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Archive for the ‘myths’ Category

Food Impostors

Toy Food

Not all foods are what they seem. While some labels are obvious with the addition of words like “flavored” or “imitation,” not all fake foods are such transparent frauds. Sometimes purveyors and manufacturers are actively trying to trick you into spending more for a premium item that’s not even the real thing. Somehow this is completely legal.

Here are some luxury food items that aren’t what they’re purported to be when sold in the United States.

  • Cantaloupes are actually muskmelons, which has a reticulated skin like a cantaloupe but a very different flavor.
  • Truffle Oil contains no truffles, but instead is composed of some oil (usually olive) and 2–4 dithiapentane, a synthetic compound that’s a component of truffle flavor. Sounds tasty. Anthony Bourdain referred to truffle oil as “the ketchup of the middle class.”
  • Wasabi is usually horseradish mixed with colored dyes. You can get actual wasabi in some higher-end sushi restaurants, but it’s not neon-green in color (it’s more of a pale yellow) and usually quite expensive as it has to be imported.
  • Kobe Beef is not legal to export from Japan, so unless you’ve eaten it in a fine Japanese steakhouse, what you’ve eaten as a “kobe slider” isn’t actually Kobe beef. It’s probably not even fake Kobe beef, otherwise known as Waygu which is the same breed of cow raised outside of Japan.
  • Super White Tuna isn’t tuna. It’s actually escolar, also known as the “snake mackerel,” which can cause diarrhea-like symptoms. It’s illegal to serve in Japan, but just fine according to the FDA in the United States. Consider just getting regular red tuna in your sushi.
  • Olive Oil may be “adulterated” with other (cheaper) oils that aren’t as healthy for you. To see which brands of oils are actually 100% olive oil, you can check this list.
  • Parmesan Cheese is probably not the real deal. You may expect that from the powered “Kraft 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese” variety, but chances are even the expensive wedge you buy and grate yourself at the expensive local market isn’t actually Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese made to centuries-old exacting standards in Italy, but rather a cheaper fake.

So those are some of the more sinister fakers. There are other “foods” that don’t really pretend to be the real thing, but it may surprise you just how fake they are:

  • Bacon Bits contain no bacon. I think this one’s not even trying to pretend to be the real thing, but those Bac-Os or Bacn-Pieces are made from soy.
  • Cool Whip is not whipped cream. It’s primarily an emulsion of water and vegetable oil. Nothing says “more, please” than a big glop of oil atop your pie.
  • SunnyD is not orange juice. It doesn’t pretend to be, but it contains “less than 2%” of various juices, which means it could contain as little as none actual orange juice.
  • Pancake Syrup generally contains not even a little bit of actual maple syrup. Most brands like Aunt Jemima, Log Cabin, or Hungry Jack don’t even use the word “maple” to describe their syrup, whereas some brands will refer to it as “maple-flavored syrup.”

What does this have to do with weight loss and clean livin’? Not much, other than I was surprised to learn about a few of these and wanted to share this knowledge because I don’t think a lot of this is widely known[1].

I don’t really eat many of these things anyway (especially from the second list) but mostly because they’re horrible for you, are highly caloric, and don’t taste very good. What a triple threat.


  1. I considered giving this article a Buzzfeedesque title like Eleven Mind-Blowing Food Impostors That Will Shock You To Your Very Core but I have too much respect for you to condescend like that.  ↩

Balm in Gilead

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There’s no magic formula to losing weight (other than calories in < calories out), but there are some shortcuts, tricks, and tips that I’ve discovered through my four years of Clean Livin’ that could help you navigate the broken glass that’s hidden in the grass. These tips may not work for everyone, but they work for me, and if you can try them and not mind the changes, you get the added weight loss benefit for free.

Think about it this way: if you can substitute one thing for another that’s just as good (or sometimes even better) it’s one small step toward cutting out a small number of calories, but those small numbers add up over the course of a day, week, or year.

