So many thoughts. So little time. Life-streaming in snippets seems infinitely easier than organizing my thoughts into anything you may wish to read. But I know people are curious. I’ve had total strangers approach me on the street to tell me they’ve been watching. People I don’t know ask me what I’ve been doing and express their excitement and bewilderment at the transformation they’ve seen unfold slowly.
So I suppose it’s safe to say I’ve done it successfully.
I said back in March that I was going to do it. That I was doing it. I don’t know how I knew I would. I just knew. I was determined to find the sweet spot.
There’s a mathematical perfection about the sweet spot. It lives right between the energy you expend every day and the energy your body needs to carry out what you’re demanding of it. Finding the sweet spot makes the entire process nearly effortless. It takes time and patience to find it, but it’s well worth it to seek after it.
I’m convinced that finding the sweet spot has nothing to do with counting points, low-carb, low-fat, paleo, Atkins, vegan, South Beach, juicing, wheat-free, intermittent fasting, food combining, or starving. It has nothing to do with restriction, can’t have, must avoid, and only-on-my-birthday. It has everything to do with mathematics and biology.
The good news is the biology is pretty much the same for everyone on the planet. So then it becomes a simple mathematical equation.
Every day you burn a certain amount of calories that can be easily lumped into 3 categories:
- Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR): The number of calories your body will burn in 24 hours to support vital organ function i.e. heart beating, maintaining core temperature, breathing etc. You could describe this as the number of calories your body would burn if you were alive but comatose. You can find your BMR in any number of places, like here, here or here.
- Exercise Expenditure: The number of calories burned doing specific exercise/sports activity. The best way to estimate these is using a heart rate monitor that uses your age, gender, height and weight in its calculations. You can also use a variety of online calorie burn estimators like this one, this one, and this one.
- Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT): The calories you burn doing everything ELSE you do in a day – showering, eating, reading, working, talking, driving, changing diapers, cleaning stuff etc.
(There is a 4th category, and that’s the thermic effect of food, which is the calories burned digesting what you eat. This number can change based on what you eat and slightly alter your daily calorie burn, but for simplicity’s sake I’m not going to discuss it further. Just know it exists and if you’re a numbers nerd you can look it up yourself. It only makes up maybe 10% of your daily calorie burn anyway.)
The sum of those 3 categories is what I’ll call your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE).
When I wrote back in March about my weight loss efforts I mentioned Weight Watchers but I switched to simple calorie counting on MyFitnessPal. Here’s why: I wanted to make sure I was eating to support my running. While I did want to lose weight, I ALSO wanted to run well. Those two things are actually hard to accomplish together. Running requires a lot of energy. Energy comes from calories in the food you eat. Losing weight requires eating less energy than you need. Creating too large a deficit by eating too little can not only be counterproductive for athletic performance, but it can be downright damaging to your basic metabolic function.
Balancing your energy requirement with your energy intake is finding the sweet spot.
The sweet spot lives in between your BMR and your TDEE. There’s the secret. Yes, it really is that simple. You can thank me later.
Here’s what I know. I know my BMR. It’s a basic function of height, weight, and age (and body fat percent depending on the research model you use, but can be estimated fairly accurately without this detail). My BMR is approximately 1500 calories daily. What I can also find out fairly easily is the number of calories I burn for each cardiovascular workout I complete. Online calculators help with that, but as a runner I used my Garmin 410 running watch with the heart-rate monitor. It would just give me my burn for each workout. What’s harder to determine is my NEAT burn, so forget about it for now.
Here’s what worked for me: I took my BMR as a base number of 1500, added 100 to ensure I wasn’t eating below my BMR, and added my workout calories burned to ensure I was adequately fueling every workout. That’s how much I ate every day.
Every day I ate 1600 calories plus all my workout calories, which usually landed somewhere between 300 and 1000 depending on the day or the workout. So at minimum I was eating 1900 calories per day on a workout day and 1600 on a rest day. If I wanted to go to a summer BBQ and enjoy a burger and a dessert, I’d just make sure I worked out that day.
Now, my workouts consisted of running 4 days a week and 2 cross training days – I usually did a beachbody video, cycling or some kind of exercise class like with one rest day. But I’m totally convinced that the sweet spot is the same for ANY exercise regimen.
“How do you lose weight then?” You might ask. Why would you want to eat the calories you burn doing exercise? Well remember the NEAT burn? It turns out those crazy people (whomever they were) who suggested that just simply moving more – taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking farther from the door, standing instead of sitting, walking instead of driving, hand washing dishes instead of using a dishwasher even… they were right. Those activities all add up to a fairly significant chunk. In fact, that’s where my weight loss came from. All the stuff that isn’t exercise. The exercise just actually allowed me to eat more, which just makes dieting WAY easier. I get a bit squirelly when I feel overly restricted.
I didn’t pay too much attention to “macros” – Carbs, protein and fats. Nor did I cut out any particular type of food. I eat desserts and junk foods in moderation. I drink alcohol too. The only thing I did do and continue to do is to get adequate protein. There is some research to suggest a high level of protein helps to minimize the catabolic effect of dieting i.e. eating at a caloric deficit. In other words, eating at least 1g of protein per pound of lean body mass or roughly .8g for every pound of body weight will help preserve your existing muscle from being broken down as an energy source. So within my calorie goal I’d aim for 120g or more of protein and let fats and carbs land where they will.
So here’s a summary of what I’ve accomplished in 2012:
- I lost 34 lbs between January 10th and September 30th
- I achieved a 10k PR at the Sun Run in April of 57:38
- I completed the Seek The Peak Relay (Solo division) in 2:32:04
- I completed the Lululemon SeaWheeze Half Marathon in 2:00:18
- I ran a 5k test run on my own, setting a PR at 24:49
- I completed a 12km Super Spartan Race – my first obstacle race
Since October 1st I switched my focus from running exclusively to strength training while maintaining a bare minimum running mileage. I now alternate between running (10km and under), heavy weight training (Stronglifts 5×5) and rest days. So I’m only working out 2 days out of every 3, but rest days are very important when building muscle. I’m also eating right around my TDEE at about 2300 calories per day.
Since beginning the Stronglifts program and cutting my running back I have lost another 3 lbs and gained incredible strength. I did my first chin-up ever and am lifting some huge weights. My most recent working sets have been:
- Squats: 180 lbs
- Bench Press: 115 lbs
- Barbell Rows: 95 lbs
- Overhead Press: 75 lbs
- Deadlifts: 170 lbs
In January I will begin running higher mileage again and probably cutting back on the lifting. It’s almost impossible to focus on both endurance running and heavy lifting at the same time. For now I want to get stronger. In 2013 I will change up my training to include more trail running and conditioning exercises in order to tackle the Tough Mudder in June.
I remember back in 2002/03 – when I lost a lot of weight the first time – people were quick to spread rumors and assume I must had developed an eating disorder. It kind of makes me giggle. Not eating disorders – they’re no laughing matter – but the idea that I am starving myself. I love food WAY too much for that. But I also love a challenge.
I don’t want to sound like some kind of infomercial, but I know there are load of people just like me out there who would love to take off extra pounds and do something that makes them feel brave and strong. Maybe I’m coming up on a mid-life crisis of epic proportions. I don’t know. But what I do know is it’s possible. If it’s possible for me, it’s possible for you.
You just have to find the sweet spot… and live there.