Shape Up & Drop 10™


Step 7 — Do you have a slow metabolism?

This step is going to tell you why you need to "Know Your Numbers." We will discuss your metabolic rate and how it can work with you or against you when it comes to weight management. If you are a chronic dieter — and these days the majority of people are chronic dieters — you need to know why restricting calories too severely is damaging to your body and counterproductive. If you feel like you are restricting calories but not losing weight, the information in this step will help you understand why restricting calories below your resting metabolic rate (RMR) can actually work against you. Your body is a complicated "machine" and meeting its needs with high quality "fuel" is important for health and performance. The quality of the food you provide your body — especially the quality of the calories you eat to meet your RMR — is important to your health. In this step we will:

  • Define "metabolism" and "resting metabolic rate" or RMR
  • Explain the importance of knowing your resting metabolic rate (RMR) in weight management
  • Tell you how to estimate your own personal RMR
  • Explain the critical importance of meeting your RMR requirements with wholesome food

What is "metabolism" and what is "resting metabolic rate"?

Even when you are sitting at rest your body is not resting. Your heart is beating, you are breathing and your body is carrying out other functions that you are unaware of entirely. Your body may be making blood cells, your kidneys may be eliminating wastes and your liver may be clearing toxic substances from your body. Your brain is burning calories as it acts as the master control center coordinating all of these activities. This is work that your body must do to keep you functioning. This work involves making new cells or tissues, breaking down old cells or tissues, or repairing and maintaining existing cells and tissues. All of this work is collectively referred to as your metabolism. It should not be surprising that this work requires energy. You are burning calories even when you sit quietly at rest.

The rate at which your body burns calories when you are comfortably resting is called your "resting metabolic rate" or RMR

There is only one way to know for certain if you have a slow metabolism and that is to measure it. Before you go to the expense of having your RMR measured, you should know that a slow metabolism is quite rare. Shape Up America! has provided you with a "Metabolism Calculator" that you can use to estimate your RMR. We will tell you more about that below.

If you decide to pay to have your RMR measured, here is what you need to know. To measure your RMR you should be comfortable — not too hot and not too cold. You should NOT be eating or digesting food. Your RMR should be measured under quiet conditions when you feel calm. It is usually measured in the morning, soon after you waken, but before you eat your first meal of the day.

There are different systems for measuring RMR, but the goal of each is the same — to measure the number of calories you burn while at rest. A common system for measuring RMR involves putting a ventilated hood over your mouth and nose. Another system involves pinching your nose shut with a clip as you breathe into a mouth device. Regardless of which system is used, the rate at which your body uses oxygen while at rest is measured. Without going into the technical details, measuring your rate of oxygen consumption allows calculation of your RMR. Your RMR is the number of calories you burn over time. If we know your RMR, we can easily calculate the number of calories you burn over an entire day if you were to remain at rest.

How to estimate your daily RMR

To estimate your daily RMR, we have a "Metabolism Calculator" for you to use. You will find the rest of Step 7 more interesting if you know your own estimated RMR. Click below to use our Metabolism Calculator to estimate your RMR. The number of calories determined by the Shape Up America! Metabolism Calculator is an estimate of your resting calorie needs for the entire day.

Metabolism Calculator

Why you need to KNOW YOUR RMR

When you cut calories to BELOW your RMR, your body fights back. Restricting calories below your RMR is like asking your car's engine to run on too little gas. If your car is sitting in the driveway with the engine on, it is burning gas as it sits there. If you put the car in drive and step on the gas, it burns gas at a faster rate. What happens if you choke off the supply of gas to your engine? It sputters and eventually stalls. The same is true for your metabolism.

The Shape Up America! Metabolism Calculator is telling you the minimum number of calories your body needs to keep your body functioning properly.

What happens if you cut your food intake BELOW your RMR? Your body fights back. It actually DECREASES its metabolic rate. If you are eating an insufficient amount of food to meet your RMR, you will not be eating enough to maintain your body's functions properly. You can do this for a day or even two days without consequences. But chronic restriction of calories below the RMR is not unusual among dieters. This type of severe restriction can go on for an extended period of time (weeks or months), but NOT WITHOUT PAYING A PRICE. That price may be your health.

When you restrict calories too severely, your body is forced to make tradeoffs. Your body will struggle to preserve the highest priority bodily functions. Brain and heart function will be a very high priority whereas reproductive function and bone will be sacrificed.

