“I’ll definitely work out for what I ate later…” This may not be quite as easy as one would believe, even if you really do work out. I speak from experience here.
Today I will write a small article about health and physiology. After all, I assume my reader to have a body and be keenly aware of it. Even though our lives in the body are rather short, we try to make it last a little longer and serve us a little better.
And there’s the small point that for each day you live, life expectancy rises by approximately 5 hours. (That’s in the first world, obviously things are improving faster in the third world.) So, death is approaching, but not by 24 hours a day. The longer you live, the longer your life expectancy. Nifty, huh?
Now, second only to smoking, fat is one of those things people know is Bad For You. There has been so much writing and broadcasting about this, there is hardly anyone in the English-speaking world who does not have a wary eye on their weight, or the weight of others. While some feel it is more important to enjoy life, most people have at least some interest in the issue. So here we go!
In official statistics, is is assumed that a grown man will burn about 2400 calories a day, a woman about 2000. The reason why we men burn more calories is that we are larger and have more muscles. The few remaining people who have hard physical work are not counted in these statistics, I believe, and neither are professional athletes. These are people who lie outside the normal range. Â There is of course some individual variation.
Now that I walk an hour after work,Â I burn 500 calories extra each day (my pulse watch shows 600, but that includes the basic 100 calories I would burn in an hour just by being myself). The smart reader would assume that these calories would be taken from my fat reserves, such as they are. I am not quite overweight, but my normal weight is right on the upper border of the recommended range. Â (“Normal” weight in the literature, not that it is normal to be normal these days, it is normal to be moderately overweight.)
I went on the bathroom scales again. There is no sign of losing any weight after over two weeks of this.
Now, two weeks is not a lot. One pound of fat is approximately 3500 calories, which is roughly what I burn extra in a week. Diets or other techniques for rapid weight loss don’t actually reduce your fat very fast, but instead cause you to lose water, which can be lost and gained much faster. Some foods bind more water in the body than others, so it is possible to “lose weight fast” that way. Sweating a lot without drinking more can also cause you to “lose weight”, but is not good for your health at all!
Even if I burn 500 extra calories a day, I won’t lose weight if I eat 500 more calories too. That could easily happen: A large box of yogurt (half a liter is a common size here) contains about that many calories. So it could easily happen if I am just a little more hungry than usual. With light exercise this is very common, unless you also go on a diet and count calories.
Then there is the small detail that “weight” is not the same as “fat”. If I use my muscles more than usual, they may become larger – this happens especially easily to us men – and muscle mass is actually heavier than fat. So a man who is not overweight could easilyÂ gain weight by exercising! Obviously this requires that one eats that much protein, which muscles are made from. But there is plenty of protein in the western diet, both from plants and animals.
In my case, there is yet another reason why I might not lose weight: I may be actually burning 3000 calories a day already. This is not so relevant for most of my readers, who get a fairly large percentage of their calories from fat. I did too, until I got a chronic illness that strikes if I eat more than a few grams of fat in each meal. So I cannot eat typical fatty foods like cakes, cookies, sauces, chocolate, butter, margarine, mayonnaise and similar bread spreads, or most meat dinners.
In the first months after I dropped eating fatty foods, I lost weight, and quite a bit of it. Â Some of it never came back. But gradually my digestion adjusted so I could eat larger portions of starch and sugary foods, and digest them efficiently. It is entirely possible that I eat 3000 calories a day, I have not sat down and counted them.
You would think that if I actually ate 3000 calories a day, I would have gained weight steadily over the last years. Â But it is not that simple. When you eat both fat and carbs, the body will prefer to burn the carbs (it is faster and easier) but store the fat. Â If you eat very little fat, the body will not be able to store much. Â Carbs cannot be converted to fat easily. It is possible, but unlike some animals, humans really suck at converting sugar to fat. Only a small portion makes it over, almost all of it is lost along the way, and simply becomes waste heat.
(Fructose, which is a common sweetener in the USA, is more readily converted to fat. If I lived in America, I would probably be fatter. But I live in Norway, where fructose is rare. It is mostly found in honey, and I don’t eat much of that.)
So you can see, there are numerous reasons why I may not lose weight even though I burn 500 calories extra on fast walking each day. That is not a tragedy for me, since I am not dangerously fat. And in any case, there are health benefits to being active beyond losing weight. In fact, it is uncertain whether overweight is dangerous at all. Obesity probably is, but moderate overweight may be more a symptom of inactivity rather than a danger in itself. Â Danish statistics show that overweight people who bike regularly (a common combination in Denmark, thanks to the flat terrain and delicious pastries) don’t suffer the metabolic syndrome that plagues overweight car drivers.
In other good news, weight loss from exercise is far more likely if you are already unnaturally fat. Obese people will generally not feel hungrier after moderate exercise than without; in fact, most of them will feel less hungry after light or moderate exercise like walking, biking or swimming. This is because this level of activity stimulates the brain centers that regulate the appetite. Moving about is the normal behavior in humans “in the wild”, so the body works best when we do this, including the brain. Â So if you fall in that category, you should definitely start walking or something like that, but very moderately at first. Don’t suddenly start running without consulting your doctor!
I, however, may have to start running if I want to lose weight. Or I could eat less, I suppose. I have not really decided whether I should do that, though. I just want to maintain the body so I don’t lose it from sheer negligence.