glow notes

Monday, October 10, 2005

why women should weigh as much as they possibly can

It's true. Whether you are male or female, it's best to weigh as much as you can while maintaining your desired level of body fat.

I hope that this isn't big news to anybody. I still hear women talk a lot about 'losing weight,' so I thought I'd drive the point home with some examples.

Four years ago, I weighed in at 165 and had 32% body fat (that level of fat, while not healthy, is not atypical - I did not look fat, just maybe a bit chubby). To maintain that weight, presuming that I was not moving around much, I got to eat about 1900 calories a day.

If I did a cardiovascular exercise program and watched my food intake until I weighed, say, 125 and could wear size 6 jeans, I would be quite happy. I would have reduced the amount of fat in my body. But I also would have reduced the amount of muscle in my body, because the body is more than willing to give up muscle if you aren't using it. Let's assume I didn't starve myself and therefore didn't lose -too- much muscle. Let's say that my body fat percentage is now 22%, a good healthy number.

Except that I now only get to eat 1700 calories per day to maintain my weight (plus whatever I burn exercising). And with each passing year, I will get to eat fewer calories because my body composition will naturally change as I age.

OK, then. Here's what I did instead. I did cardiovascular exercise, but I also did a resistance training program three days per week. I now weigh 136 and have about 18% body fat.

I now get to eat 1900 calories per day to maintain my weight, plus whatever I burn. That's the same number of calories as when I weighed almost 20 pounds more! And because I'm not dragging around 52.8 pounds of fat, I have a lot more energy to do fun things that burn calories!

Two-hundred extra calories per day may not sound like a lot, but it's: a slice of pepperoni pizza, 1/2 cup of chocolate ice cream (or a cup of lowfat frozen yogurt with an ounce of m and m's or 1/4 cup granola), three big apples, an ounce of walnuts, a chocolate chip cookie, 3+ ounces of salmon, 3 ounces top sirloin steak, 6 cups of chopped broccoli, a cup of cereal with milk . . . or imagine what I could do with those calories if I saved them up for a week?

The extra calories my body burns give me pleasure, keep my belly happy, and give me more options for satisfying my nutritional needs.

And, get this: I'm now a size 4. I am skinnier than I would be if I weighed 11 pounds less.

We've all heard that muscle weighs more than fat. It's true. A pound of muscle is about a third of the size of a pound of fat. And I'm sure you've heard that a pound of muscle burns 35+ calories per day, whereas fat tissue just sort of sits there and looks blobby (actually, it burns some calories, just not many - a few per hour). So if I have more lean body mass, I burn more calories just sitting on my butt. Plus, if I keep at it, I don't lose that typical 1/2 pound of muscle per year that decreases my caloric needs.

But wait, there's more. Resistance training is good for lots of reasons, some of which haven't been discovered yet. A few off the top of my head: higher bone density, fewer joint problems, decreased depression, and a lower risk of diabetes and heart disease. Plus you get to pick things up that other people can't, like your 50 pound squirming pit bull. And then there's some cool stuff that's technical and/or still undergoing research, like the effects of muscle mass on the hormones that control aging and how strength training effects the energy production within your cells.

Cardiovascular training is important. It builds some muscle, it keeps your heart strong, and it does all sorts of other good things for your body. But strength training is key for health and weight loss/maintenance.

The cool thing is that you don't have to spend hours in the gym every week to get these benefits! I'll write about how much and getting started later this week.

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