Stupid Human Tricks

  • Downsize Your Plate – Since you’ll likely be done eating before you end up feeling full, most people will know that they’re done eating by looking down at their empty plate. You can reduce your calorie intake simply by making your plate smaller. It sounds stupid, but it works. I usually eat most of my meals on a salad or small dessert plate.
  • Pre-Portion Everything – Don’t eat from a container or bag unless you intend to eat the entire thing. Sure, you may stop when you’re full, or when you’ve had a serving, but you’re far more likely to over-eat when you can’t see the portion that’s going into your stomach. Place what you intend to eat on a plate or bowl prior to eating it. If you decide you want more, at least you’re deciding to eat more and not just mindlessly shoving food down your craw.
  • Measure Your Food – Unless you’re eating something that’s prepared and individually portioned, the only way you’re going to know just how much meat, beans, or soup you’re having is to measure it out with a measuring cup or weigh it on a food scale. Studies have shown that people underestimate the portion size of even something as simple as a chicken breast by 30–40%. It only takes a moment to put your plate on the scale, tare it (i.e. zero it out), and weigh a portion. You can even keep taring the scale between adding additional food to it. Weighing your food is the most accurate way to measure the calories in that food, because the volume of solid food items can vary between measuring depending on how the food is oriented or packed.
  • Slow Down – I’m as guilty of eating too fast as anyone. Studies have shown, however, that people who eat more slowly also eat fewer calories than people who scarf down their food. Not only does it take about twenty minutes for you to start feeling full after you start eating, but by chewing your food more you taste it more, and will find that smaller portions won’t leave you feeling hungry afterwards if you eat your food more slowly.
  • Pay Attention – My wife and I still eat while watching television sometimes. We almost always eat official “meals” at the dining room table, but will often eat an evening snack while watching a movie or TV show. We try to combat overeating by portioning our snacks (usually fruit or air-popped popcorn) in the kitchen and then taking our bowls to the sofa, but it’s probably still a bad habit that promotes mindless eating. Have you ever finished eating only to discover that you didn’t even notice you were eating by the time you were done? This is especially frustrating when you’ve been eating something unhealthy, because now you’ve not only eaten a large number of calories, but you didn’t even get to enjoy them. That doesn’t sound like fun. If you’re going to eat potato chips, at least eat them mindfully so you can enjoy the experience.

Easy Substitutions

  • Mustard Instead of Mayo – Mayonnaise is an emulsion of oil and egg, but it’s mostly oil. Mustard is usually comprised of ground mustard seeds (mustard is a plant), vinegar, and salt. Unless you get honey mustard or mustard mixed with some other sugary concoction, it’s usually zero calories, whereas mayo is 100 calories per tablespoon, which is about as much as you’d put on a sandwich if you don’t use a lot of mayo. You get the added benefit that mustard is tastier (although I do admit a love of mayo on certain types of sandwich).
  • Fat Free Singles Cheese – If you’re going to eat processed American cheese anyway, switching to the 25–30 calorie variety versus the 60 calorie per slice regular is a no-brainer. They’re also usually individually wrapped and melt really well, so they’re great in omelettes, on sandwiches, and as a cheesy additive to beans. I actually prefer the taste of the fat-free vs. the regular slices of my local supermarket’s brand. The Kraft fat free singles are generally available everywhere, though, and are also very good.
  • Reduced- or Non-Fat – I’ve been drinking 1% or 2% milk instead of whole milk for so long that the whole milk (typically 4% fat) tastes too creamy to me now. However, skim milk just tastes watery and thin. It’s amazing what 1% of dairy fat can do to the taste of milk. Switching from whole milk to 1% will save you 60 calories per cup. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but adding up a few 25–75 calorie substitutions in a day can mean an extra pound lost per month. Cheese is another area where you can get reduced or non-fat varieties of some cheeses. As with the fat free singles cheese, skim-milk (which is sometimes harder to find than “part-skim” varieties) mozzarella is another example where if you’re mixing it into a recipe or using it to top a baked dish you won’t even miss the added fat and the calories that it brings. Easy substitution.
  • Leaner Cuts – You probably already consider boneless, skinless chicken breast a diet food, but did you know that the more succulent pork loin is ounce-for-ounce less caloric than chicken breast? Believe it, bucko. When eating red meat[1], like steak, you can probably switch out a fattier ribeye or sirloin for a leaner filet mignon or New York strip steak. Ground beef is usually labeled with the percent of lean meat that’s in the container, but with steaks it’s harder to tell, especially when you’ve been trained to look for good marbling (the white marble strains in the otherwise red meat is the fat). Barring buying a leaner cut of beef, grilling it so that the fat drips between the grates is a healthier option than pan-searing it so that it reabsorbs its fat while cooking. Pro tip: while letting the steak rest for a few minutes, take some marinade and pour it over the steak to make it juicier. Yes, after cooking. While the meat fibers cool and the protein strands relax they’ll wick up that flavorful juice and make even leaner cuts of beef taste fantastic. Just be sure to use a low-calorie marinade or you’re just substituting beef fat calories for calories in the marinade.

