Hello, friends. It's me, Jess, your friendly economics journalist and sometime weight-loss correspondent. Yes, I admit it’s a seemingly strange combination. And yes, I admit I hold no formal qualifications in the health or fitness sphere.
But as we look back over the past decade, posting our "before and after" pictures to social media, I can’t help but notice I’m 20 kilograms lighter. Most importantly, I'm also physically stronger and more capable than I've ever been. And perhaps you’d like to know why?
Long-time readers will remember my previous columns and 2014 book The Bottom Line Diet: How I lost weight, kept it off … and you can too! which outlined my mathematical approach to losing 20 kilograms.
In them, I detailed how to construct your own “body budget” of calories in and calories out, to achieve the holy grail of fat loss: a calorie deficit. Basically, consume less energy than your body needs and it’s forced to rely on the energy stored in your buttocks and bingo wings.
The book, as it turned out, was published in the same month I fell pregnant with my son, marking an abrupt end to my publicity campaign as my belly swelled. Amid a significant life change I also quickly reverted to my old ways of eating more and moving less, gaining an extra 10 kilograms during pregnancy and another 10 kilograms in the two years that followed – regaining the entire 20 kilograms I’d lost. Babies, you see, don’t lend themselves to meticulous mathematical life planning. And Tim Tams do offer such sweet solace from the stresses of sleep deprivation.
But, over the past three years, I’ve fought my way back, not only dropping the 20 kilograms again, but running my first marathon, last September. Body scans have shown I've not only dropped fat, but gained muscle and increased my bone density. I find myself beginning this new decade in the best physical health of my life.
And while it may seem strange, I do believe it is my affinity for numbers and my honours degree in economics that have held the key. Which makes sense, if you think about it. Because if weight management is about being good at numbers, it’s no surprise so many people struggle.
It's no coincidence that our two most popular New Year's resolutions revolve around either losing weight or getting rich. Neither are easy. When it comes to both money and weight, the system is geared against us: driving us towards spending and eating more, when we should be doing the opposite.
Indeed, both losing weight and building wealth require a strong foundational grasp of the basic mathematical concepts that you can't get rich without spending less than you earn, and you can't lose weight without eating less than you burn.
Unfortunately, most of us are not walking calculators, so getting the balance right is tricky and we often fall for cheap tricks that focus on only one part of the equation.
Yes, vegan juice cleanses will work, for a time. Why? Because you’ll probably consume many fewer calories than you need in a day. And yes, joining a gym and working out like Rocky may also work, depending on what you eat when you walk out the door.
I'm all about making New Year's resolutions to change your diet and increase your exercise. But if your goal is weight loss, and you don’t understand that one run can be undone by one donut, you’re unlikely to get far.
As for me, I have set myself a New Year's resolution to drop just a few more kilograms before a beach holiday in May. Using the rule of thumb there’s about 7700 calories of energy stored in each kilogram of body fat, I’ve calculated the total cumulative calorie deficit I'll need over the 144 days. It's a daily deficit of 350 calories.
So, over that time, I'll eat 350 calories less than my daily energy expenditure. And what's that? Well, a person’s daily energy use comprises four broad categories: your so-called “basal metabolic rate” (how much you burn at rest just to pump your heart and grow your fingernails), any incidental exercise you do (like walking), the “thermogenic effect of food” (about 10 per cent of the energy in what you eat is lost through the energy required to break it all down and distribute it about your body) and purposeful exercise (going to the gym, for a run etc).
I’m a person who likes to do about five strength-based training sessions each week at the gym (CrossFit is my brand of choice). I know from wearing a heart rate monitor that I burn about 600 calories in each of these sessions.
So, my BMR of 1413, plus 20 per cent for incidental exercise, plus 10 per cent for digestion, plus about 400 calories a day for purposeful exercise gives me a daily energy expenditure estimate of 2300 calories. An online calculator (www.TDEEcalculator.net) will give you a pretty good estimate of your own.
So, for the next 144 days, I’ll eat 1950 calories a day, logging it all in an app I like called EasyDietDiary.
To protect my strength gains and ensure I don’t lose muscle, I’ve set a separate goal to increase my maximum barbell deadlift over the same period.
Once I get to my goal weight, I'll increase my food intake to around 2300 calories a day – the amount which should precisely balance calories in and calories out and maintain my new weight.
It's been a decade in the making, but I finally feel I'm entering 2020 equipped with the knowledge and habits of balanced eating and movement I'll need to keep me fit and strong for the rest of my life. Yes, it’s hard work. But unlike so many other fad New Year's weight-loss resolutions, it really works.
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