Liter mugs of beer, sacrificing sleep to maximize socializing, eating carbohydrates Garfield-with-a-lasagne-style (to minimize the effects of those liters of beer!), trading my Friday morning gym-session for a shopping trip with a buddy; to say this has been a week of poor health choices would be an understatement. It is the peak of festing season in Bavaria (the world-famous Oktoberfest in Munich runs through next weekend), and my friends and I have been trying to make good use of the last bit of fair weather before winter’s dreary rains head our way, so I’ve done a lot of backsliding on my nutritional goals. Coincidentally, I received the results of my metabolic analysis the week before all of this backsliding began, so I am acutely aware of just how terrible some of the choices I’ve made are. How convenient (insert sarcasm here).
The surprising good news is that my resting metabolic rate is fast. Normal is somewhere in the 1200-1600 range and mine proved to be in the 1700 range. This data tells me two things about myself: the first is that in my teens and early twenties, my metabolism must have rivaled that of a hummingbird, and the second is that leading up to when I was my heaviest and least-healthy, my nutrition must have been more terrible than I can comprehend.
The metabolic test was a fairly simple process that took about fifteen minutes to do. The hardest part was making sure to fast for a least four hours prior to the test, and then I was tasked with lying very still, without falling asleep, and breathing into a mask as normally as possible without a lot of yawning or coughing. The mask was hooked to a machine that gathered information and gave me back data about my metabolic rate. While taking the test, it was explained to me, if you fall asleep, the data will show you a slower metabolic rate than you actually have, and if you move around, it reads a higher than actual metabolic rate.
Along with my resting metabolic rate, I was given two caloric calculations. The first calculation shows the number of calories I should eat per day in order to maintain my weight, and the second tells me the number of calories to eat per day in order to lose one pound of fat per week. In order to get these two values, my lifestyle, the amount of exercise I generally do, as well as my resting metabolic rate were assigned caloric values and added together. I’m not going to share the exact values here because I would hate to seem as if I am giving nutritional advice, but I will say that both the number of calories to maintain weight and to lose some are over 2000 calories.
There is an important bit of information I learned when getting the results for my metabolic test. It takes about 3,500 calories to burn pound of fat, so, if a person is trying to lose weight, it is generally suggested they cut about 500 calories per day if they want to lose a pound of fat per week. The distinction between losing a pound of fat and just plain old losing weight is an important one; if you cut too many calories (more than 500 a day), your body goes into survival mode and starts to shed muscle because it has to work harder to maintain muscle than it does fat. To me, sending your body into muscle-burning, fat-hoarding survival mode sounds counter-intuitive to any fitness plan- it is hard to be fit and strong without any muscles!
A friend recently told me some horrifying nutritional advice she overheard being given in the gym locker room where a thin young lady was telling someone who had complemented her physique that they should do as she does and “workout at least an hour a day, eat under 1400 calories per day, and not to worry if her hair started to fall out because it would grow back once her body adjusted.” Thankfully my friend has enough self-confidence to step in and say that not only did that sound like bad advice but that someone who isn’t a licensed nutritionist should probably not be giving out nutrition advice. Hair falling out???? That sounds like a body going into survival mode to me; it also sounds like a good way to be hospitalized for an eating disorder (which is also counterproductive for fitness goals).
I was concerned that the number of calories I would need to eat for weight loss was going to be depressingly small, and I was pleased to learn that it actually isn’t that much smaller than the number I had been eating. MyFitnessPal has been helping me track the calories, although it, too, sometimes gives bad nutritional advice; a recent app update gave it the power to tell you about your food choices- a little box will pop up with green writing when you’ve made a good choice to tell you all the virtues of the food you’re eating, and, like a traffic light, yellow or red writing to tell you the not-so good things about what you’re eating, but I disagree with it on some things. I wish that the app would be a little more open-minded about things like eggs (it doesn’t tell you that they are a good source of protein, just that they are high in cholesterol), but I’ve learned to just ignore it when I disagree. It is, after all, only an iPhone app.
Obviously with a trip to Oktoberfest and a few end-of -season BBQs, my caloric intake has been higher than it should be. I have a follow-up appointment in the near future and I will be interested to see if I’ve made any progress at all despite my best efforts at self-sabotage. Even if there is no quantifiable change, having my metabolic score has really reinforced the importance of proper nutrition as being just as critical to fitness as exercise. As soon as I’m done eating soft-baked pretzels the size of my torso, I will be doing a refrigerator and kitchen cupboard overhaul, but first, the pretzels!