Easy Foods To Cut

This one is harder to provide examples for, because the high-calorie foods that you eat often but don’t really enjoy that much will be different for you than they are for me, but I can at least share a list of foods that I’ve cut out or those of which I’ve drastically reduced my consumption.

If you’re eating something out of habit or just because it’s there (for example, snacks that are available in the office) and you wouldn’t miss them, just cut them out. Not eating something you don’t even like isn’t a sacrifice at all. If you examine what you’re eating every day and really think about it, there are probably at least a few foods that you can give the pink slip.

While I haven’t completely barred any food from my diet (because I’m not on a diet, I’m just eating better), there are a bunch of things that I hardly ever eat anymore.

  • The Offender: Soda/Pop – Of course, as I list soda as a beverage I rarely consume, I just finished drinking a tiny plastic cup of Coke Zero while I type this on an airplane. I used to drink a few cans of regular Coca-Cola Classic while at work (because it was there) every day, and switching to coffee and then water made it easy to remove hundreds of calories from my daily intake. I don’t miss it at all, although I did buy a SodaStream carbonator to make fizzy water for when I want some bubbles, which is hardly ever.
    The Lower-Calorie Substitute – I usually drink plain old filtered or tap water (I know, I’m boring).
  • Offender: High Carb Breakfasts – I used to eat a lot more bagels, pancakes, and waffles than I do now.
    Substitute: Usually yogurt with a bunch of nutritionally-strategic additives – granola, berries, walnuts, flax seed, chia seed, or other foods that I’m getting into my diet by adding them to my morning mélange. I’ll have eggs for breakfast once or twice a week (and then maybe once again for lunch or dinner). I’ll have oatmeal once or twice a week (which I should increase but I like my yogurt more).
  • Offender: Sugary Desserts and Snacks – I used to eat a lot of cake, pie, or ice cream for dessert.
    Substitute: – I’ll have some fruit or popcorn. Sometimes in the summer we’ll splurge and have some frozen yogurt or kefir, which is about 100–120 calories per 5 oz, as opposed to the 200ish calories in the same volume of ice cream.
  • Offender: Cheeseburgers – Man, I loves me a good burger. Add cheese, bacon, and katsup to really kick things up a notch, especially if you throw in a side of crispy french fries and a tasty cold beer.
    Substitute: – There is no substitute for a burger. I just eat them less frequently. I enjoy them a whole lot more when I do eat them now, though, and will grill up the burgers myself rather than get them at a restaurant.
  • Offender: Sausage – Most sausages are loaded with fat (and other things).
    Substitute: Chicken Sausage – Before you close your browser in disgust, just hear me out. I used to be like you, scoffing at the idea of a chicken sausage or some other ridiculous hot dog substitute, but in the past few years chicken sausages have really kicked it up a notch. At one-half to two-thirds fewer calories than their pork or beef counterparts, chicken sausages can be well spiced and mixed with healthy alternatives to fat, like apples, peppers, or even low-fat cheese. Living in Chicago, I’m particular partial to the new chicken sausages from Vienna Beef. They’re so good I actually prefer them to their hot dogs (although I do miss the natural casing snap of the standard dogs).
  • Offender: French Fries, Rice, Bread Stuffing, Pasta, and other Starches – Growing up most meals would consist of a well-rounded plate of some meat, fish, or other protein, some vegetable, and some starch like macaroni & cheese or rice. The problem with these starches is that they provide a ton of calories without providing that much in the way of nutrition.
    Substitute: Beans – Beans also contain a lot of starch, of course, and with that, a lot of calories compared to vegetables or proteins. However, beans are also loaded with dietary fiber and vitamins, and are thus really good for you. I usually don’t eat more than a half-cup serving of beans at any given time, but they’re excellent (and if you spice them up, much tastier than boring ol’ white rice).

