Jewish World Review March 26, 2003 / 23 Adar II, 5763

SLIM CHANCES: Losing weight more quickly: How to develop muscle, not flab

By Bev Bennett | If you're on a "starvation diet'' but find you can't take weight off or keep it off, your strict regimen may actually be the cause.

Your body needs to burn a certain number of calories a day just to function. That's called your basal metabolism. When you go on a "crash diet'' and stop eating, you're sending your body the message that it must burn fewer calories so you won't wither away. You eat less, and your metabolism slows so your body needs less food for fuel, and and you have a hard time losing the weight. Sounds like a nasty Catch-22.

But if you combine exercise with a more moderate caloric reduction and small, frequent meals, you'll increase your metabolism, say health professionals. In fact, exercising and eating enough healthful foods to have the energy to exercise may be the most important things you can do to lose weight.

"Exercise is a critical component in helping people lose weight and keep it off,'' says Cedric Bryant, Ph.D., chief exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise.

Research shows that of all your habits -- eating, watching television -- being physically active is the best predictor of whether you can maintain a healthy weight, Bryant says.

Exercise is essential to building and maintaining lean body muscle. The more muscle you have, the higher your basal metabolic rate (BMR), the measure of the minimum energy it takes to keep a resting, awake body alive. No one has exact figures on how many more calories a well-toned body burns, but everyone agrees that muscle takes more calories to sustain than flab does.

You can choose to exercise for longer periods of time or with more intensity to build muscle. There's no one best exercise, according to Jason Conviser, Ph.D., vice president of clinical services for Bally Total Fitness.

"Your body doesn't have a recorder of what you do. Your body doesn't say swimming is better than a stationary bike,'' Conviser says. Your preference will depend on the time you can allot and your fitness. As a rough example, you can walk for two hours a day or go through a spinning class at a gym for half the time.

"If you exercise at a more challenging level, you don't have to exercise as long to get fit,'' says Bryant. "The corollary is that the more fit you are, the better you can tolerate high-intensity exercise.''

Along with exercising, cut your calories by only 500-600 a day, instead of by 1,000, and eat five or six "mini-meals.''

Starving your body will ruin your weight-loss goals. "You're not going to lose weight on an 800-calorie-a-day diet,'' says Conviser. "The body slows down too much.''

Your efforts will boomerang when you try to resume a normal eating pattern, they warn, and you'll gain back weight because your body is used to processing less food.

Snacking doesn't have that effect. "When the body `sees' that calories are going to be consumed in frequent meals, it doesn't slow the metabolism down,'' says Conviser.

Here's a metabolism primer:

Researchers use BMR, or resting metabolic rate (RMR), to determine how many calories a day you can or should eat to avoid gaining weight.

You can determine your metabolic rate in one of two ways: by using a mathematical formula for an estimate or having a test done by machine.

Here's how Bryant suggests you calculate your metabolic rate:

For men, take your weight in pounds and multiply b y 11 calories per pound to get the energy you burn in a 24-hour period. If you weigh 200 pounds, you need 2,200 calories a day to function.

If you're moderately active, multiply this by 1.4. The result is that you can eat 3,080 calories a day, as long as you don't overexaggerate your physical activities.

For women, multiply your weight by 9 or 10, (use the larger number if you're more muscular), then multiply by 1.4.

Mechanical tests measure the oxygen in air you exhale. The exhaled oxygen is a measure of metabolism. But if you just want to know how much muscle you have, stand in front of a mirror and flex.

Here are five mini-meals for a day's worth of food for a woman on a weight-loss diet. The meals add up to 1,500-1,600 calories. Serve these at home, or pack for work.

BREAKFAST: 1 cup high-fiber cereal with fewer than 150 calories; 1/2 cup fat-free milk; 1 orange

MIDMORNING: 1 (6-ounce) carton fat-free plain or vanilla yogurt; 4 whole wheat crackers

NOON: 2 slices turkey breast meat, 1 slice Romaine lettuce and 1 tomato, sliced, on 1 whole-wheat tortilla (spread the tortilla with mustard or a mixture of half mustard and half reduced-fat mayonnaise); 1 apple; 1 cup tea with lemon

MIDAFTERNOON: 10 walnut halves

EVENING: 1 cup vegetable soup; 1 cup cooked shrimp in a stir-fry with 1 red bell pepper and 1 cup broccoli over 1/2 cup rice

LATE-NIGHT SNACK: 1 small banana sliced into 3/4 cup high-fiber, low-calorie cereal plus 1/2 cup fat-free milk

Bev Bennett is co-author of "The Dictionary of Healthful Food Terms.'' Comment by clicking here.


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