You think you are restricting calories but if your restriction is too severe, your body will do everything it can to conserve calories. A familiar example of restricting calories too severely is the athlete or ballerina or model that is always trying to cut weight. But many people practice severe calorie restriction, not just models or athletes. Here is what happens to a female who restricts calories too severely for an extended period:

  • She experiences fatigue and becomes listless
  • She may sleep more
  • She finds it more difficult to exercise or work
  • She damages her immune system which means she gets sick more often and for longer
  • She skips her menstrual periods for months or even years because her endocrine system is thrown into disarray
  • She loses her reproductive capacity (she will be unable to conceive or carry a baby)
  • If she is dieting while pregnant, she may damage her baby's development
  • She loses muscle tissue as her body breaks down muscle in its desperate search for calories
  • She loses heart muscle in addition to skeletal muscle
  • Her bones become thinner and she may experience broken bones if she falls
  • Her hair becomes brittle and may start to fall out
  • Her eyes become dull
  • She develops skin problems
  • She has bad breath because she is burning ketones
  • She starts to experience mood changes
  • She develops psychological changes that can develop into dementia, anorexia or bulimia
  • She can eventually starve to death

There has to be a better way, and there is. Severe calorie restriction is totally unnecessary and counterproductive. The alternative is to take the long view and be willing to LOSE WEIGHT SLOWLY by restricting calories only modestly. You need to know your RMR and avoid restricting calories below your RMR. Here is what you need to know:

  1. Your RMR makes up the major portion of your daily calorie needs
  2. You should protect your body's RMR as you do a high performance automobile. You need to eat enough calories to meet your RMR each day.
  3. A racecar requires high-test fuel for optimal performance. Similarly, your body requires wholesome food in adequate amounts to protect your RMR
  4. Building healthy muscle and bone by eating the right foods and exercising will actually INCREASE your RMR and help you manage your weight
  5. Protecting your RMR will pay you dividends because you will feel better and be more vigorous and active — which allows you to burn more calories.
  6. To increase your metabolism:
    1. Exercise daily
    2. Build your muscles through strength training
    3. Build bone by doing "weight bearing" exercise like walking or dancing (or any other exercise or sport that you perform while up on your feet)

If calorie restriction is too severe, the fatigue that results will undermine your exercise regimen. You will not have the energy you need to exercise. You may actually rest more or sleep more — which leads to an overall reduction in calories burned. Here is a typical scenario:

John burns 2000 calories per day of which 1600 calories per day is his RMR requirement.
John wants to lose 1.5 pounds per week, so he cuts his calorie intake by 750 calories. This leaves John with 1250 calories — some of which is from nutrient poor soda and "junk food." The 1250 calories he allows himself is well below the 1600 calories he needs to support his RMR.
This drastic reduction in calories and poor quality food causes John to feel fatigued and he sleeps a lot — in fact he starts sleeping late and does not want to go for his daily workout in the early morning.
After a week or two of feeding his body only 1250 calories a day, John is surprised and frustrated that his weight loss is not the 1 1/2 pounds per week he expected. It is scarcely 1/2 pound per week! This is because to conserve calories, his RMR has decreased drastically and he is exercising less and sleeping more.

Food is more than Calories — USE WHOLESOME FOOD TO MEET YOUR RMR

Food is one of the great mysteries as well as one of the great pleasures of life. Food contains much more than vitamins and minerals and energy (calories). It contains many, many compounds that play an important role in protecting your health and well-being. Only a tiny fraction of those compounds have been identified and every year many more important compounds in food are found. Few have been studied adequately. We are just at the beginning of understanding how special compounds in fish and vegetables protect against cancer, how dietary fiber protects against cancer and heart disease, and how many other valuable compounds found only in food protect your health. Think of wholesome food as your health insurance policy.

No vitamin-mineral pill is a substitute for good wholesome food. EAT HEALTHY FOOD TO MEET YOUR RMR

Many of the special compounds found in food are important to keep your metabolism running optimally. To protect your health and maintain your metabolism, you should plan to meet your RMR requirements with wholesome foods. A wholesome food is a good source of protein, vitamins, minerals and many other things your body needs. Sodas, candy, desserts, chips, should not be used to meet your RMR.