Small changes to your eating habits add up over time to big weight loss. A few calories here and there don’t seem like much, but you can easily lose a pound a week by reducing your calorie intake by just 350 calories a day; reduced because you’ve found ways around starving yourself by eating lower-calorie foods that taste just as good (or better) than their higher-calorie culinary equivalents.


  1. Truth be told I don’t eat that much red meat these days, but sometimes a nice grilled flank steak or filet mignon is a nice side dish for a big salad. Yes, I’ve flipped the portions. The meat isn’t the main course, it’s a side dish to vegetables. You won’t miss the difference between 4oz and 8oz of meat, especially if you’re eating it slowly, don’t have it very often, and savor every bite. If anything, you’ll probably enjoy it more when you do eat red meat.  ↩

My Big Weight Loss Secret

Sometimes people find out that I’ve lost a tremendous amount of weight[1] and ask me “What’s your secret?” as if there’s one key piece of information that I know that helped me lose weight and get fit. My stock answer is that “I’m more active and eat better.” Everyone knows that’s how you lose weight, right?

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No one is ever satisfied by that answer, though, because it’s only part of the equation. It’s harder to tell people that there are a whole bunch of things that you have to change: what you eat, your habits, hobbies, tools, attitude, and self-perception. I’ve been posting my “secrets” to this blog for the past four years. I tried to distill the psychological aspects of weight loss in “How to Lose Weight” but that’s not the only part (although I believe it’s the biggest part).

I’ve been trying to come up with an elevator pitch that condenses my weight loss “secrets” down into a 20–30 second soundbite, but its’ hard to compact a few dozen little things into a pithy statement, and even if I could, people would likely be dissatisfied with that answer anyway.

The Bigger You Are, The Faster You Fall

Here’s something that’s promising: the more weight that you have to lose, the easier the initial pounds come off. It’s encouraging to see weight come off the scale every single day when you’re just starting out with your Clean Livin’ regime, even just a week or two in.

Not everyone has as much to lose as I did, though, so my results are probably atypical and while I’m happy to be an inspiration for anyone, don’t be disappointed if you don’t lose 50 pounds in three months like I did.

As I’ve lost more weight it’s gotten harder to lose weight, and it’ll likely get harder still. I’ve had to reduce my calorie budget a couple of times already since I’m no longer burning as many calories just keeping my now smaller body alive. It’s not terrible. I’ve adjusted by eating healthier, lower-calorie foods so I wouldn’t have to reduce portions to the point where I’m hungry all the time (although I am hungry before I eat).

You’ll have to experiment a little, and adjust your calorie budget based on your weigh-ins, how fast you want to lose, etc.

Surely you’re thinking “I want to lose weight as fast as possible,” but if you want to keep it off, and get healthier while you’re losing weight, that’s probably not your best strategy. Optimal, sustainable (local and organic) weight loss is healthy only if you lose about 1–2 pounds per week, which means creating a calorie deficit of 500–1000 calories per day, either through eating less, eating healthier foods, by exercising more, or some combination of the three.

Garbage In, Garbage Out

A lot of people ask me “what do you eat?” as if there’s a magic weight loss diet. Me? I eat what I like. I try to eat new vegetables, or familiar favorites prepared in a new and exciting way. Novelty helps me. People are so used to various diets that stipulate cutting out entire swathes of foods that they expect I’ll have a short and simple answer like “Oh, I used the Paleo Diet” or “I cut out carbs, fats, and sugar.”

Sometimes people get annoyed with me when I try to simplify my eating strategy down to “I count calories, stay within my budget most days, and eat healthier foods so I’m hardly ever hungry.” Is it because that’s the conventional wisdom that everyone already knows? It’s common knowledge because it works, people.

Constant Feedback

Weigh yourself. Record the weight. Log what food you eat. Count the calories (especially helpful is to plan out a meal before you eat it). Take a tape measure and measure your waist. Take your blood pressure if you have a cuff. Talk to your doctor about measuring your percentage of body fat.

The more you know the more information you’ll have to help you make better decisions.

Check the color of your urine. While cloudy, yellow urine isn’t a sure sign that you’re dehydrated, clear pee is a good sign that you’re well-hydrated, especially if it’s combined with more frequent urination[2].

