Keep It Real: Realistic Resolutions
It’s that time of year again. You’ve eaten your way through multiple holidays, and with that came multiple excuses to gorge on multiple meals that resulted in multiple pounds gained leading to multiple increases in dress/pant size resulting in multiple bouts of anger/anxiety/depression and back to anger again. “I can’t believe I just ate all of that!” I’ve said to myself on more than one occasion. After all, I’m an expert. An idiot expert. A no-willpower, pathetic excuse for a fitness role model, idiot expert. “I’m going to the gym, and hammering myself into the dirt for eating that!”
The afore-mentioned subconscious stream of thought is probably not the best way to handle the holiday eating situation. Making unattainable resolutions on top of a solid month of slovenly overeating may just compound your feelings of failure, so let’s discuss what is reasonable and set expectations accordingly.
To gain one pound of fat, one must consume 3,500 calories more than your caloric expenditure in a given day. The average female requires 1,700-2,200, a male 2,500- 3,000 calories a day, not including exercise. This may vary quite a bit depending on many factors, but would represent a vast majority of humans. This means a female would need to consume at least 5,200 calories, and a male at least 6,000 calories in a day, while being relatively inactive, to gain one pound of fat. I have encountered folks who topped 8,000 calories at their favorite Tex-Mex establishment, and I, uh, they regretted it the second the last gulp of margarita disappeared. By the way, the average weight gain in the U.S.A. from Thanksgiving through December 31st is 7-10 pounds.
Now for the bad news. To lose that same pound of fat, one must burn 3,500 calories more than one consumes. That is virtually impossible in a single day, even if you were to fast, which is not advisable or desirable. A calorie deficit of 500 calories per day will result in approximately 1 pound of fat lost per week. Water-weight may fluctuate greatly, but has nothing to do with fat loss or gain. Losing two pounds of fat in a week is whipping right along. Losses greater than this typically involve water loss.
Armed with these biochemical facts, one should set readily attainable goals for the short term and reasonable ultimate goals for the long term. I will define short term as 4 weeks and long term as 12 weeks and beyond, depending on the ultimate goal. If you feel you have more than 15 pounds to lose, the 12 week mark will be an intermediate goal. I am, of course, referring to fat loss, not total loss on the scale. Secure the services of a qualified fitness professional to assess your bodyfat percentage. The same individual should take these measurements each time, keeping the methodology consistent. The method may not produce an exact, accurate bodyfat percentage, but should give you an accurate assessment of your progress. The only exact method of measuring body fat involves burning your cadaver. Unfortunately, you do not receive the results, and your next of kin may not share your interest in your body composition!
A reasonable short term goal (4 weeks) is 3-6 pounds of fat loss. Be satisfied with 3 pounds; be ecstatic with 6. A stick of butter is ½ pound of pure fat. Losing 6 pounds of fat would be the equivalent of removing 12 sticks of butter from beneath your skin and around your organs! Do not be fooled by anything that promises faster results; it is the ravings of deceivers and quacks. The only way to lose 20 pounds of fat in one week is to cut off both butt cheeks. Then your jeans don’t fit right, so there.
A reasonable goal for 12 weeks is 9-15 pounds of fat loss. You can continue this goal process long term by adding 9-15 pounds per 12 week increment. Patience is definitely a virtue in this process. Results are never linear on the scale; rather there is ebb and flow due to water weight fluctuations and how rigidly you follow your meal plan. STUFF happens! You will have periods where motivation wanes, doubt creeps in, or that skinny little so and so invites you out for a burger or pizza. Remember the long term, don’t sweat a misstep or two along the way, get back at it, and eventually you will stand before the mirror and realize “I am there!”