This week, I’m asking you to complete some homework. Once you’ve done it, you’ll be in a better position to identify the weight-loss strategies (in next week’s post) that might work best for you.

Assignment 1: Don’t do the math.

One of the first questions most people ask when they want to lose weight is, “How many calories should I eat per day?”. Do a quick Google search for “calorie calculator” and you’ll see that everyone from WebMD to has a plug-in formula for calculating how many calories you need based on your age, gender, height, weight, and activity level. But we are all so different and there are so many variables that can’t just be plugged into a formula.

According to Monica Reinagel (board-certified licensed nutritionist and professionally-trained chef, a problem with relying on a calorie calculator to determine your daily intake needs is that different calculators use different formulas that can yield significantly different calorie estimates. So which one is most accurate? Per Ms Reinagel—none of them!

I know, you’re still asking—how many calories should I eat per day? If you really want to get an accurate answer, apparently you have to go to a research lab and hang out for 24-hours in a special chamber (hmm…no thanks), or you can don a lovely mask or hood that measures your actual energy expenditure as you go through your daily activities. That wouldn’t freak anyone out at the bank, now would it?

There’s got to be an easier way, my friends. Here’s my perspective on this, for what it’s worth. Yes, calories matter. Yes, the foundational principal for weight loss really is as basic as “use more calories than you consume”. Losing weight requires creating a calorie deficit. However, we don’t have to be slaves to calorie counting in order to lose weight. I won’t go into the details this week, but in the next couple of posts, we’ll talk more why approaches such as—

  • Restricting intake of refined carbohydrates (unless you are doing an endurance-type workout)
  • Eating adequate protein and tons of veggies (French fries don’t qualify)
  • Eating a whole-foods based diet, and
  • Eating mindfully—

will naturally and healthfully allow you to create a calorie deficit without sacrificing nutrition. This is especially important if you are including SUP or other moderate-to-intense exercise that mandates quality nutrition.

Speaking of exercising for weight loss…..

A word of caution: avoid the trap of exercising more and more to burn calories. This approach can actually sabotage your weight loss efforts and may even tip the scale in the wrong direction. For example, people training for marathons or other endurance events with the idea of shedding weight and body fat often get frustrated because they end up gaining weight and body fat. The bottom line is that exercise revs up the appetite. If we’re not mindful about it, we can over-compensate for exercising by taking in more than we realize. And, exercise makes it super easy to justify eating treats because “we deserve it.”  Of course, exercise can improve our metabolism, body composition, and no doubt aids in creating the calorie deficit needed for weight loss. However, view exercise as an adjunct to healthy food habits and not as the primary approach to weight loss. Exercise for all of the other benefits it offers—better body composition (i.e., more lean mass, less fat), increased metabolism, stronger bones, brighter mental outlook, cardiovascular and respiratory fitness, increased coordination, reduced fall risk, SUP group therapy, FUN…need I go on?

Assignment 2: Consider investing in a heart rate monitor

To avoid falling into the “trap” mentioned above, get a rough estimate of your energy expenditure during exercise. I spent a great deal of time explaining why calorie counting isn’t necessary, but I do feel that it’s good to have an idea of how much energy you’re expending during your workouts. You may think you torched 600 calories during that hour-long paddle, when in reality it may have been closer to 400.

Energy (caloric) expenditure is traditionally measured in a lab and involves calculating the correlation between oxygen consumed and carbon dioxide produced. Heart rate monitors, on the other hand, predict caloric expenditure by using software that estimates maximum oxygen consumption by measuring the length of time between heartbeats. You can get them online or at any sporting goods store, or even at Target or Wal Mart. Prices range from $40 for a decent basic watch to $500 for uber-fancy gadgets with GPS, etc…I just bought a Polar FT4 ( ) for around $65. Although I couldn’t find any specific studies on Polar, it is purportedly one of the most accurate monitors in terms of calorie expenditure. A 2009 study evaluating the accuracy of a Suunto heart rate monitor compared to laboratory testing found that caloric expenditure varied by only 6% to 13%, which is pretty good in my opinion.