Wash the Weight Away

You’re not drinking water because you’re thirsty, you’re drinking water to flush out the crud that’s been building up in your system, and making it easier to get the water that comes out of your adipose tissue (i.e. your fat cells) flushed out of your body as you break down the fat cells (which also contain water) to make up for the calorie deficit you’re creating by eating fewer calories. Why weigh all that extra water weight? Go pee that stuff out because you’re hydrating like crazy.

It’s a Decision

That’s all fitness is: a series of good choices that get you to where you want to go.

You are trying to transform your body, but the transformation has to begin in your mind. Imagine an Olympic athlete suddenly inhabited your body (like in one of those Freaky Friday, 18 Again, Vice Versa, or Like Father, Like Son movies, but with an athlete switching bodies with you instead of a relative whose life will inspire you to change. That athlete will likely be frustrated with how your body performs, like asking a race car driver to compete in the Indy 500 in a Prius. You can bet they’d whip their new body into better shape, though. So become that athlete yourself and you won’t have to wait around and hope for a magic mirror, fountain, or fortune cookie.

You’re Not Exercising. You’re An Athlete.

Exercise isn’t something you do for thirty minutes at a certain time every day. It’s who you are. You are motion. You are activity. Every day you’re getting stronger. Your day-over-day improvements in strength, endurance, and speed may be imperceptible to you, but week-over-week, month-after-month you’ll start to find that you can do so much more than you could a month or two ago. Exercise isn’t work. It’s training.

Goals Are Where You Are Going To Be, and What You Are Going To Do To Get There

Your weight loss goals aren’t something that would be nice to do. Your goals are a series of small things that you do that get you incrementally closer to where you want to be. You’re playing the long game, setting milestones and taking every step necessary to get there.

Your goals are small enough that each one should be 100% achievable. You’re going to lose those ten pounds because you’re going to create a calorie deficit every day, by reducing what you eat at most meals, most days, and increasing your activity level to take up the slack.

The best way to predict the future is to invent it.
– Computer scientist Alan Kay, 1971

So How Did You Lose So Much Weight?

I eat better and move around a lot more.


  1. Okay, sometimes I volunteer that bit of information.  ↩

  2. You should be urinating a lot because you’re drinking a lot of fluids. If you’re not drinking a lot of fluids and still urinating a lot then you should check with your doctor to see if you’re diabetic or have kidney issues.  ↩

Food Energy

In terms of weight loss the most important thing to measure is the intake of food vs. expenditure of energy. Let’s make sure we understand what all of these things mean.

The dictionary defines food as “any substance your body can translate into energy.” By this definition water isn’t a food, but let’s say that it’s “anything you can eat or drink that supports your body’s energy needs.” Your body is a complex amalgam of many systems, but to simplify we’ll only be interested in the body as a mechanical and chemical system. To use a car analogy, your body needs fuel in order to function. The best part about food energy[1] is that it can be measured, so we can know (albeit sometimes with some difficulty) what’s going into our gas tanks (stomachs).

You’re probably familiar with the unit we use to measure the amount of energy in food when consumed. It’s listed on the back of every pre-packaged food item in the form of Calories.

Cal or kCal?

Prometheus stole fire from the Gods and gave it to man.
Prometheus stole fire from the Gods and gave it to man.

The Calories in food are actually kilocalories in the scientific sense. Sometimes these calories are divided into small calories and big (or large) Calories, and it’s customary to use a capital C when referring to that unit of measure, although I’ll probably use the lower-case more often because it’s less obnoxious to read that way.

Nutritionists’ calorie, kcal, or just Calorie, is the amount of energy needed to increase 1 kilogram of water by 1° C. While it’s a metric measurement, in scientific circles the use of the SI-unit “joule” is more common. In current usage the calorie almost always means the amount of energy in food, specifically.

Input / Output

How much energy does it take to burn a pound of body fat?

There are 453.6 grams per pound. You have to create a calorie deficit of 3,500 calories to burn one pound of fat. Dietary fat has nine calories per gram.

9 calories per gram × 453.6 grams = 4,082.4 calories.

Since burning a pound of body fat only takes a deficit of 3,500 calories, we can do some more simple math: 3,500 calories divided by 453.6 grams = 7.7 calories per gram of body fat, which is less than the 9 calories that we know fat to contain per gram. So why does it take fewer calories to burn the fat than it does to intake the same amount of fat?