Here are the foods we recommend you eat to meet your RMR requirements:

  • Plenty of veggies. Choose plenty of dark, leafy greens and other highly colored vegetables each day. Learn how to eat vegetables raw or properly cooked so they are not over-cooked. Frozen veggies can be as nutritious as fresh. Canned vegetables are OK too. Aim to cover at least half your plate at lunch and dinner with veggies.
  • Aim for whole grain breads, pasta, cereals and other products. Aim for at least 6 servings a day but remember that for these foods, a serving is only 1 ounce.
  • Choose 2 or 3 servings of fruit each day — Don't get carried away with your portion sizes. One medium-sized apple is one serving. For weight management, avoid juice and choose fruit instead because fruit is more filling than juice. One half cup of berries or cut up fruit (pineapple chunks, melon pieces) counts as one serving. One half banana counts as one serving.
  • Aim for 2 or 3 servings of low fat or nonfat dairy products a day. A milk or yogurt serving is one cup. A regular cheese serving is 1/2 ounce (for regular cheese) and 1 ounce for low fat cheese. Take care to use only NON-FAT or Low Fat milk, cheese and yogurt.
  • For protein, choose only fish, poultry, eggs, LEAN meats, beans, and legumes. Go for a serving at every meal. One egg is one serving. One half cup of beans or legumes is one serving. 2-3 ounces of meat, fish or poultry is one serving. Trim visible fat and remove skin from the poultry before eating. Avoid fried foods and sauces. Eat your protein servings prepared as plainly as possible. Use herbs, garlic, onions, salt, pepper and other spices to add flavor.

Summary

You are not always sitting at rest. Sometimes you are running, walking, playing, doing physical labor, and doing many other activities. From the perspective of your body, this is all EXTRA work over and above the work your body must do when you are resting. When you are active, your metabolic rate moves up above your resting level because you are burning more calories. Some of the work your body does is very subtle and you are hardly aware of it. When you are too hot or too cold, your body has to do work to warm you or cool you. So temperature control causes your metabolic rate to increase. When you eat food, your body does work so your metabolic rate increases. When you digest food your metabolic rate increases as you digest and absorb food. At the end of the day, your total calories burned are determined by your resting metabolism (your RMR) PLUS all of the calories your body burns to do the extra work you performed throughout the entire day. Your Total Daily Calorie Goal covers the total number of calories you need for the entire day. Restricting calories too severely causes your RMR to decrease. The more severe the restriction the more drastic the drop. Restricting calories too severely is counterproductive because your body will fight back by decreasing RMR. Not only should you avoid restricting calories below your RMR, you should take care to make sure you eat wholesome food to meet your RMR.

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on Calories and Dieting

What is the calorie goal provided by the Shape Up America! Cyberkitchen?

When you use the Shape Up America! Cyberkitchen to estimate your TOTAL daily calorie goal, you are estimating the calories needed to cover your resting metabolic needs, PLUS all of the extra calories you need to perform your day's activities as described above.

How many calories do I have to restrict to lose one pound a week?

The rule of thumb is to create an "energy deficit" of 3500 calories in order to lose one pound. If you spread that energy deficit over an entire week, that comes to a deficit of 500 calories per day. If you subtract 500 calories from your total daily calorie goal provided by the Cyberkitchen and it restricts you below your RMR, you need to back off on your restriction. That is why you need to use the Shape Up America! Metabolism Calculator to know your RMR.

What do I do to lose one pound per week without restricting calories below my RMR?

If you still want to aim for a deficit of 500 calories per day, you can use an exercise strategy to boost your deficit. The rule of thumb is to walk one mile to burn 100 calories. So you can create a 500-calorie deficit by restricting your food intake by 250 calories and you can walk off the other 250 calories (by walking an extra two and a half miles per day — which is about 5000 steps). The beauty of this combined approach is that the restriction is milder plus you reap the health benefits of exercise as you lose weight.

Is the Cyberkitchen intended for everyone?

The Cyberkitchen is useful for estimating the total daily calorie goal of adults who are healthy (and not pregnant or lactating). It does not cover the needs of special groups of people, including:

  • Children and teens who are growing
  • Women who are pregnant
  • Women who are breastfeeding a baby
  • People suffering from severe illness, injury or trauma
  • People with a fever

People in these special situations require more calories each day — sometimes many more calories each day. For example, if you undergo a severe injury or surgery, your calorie needs can double. Pregnancy and breastfeeding also cause a significant increase in calorie needs. Children and teens that are growing need more calories. The Cyberkitchen does not estimate their calorie needs properly. A child or teen who is in a rapid growth spurt may need to eat many extra calories for a period of time and may also need to sleep more than usual to conserve calories needed for growth. The same is true for pregnancy and breastfeeding. These are conditions that increase calorie needs each day. The Cyberkitchen will underestimate the calorie needs of children, teens and pregnant and breastfeeding women. The Cyberkitchen and the Metabolism Calculator are tools designed to be used for estimating the needs of healthy adults under standard conditions.

Proceed to Step 8 of Shape Up & Drop 10™

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