I joined the National Weight Control Registry, a research effort focused on people who have lost 30 or more pounds and kept it off for a year or more.
In 2007, a subset of this group was invited to participate in the Living Lean in a Toxic Environment (LITE) program. This study, undertaken by Dr. Rena Wing, professor of psychiatry and human behavior in the Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center at Brown University, compares the behavior of normal-weight people with the behavior of weight-loss subjects like me.
As part of the test, I wore an accelerator, a sophisticated recording device that keeps track of all body movement. For seven days, I wore the equipment every waking hour.
Every other day, I was interviewed by a nutritionist who went over each morsel that passed through my lips. I was provided detailed instructions that included pictures, measurements and diagrams of food portions in various sizes, shapes and brands. These pictures could be compared against actual food to ensure accuracy in reporting.
The week’s results of eating and movement were then analyzed and charted out for my review.
Guess what I learned?
Or rather guess what I confirmed? After months of trying to avoid regaining the weight I’ve lost, the results simply validated my own observations.
Anyone who knows me will confirm I’m a high-energy person. Except when I'm writing or sewing, I don't sit still. I perform an hour’s worth of stretching, weight training and aerobic exercises daily, and I regularly play tennis. During the testing week, for example, I logged over 15 hours of tennis.
With all this exercise, wouldn’t you think I could eat anything I want without gaining? Wrong.
The study confirmed what I knew. Despite an intensive exercise program, if I eat over 1,600 calories a day, I gain weight. On days when I exercise lightly, I need to limit the calories to between 1,300 and 1,400. If I stick with this formula, I can maintain my weight between 125 and 130 pounds and my body mass index at 23both normal for my height of 5 feet 2 inches.
Based on the study, I use 110 calories an hour while engaged in low-intensity activities like stretching, light office work or driving a car, and I use far fewer when I’m sedentary. When I play doubles tennis, my calorie expenditure jumps to 135 an houranother 25 calories. So four hours of doubles tennis burns around 200 caloriesthe equivalent of a couple of cookies. Big deal, right?
Staying within 1,600 calories requires careful eating400 calories each for breakfast and lunch, 100 for a snack, 500 for dinner, and perhaps 100 before retiring. Admittedly 1,600 calories is plenty if I stick with the basics: fresh fruits, lots of salads and vegetables and lean protein, plus modest amounts of grains and dairy products. But this meal plan doesn’t permit a whole lot of exceptions, such as a glass of wine, a slice of pizza or a second helping. These treats must be reserved for special occasions.
Many years ago, I remember my physician telling me I needed to lose weight. I responded with exercise. Because I exercised more, I ate more and ended up gaining weight! When I complained to my doctor, he told me the obvious truththere weren’t enough hours in the day to exercise off the 60 pounds I needed to lose. I had to change how much I ate.
Exercise can improve my outlook and quality of sleep, strengthen my bones and immune system, build muscle, improve flexibility and give me an excuse to play with my friends. What it can’t do by itself is make extra pounds disappear.
The only exercise that keeps me from bulking up is putting down my fork and pushing myself away from the table. Because no matter what I tell myself or what I’d like to believe, the body has a mind of its own.