The reason is because stored body fat, called “adipose tissue” by scientists, isn’t pure fat like the dietary fat you consume. Adipose tissue is comprised primarily of fat, but also contains protein and a lot of water. Protein only has four calories per gram as opposed to fat’s nine, and water doesn’t have any calories, so that’s why it’s biologically easier to burn body fat than to store a pound of fat due to an excess of food intake. Of course, it’s easier to sit on your ass watching TV and eating potato chips than it is to exercise, and calorie-dense & nutritionally vacant foods comprise far too much of the average diet, making losing weight harder from a psychological and practical standpoint than gaining weight is for most people. Nature is on your side, but Human Nature is against you.

Time To Lose

If you only created a calorie deficit of 100 calories per day it would take five weeks to lose a single pound of fat. To lose 1–2 pounds per week, which is the most you’ll want to lose safely (i.e. without causing harm to your body) you’ll need to create a deficit of 500–1,000 calories every day. You can do this with a combination of calorie restriction and exercise. Just keep in mind that exercise will only do so much. The 80/20 rule applies here: 80% of your weight loss will come from your diet, and 20% should come from exercise. Walking briskly only burns about 100 calories per mile. Since you’ll have to walk almost six miles to burn off one Big Mac, altering your diet will result in greater results than exercise. That doesn’t mean that exercise is useless, just that if your only goal is weight loss, exercise is less important than diet. One advantage of exercise, though, is that it increases your metabolism.

Metabolism is the way your body breaks down food, determines its constitution, and gets the right nutrients to the cells that need them. Your body burns energy all the time, even now while you’re reading this. The more physical exertion, the more energy it takes.

I was going to take some pictures of 100 calories of foods to show volumes of various foods that all have the same number of calories, but someone already beat me to it (with a gallery of what 200 calories of various foods looks like).

Take This To The Bank

Caloric intake is like having a per diem. Every day you get a certain budget, and then it resets for the next day while you sleep. The amount of calories you require on a daily basis varies from person to person, but the USDA’s guidelines for nutritional labeling of food items bases the amounts on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your needs may be more or less than that based on your weight, gender, or age. There are even variations in the metabolism of individuals, so any talk of measuring your intake vs. calories burned will be ballpark figures.

Calorie Density

Some foods are more calorie dense than others, meaning that you can eat larger amounts of some foods without taking as big of a hit in your daily budget.

Nutrient Calories Per Gram
Lipids (fats)[2] 9 calories
Alcohol 7 calories
Protein 4 calories
Carbohydrates 4 calories

Water, insoluble fiber, cholesterol, vitamins, and minerals don’t have any calories but provide other vital nutrients. Practically all foods contain some combination of the above constituents, and food calories are calculated based on the amount of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates that they contain.

How Much Of Each Nutrient Should I Eat Daily?

The Institute of Medicine provides a recommendation table called the acceptable macronutrient distribution range (AMDR) which specifies the percentages of each macronutrients (fat, protein, carbs, etc.) people should consume daily based on their age and gender. For adults, on average, you should base your percentage of macronutrient intakes on:

Macronutrient Daily Caloric Consumption
Carbohydrates 45–65%
Protein 10–35%
Fats[3] 20–35%

As you can see, the totals of the maximum range exceed 100%, so depending on your age and gender you’ll need more or less of each nutrient. Remember, however, that your body weight is a simple balance of caloric intake versus outtake. Calories are calories whether they come from fat, protein, or a jelly donut. You can get all of your calories from eating potato chips and still lose weight. You may die of malnutrition, but you’ll lose weight.

Free Energy

Your metabolism is working all the time, burning energy just to keep your vital functions working, your body heat constant, heart beating, and lungs breathing. The amount of energy needed to keep you alive is called your basal metabolic rate. BMR varies in individuals, but a good average figure is that your BMR constitutes about 60% of your total energy consumption. You also burn energy digesting food, and of course through activity.

The average woman burns 10 calories per pound, and men burn 11 calories per pound.

Let’s assume for example a 150 pound woman (because the math works out conveniently). Her BMR would result in a caloric consumption of 1,500 calories (150 lbs x 10 calories), which is 60% of a total of 2,500, which is the amount of calories she’d have to consume daily to maintain the same weight.

