Monday, January 15, 2007

Everyone's on a Diet

According to Webster's Dictionary, the first definition of diet is "food and drink regularly provided or consumed." Your diet is simply that which makes up the sum total of what you put in your mouth and stomach. So everyone's on a diet.

Some diets are good. Some diets are bad. Some diets are very bad, indeed.

Part of the problem with losing weight is this tendency to think in terms of goals: 10 pounds, 20 pounds, etc. As soon as we hit our goal, we think the diet is over and we slip back into our old routines and before you know it, the weight is back. I actually lost more than 40 pounds about six years ago and now here it is, all back and I'm bigger than ever. The weight I lost found some friends while it was away and now they've all come home and they're having a party on my torso.

So I need not just a new diet, but a new diet lifestyle. A permanent change in the way I think about and consume food so that when the weight goes, it stays off.

It's not just a matter of finding a thin person and eating only what he or she eats, it's a matter of finding the right balance between caloric intake and caloric burn-off. To lose weight, you increase burn or reduce intake (preferably both if you want to lose weight more quickly). To keep it off, you find the balance. This is where your metabolism comes into the picture.

I suspect people have the wrong idea about metabolism. They think that fat people have a poor metabolism. The truth, as I understand it, is exactly the opposite. Skinny people have the bad metabolism. It's horribly inefficient. They can eat and eat and their body does nothing with those extra calories. They simply fall through the holes in their inefficient metabolism and run right out the other ends.

People with weight problems, on the other hand, have an exquisitely efficient metabolism. Not even one calorie can sneak through without being stored as fat for possible later consumption. I even look at a piece of cake and I gain a half pound.

So, like many things in life, it comes down to simple mathematics. Doctors J. Arthur Harris and Francis G. Benedict developed the gold standard of metabolic rate in the Harris-Benedict equation. The formula is different for men vs. women, but here it is in a basic form:

MEN: (13.75 x weight) + (5 x height) - (6.77 x age) + 66.5
WOMEN: (9.56 x weight) + (1.85 x height) - (4.68 x age) + 655.1

These calculations give you your "basal metabolic rate," or BMR. You can do the math yourself or visit one of several handy calculators found on the web. Like this one. This result is approximately (and studies show that's just what it is: approximate) the number of calories you would burn if you stayed in bed all day. It was essentially designed to figure out the caloric requirements of bed-ridden patients in hospital so they could be fed nutritionally and not gain weight.

But here's how you use the figure: eat just about what your BMR is, and you should lose weight, once you consider that most of you are NOT bedridden and you will burn up some of your stored fat simply by being up and moving around in the normal course of your day. Of course, if you exercise, you'll burn up even more.

The hassle in this whole deal is learning the caloric value of every stinkin' thing you put in your mouth, and that ain't easy. But it gets back to that lifestyle change thing and making the commitment to get the weight off and keep it off.

The next time I talk about this stuff we'll discuss how many calories it takes to lose a pound.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Mixed Message?

Pretty dresses, aren't they? I saw them on the "Mental Floss" blog. They're made by Brazilian artist Adriana Bertini and they're on display at the Fowler Museum at the University of California, Los Angeles until March 11.

Here's the kicker: the dresses are made entirely from discarded condoms that
couldn't pass the quality control test at the factory. It's part of an AIDS awareness push and there are 14 outfits in the entire collection.

I'm not sure how I feel about this. I do know that unprotected sex outside of marriage is not good. For that matter, any sex outside of marriage is probably not a good thing, but it would be sheer lunacy on our part to think it's going to stop.

Now, unprotected sex inside of marriage leads to a whole different set of issues, but I'll leave that by for another time.

Of course, no one has yet come up with a better solution for preventing sexually-transmitted diseases than abstinence.

But if a woman had the nerve to wear one of these things, I'm wondering what kind of message it would actually send...?