating behavior.
She looked at me with anticipation in her eyes. I smiled at her and said, “I’d like you to focus on eating healthy snacks between each of your meals. Your dietitian will help you with specific ideas for foods and meals. The main thing is we want to keep your energy up, and for you to feel nourished.”
My client looked confused. “Wait,” she said, “so, you’re saying I have to eat to lose my excess weight?”
It is important to understand that the human body uses calories all day long, whether we are running around or sitting. Yes, your body uses more calories when you are moving around or exercising. But this does not mean your body uses 0 calories if you are being sedentary.
You may have heard about Basal Metabolic Rate or BMR (similar to Resting Metabolic Rate) back in biology class. This formula approximates the calories your body needs just so it can perform its basic functions: pumping blood, firing electrical signals through the brain and body, breathing, processing food through the intestines, repairing wounds, etc.
You can search online for Basal Metabolic Rate or Resting Metabolic Rate calculators. Here is an example of one at www.myfitnesspal.com/tools/bmr-calculator
For an average female 50 years old, 5’6”, and 150 lbs, her BMR is approximately 1,300 calories. Calories are a unit to measure energy, specifically energy used by the body. Keep in mind, this is an approximation. If the individual has above average muscle mass, their BMR may be higher because muscles burn more energy.
Any activity beyond lazing in bed all day will require more calories than the BMR of 1,300 for the individual above. Remember, that is the number of calories required to just stay alive and healthy.
So, what happens when you restrict your calories to your basic BMR or less? There are obvious problems such as having nutrient deficiencies and loss of energy. But other problems also begin to happen after extended periods of calorie restriction, binging and purging, or “yo-yo” dieting.
• Digestive problems happen as the gut slows down to conserve energy.
• Metabolic dysfunction happens as the body hoards calories and slows down all of the body functions to try to conserve energy.
• Concentration and mental functioning decreases.
• Heart and other organ malfunctions begin to occur.
A mentor of mine describes the human body’s metabolism with this helpful analogy:
Imagine your stomach is a furnace, and your body is a house where it is always winter outside. Inside this “house,” your organs represent a family. Everyone in this family will freeze if it’s not a steady warm temperature inside the house. Food is the “fuel” for the furnace. Your job is to keep the furnace at a nice, steady temperature. Doing so keeps everyone in the family happy.
Food is not the enemy. Food should not be the center-point of a daily restraint challenge. When people starve themselves, they are damaging their body in ways that can be permanent. Food is a gift. Whole, nutrient-rich food is nourishment for the intricate and amazing machine of your body.
If you have challenges with food and your weight, don’t be afraid to ask for help! Life is not about calories and weight. It’s not about antagonism and stress about your body and food. Life is about being nourished so you have the fuel to be your best.
Written by Aja Uranga-Foster, Holistic Life Coach