But like I said above, BMR varies based on a great number of factors, including genetics, body frame, height, weight, etc. It’s widely known that the BMR of overweight people is actually much greater than that of fit people since it takes more energy to keep more mass moving, and being overweight stresses the body causing an overweight person to burn more energy than if they weren’t carrying the extra weight. If you’re overweight, this is excellent news.

Your BMR constitutes about 60% of your daily caloric needs. Another 10% goes to digesting food and carrying nutrients to your organs. Only 30% of your daily caloric intake goes to powering your muscles to move your body around through activity. So it seems that you’d be well-served by figuring out how to increase your basal metabolic rate. Of course, to know how to increase it you’ll need to know how to calculate yours first.

Some fancy scales can determine your BMR by sending a small electrical current through your body (one foot to the other) and measuring the resistance caused by water in your cells. It’s a rough estimate. There are also handheld devices that can measure your body fat percentages so you can calculate your BMR more accurately. Your doctor can prescribe far more accurate tests that require expensive equipment, or by suspending you in a tank of water like Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back.

Personally, I base my intake on an 1800–2000 calorie diet and have been losing weight more rapidly than is recommended by my doctor. I’d have to recommend that you talk to your physician or dietitian to figure out how many calories you should be consuming daily, and what percentage of macronutrients you should target.

Raising Your Metabolism

Here are a few ways to boost your metabolism:

  • Exercise – Not only does exercise help make you stronger and feel better, but you get a small metabolism bump that lasts hours after you’ve finished exercising. That’s why it’s better to work out in the morning rather than at night after work (if you have to choose).
  • Build muscle – Every pound of muscle burns about 6 calories per day through general use, while each pound of fat only requires about 2 calories a day. While you can’t turn fat into muscle (they’re completely different tissues) you can increase your muscle mass through exercise and thus raise your metabolic rate slightly. The more muscle you have, the more energy you burn.
  • Don’t starve yourself. – You burn excess fat by creating a calorie deficit, but if you create too much of a deficit your body thinks it’s starving and slows down your metabolism in order to keep you alive for as long as possible.
  • Get enough sleep. – Sleep depravation slows down your metabolism. Even though you burn fewer calories while sleeping than while awake, you’ll burn fewer calories still if you don’t get enough sleep. Most adults need 7–9 hours of sleep per night.
  • Eat smaller. – I don’t mean eat smaller portions (although you should do that too) but eat smaller meals more frequently. Your metabolism slows down when you’re done digesting food, so eating smaller amounts of food spread out throughout the day will actually keep your metabolism going stronger for longer.
  • Eat more fish. – Especially those containing omega–3 fatty acids. Salmon, sardines, and other rich in omega–3 fish oils have been known to raise your metabolic burn by as much as an additional 400 calories per day.
  • Spice it up. – Studies have shown that eating spicy foods actually raises your metabolism. Some diet pills actually contain pure capsaicin, the protein that makes food taste hot & spicy. Spices also have the added benefit of adding a tasty kick to some blander (but healthier) foods.
  • Drink green tea. – Drinking green tea before a workout is said to increase the amount of calories you burn between 15 and 20%.
  • Drink coffee – The caffeine in coffee is a stimulant and slightly raises your metabolism.
  • Eat more protein. – Proteins take more energy to burn than fats or carbohydrates, which extends the amount of time you spend metabolizing your food between meals. Plus, protein is essential for promoting muscle growth, which also burns more calories.
  • Be younger – Metabolism slows with age, so the best way to speed up your metabolism is to grown younger. Oh yeah, that’s impossible. I guess you’ll have to stick to eating right and working out, then.

OR WILL YOU?!??!?

Burning Calories Through Inactivity

Did you know that you burn calories all the time? Right now reading this is burning more calories than you’d burn if you were sleeping or just sitting still on the sofa. This is sometimes referred to as NEAT – non-exercise activity thermogenesis. This is the activity that you wouldn’t consider activity – fidgeting, shivering, pacing, talking – all of these things burn a small amount of calories.

No one is going to suggest that you replace your daily 30 minute workout with fidgeting on the sofa, but by keeping in mind that just about everything you do with your body burns calories you can make a game of it by trying to burn as many calories as you can per day.

The following figures are based on the Compendium of Physical Activity, a reference that assigns a MET value (defined as the ratio of activity to a standard resting metabolic rate) to various activities based on their intensity. Sitting still is the baseline of 1.0 METs per hour. The METs are considered an average over time, which is why gardening is higher than surfing – surfing may be higher intensity for brief intervals, but constant gardening beats out waiting for that perfect wave to come.