Estimates of calories burned during SUP

In writing this post, I became curious about estimates on calorie burn while paddleboarding. I did a little research (see sources for more info), and found that a 165lb person paddling for 1 hour in calm water and light wind burns ROUGHLY the following number of calories depending on intensity:

  • Leisure paddle (easy, slow-walk pace, low heart rate): 225
  • Increased intensity fitness paddle (increased continuous pace, heart rate up): 500
  • High-intensity, racing paddle (hi-intensity stroke during entire paddle, no slowing, heart rate near full throttle): 850

You know way better than I that the energy used during SUP can vary greatly depending on stroke intensity, stroke form, wind speed, and water conditions. Headwinds and choppy waters will add to the burn. And of course, everyone is different, which is why I recommend the heart rate monitor!

Dear Diary,

I’m working so hard to lose weight, but the scale just seems stuck on the same depressing number. I feel like I’m exercising my butt off, but my butt seems to be the same size. I just don’t get it…

Assignment 3: Buy an easily portable notebook. The old-school paper kind.

May I suggest keeping a food diary for 5 days? This is a great way to really get a handle not only on what and how much you’re eating, but also where, when, and why you are eating. You may be surprised at what you uncover, and I’m betting that you’ll identify some strategies for busting through that weight loss plateau. I recommend that your 5 days include a weekend, as many of us may have completely different eating patterns on Saturday and Sunday compared to Monday through Friday. So, in your notebook, record the following after meals and snacks:

  • Type of food—don’t forget beverages and condiments!
  • Portion size (estimate)
  • Time of day
  • Your eating environment—cramming in the car while running errands? Mindlessly munching not-so-great popcorn at the movies? While meeting a deadline at your work desk? Or are you savoring your meal or snack in a nice quiet spot or with family and friends?
  • Why are you eating—are you hungry? Bored? Depressed? Stressed out? Celebrating? Are you eating for comfort? Many of us—me included—are emotional eaters. I eat when I’m anxious or procrastinating or when I need to “numb out” from life’s stresses. Even though we may not want to go there, it’s important to be honest with ourselves and recognize possible emotional eating patterns. They can totally sabotage your weight loss efforts. Instead of food, identify other ways to address the emotions you are feeling.
  • How you feel after eating: Satisfied? Guilty? Lethargic? Energized? Bloated? You get the idea.
  • What types of physical activities did you do today?

I recognize that this is a lot to ask, but you can do anything for five days. This inventory will likely be worth far more to you than a professional simply telling you what to eat and what not to eat without knowing how you operate day-to-day. By keeping a food diary, you’ll discover what changes in eating patterns will help you lose weight and keep it off for the long haul.

Assignment 4: Look beyond the number and focus on the end benefit.

Okay, so you want to lose 20 lbs (or 5 or 15 or 100 or insert number here ____). Great. But WHY do you want to lose it? I feel like we often get so caught up in that magical number we want to achieve that we lose sight of WHY we want to do it.

What is your motivation? What will achieving the weight loss bring to you? Maybe your motivation is the improvement in joint pain once they have a lighter load to bear. Maybe it’s that you’re on the brink of a type 2 diabetes diagnosis and weight loss and lifestyle changes will nip it in the bud. Maybe it’s the reduction in blood pressure or cholesterol meds that often comes with weight loss. Or maybe it’s being able to wear a favorite dress at an upcoming event. Or being able to physically keep up with your kids or grandkids. It’s important to hone in on why losing this weight is important to you. The chances of achieving personal goals—whether it’s weight loss or something else—are much greater when we keep our focus on the end benefit.  Take the time to write down your “vision”—your motivation behind losing weight. Keep it close to you and read it often. You may ultimately find that you reach your end benefit before you actually hit that magic number, which may not have been the best number for you after all.

Until then: Do your homework!

Next up: We’ll talk weight loss strategies & tactics

Tunes from D.J. BombBiscuit

This week, I’m in an ‘80’s British rock mood, so my recommended get-your-sweat-on tune is “Fascination Street” by The Cure.

Sources used / further reading:

1.      B Bushman, PhD, FACSM: “Factors that influence daily calorie needs”.

2.      M Reinagel, MS, LD/N: “How many calories do I need?”

3.      Montgomery PG, et al. Validation of heart rate monitor-based predictions of oxygen uptake  and energy expenditure. J Strength Cond Res 2009;23:1489-95.


Part 1 of StrongRabbit’s weight-loss series


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