I’d argue that sexual activity is rated far too low in terms of physical intensity, but then I’d be bragging.

Calories burned per hour
per pound of weight.
Activity Calories
Men Women
Sleeping 9.9 9.0
Sitting Still 11 10
Standing 13.2 12
Sex (moderate intensity) 14.3 13
Sitting (Reading or Typing) 16.5 15
Showering, Toweling-Off
(while standing)
22 20
Cooking (while standing) 22 20
Washing Dishes 25.3 23
Walking (light stroll) 27.5 25
Surfing 33 30
Walking (3mph) 44 40
Gardening 56 50
Moving Furniture 66 60
Bicycling 88 80

None of these things are generally considered “exercise” (except maybe bicycling, which I included because it’s not work if it’s fun, right?) yet all of these activities burn some calories. Cooking burns more calories than sitting. Reading burns slightly more calories than watching TV (I wonder if that’s because of the page turns). Walking tends to burn more calories the faster you walk, but the interesting part about walking/jogging/running is that you burn the same calories over the same distance no matter your intensity. So running one mile burns the same number of calories as slowly walking that same mile (although running will burn them faster).

So get out there and burn some calories. Or just sit here in front of your screen and burn slightly fewer calories.

Science. It works, bitches.


  1. If you’re reading a book or article about nutrition and the author refers to the “energy” in a food in some vague new-agey bullshit sense, like “carrots contain so much positive energy,” that book is garbage and should be thrown away, composted, or burned for heat. The only true “energy” in food is measurable in Calories. Also beware anyone who claims to be a “wellness expert” as that generally translates to “totally and completely full of shit.”  ↩

  2. Butter has only 7 calories per gram instead of 9 because it contains about 25% water and other solids. European butters contain only 20% water so are slightly more caloric (but creamier and more delicious).  ↩

  3. Of the 20–35% of fats, only 0.6–1.2% should be polyunsaturated, and there is no safe recommended amount of saturated or trans-fats.  ↩

Milestones Ahoy! Under 300 Pounds!

In the past three month’s I’ve reached three major milestones in quick succession:

  • Under 40 BMI (change in classification)
  • Halfway Point (315.5 pounds)
  • Under 300 Pounds

How Morbid

40 BMI is the threshold for moving from “morbidly obese” to simply “obese.” Granted, it’s not much to brag about, but it’s my first major step down the BMI scale (the next is from obese to merely “overweight,” which I’ll reach at 240 pounds for me).

Since BMI is relative to your height (but oddly, not age or gender) your BMI will be different than mine even at the same weight. Still, even a relative win is a win. I’ve apparently reduced my risks of a great number of diseases and have added a couple of decades onto my life.

While I don’t know much about the Obesity Action Coalition, they have more information about morbid obesity.

I didn't lose the weight eating Gray's Papaya dogs, but every once in a while...

Halfway

Since I’ve had to lose so much weight, the halfway point for me was when I lost 135.5 pounds, at 315.5 pounds. By any measure, losing more than 135 pounds is a lot of weight – more than many entire humans!

300

Hail Sparta!

Getting below 300 pounds was a major mental milestone for me. Seeing that number change doesn’t mean that much in terms of how I look or feel, but seeing the first number on the scale change was major, especially since I’m not sure I’ll need to see it change again (I’m still not really sure what my “ideal weight” should be but I figure I’ll know it when I get there and keep re-evaluating as I go).

Since I’m still considering my True Weight to be a two-week average. I just got below 300 (on average) today even though I first weighed-in below 300 pounds (299.8 to be exact) on April 25th, 2010 (two weeks ago).

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Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. I'm just some guy who lost a lot of weight and studied up on nutrition, diet, and exercise in order to improve my personal fitness. The contents of this site in no way contains medical advice. You should visit your doctor before making any dramatic changes to your diet or activity. While I make every attempt to be as accurate as possible regarding current knowledge and scientific studies (please feel free to let me know when I'm wrong about something), and may from time to time post updates to correct inaccuracies in previous entries, the information on this site is provided "as-is" for entertainment purposes only. Don't do something stupid and then sue me. I'm just trying to help. Thanks.