Co-Written by Andrew Arra, RD and Jeff Binek
When most of us set out to lose weight, there’s one metric (besides the number on the scale) that we tend to obsess over — calories. How many we ate, how many we have left to eat, and especially how many we burn. Prioritizing calories isn’t entirely wrong, but it’s also not entirely right. You could spend hours every day racking up burned calories on a cardio machine and never get the weight loss results you want. Why? Because exercise has little to do with how your body sheds extra pounds. Want scientific proof? Watch this video.
This article isn’t suggesting that you go quit the gym. Despite not having direct influence over weight loss, exercise plays an important part. Instead, I want to get you thinking differently about weight loss so that you can set realistic goals, make powerful changes to your weight loss routine, and finally see the results you desire.
3 Ways We Burn Energy (Calories)
Below is a pie chart (ironic, I know) to illustrate how your body uses and “gets rid of” calories each day:
- Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the rate at which your body burns energy while at rest. BMR is your largest energy consumer and accounts for 60-80% of the calories you burn each day.
- Food Digestion refers to the energy you burn to break down food. Digestion accounts for about 10% of the calories you burn each day.
- Physical Activity is the energy you burn during workouts. Physical activity accounts for 10-30% of the calories you burn each day.
As you can see, the real secret to weight loss is your Basal Metabolic Rate. The higher your BMR, the more efficiently your body consumes energy. Consuming energy results in weight loss. Ergo, if you increase your BMR, you will increase your ability to lose weight.
For women, the average BMR range is between 1,200-1,600 calories.
For men, the average BMR range is 1,600-2,000.
You can roughly calculate your BMR ranges by clicking here.
How the heck do you boost your BMR? I’m glad you asked…
Basic Factors That Influence Basal Metabolic Rate
We don’t have much control over our BMR, but we do have some.
Factors We CAN Control
Body composition refers to the elements that make up your body. For example, bone, fat, muscle, and water. Individuals with a high BMR are comprised of more lean muscle than fatty tissue. Why? Because muscle weighs more than fat and requires the body to burn more energy to carry that extra weight.
Regular physical activity helps to replace fat tissue with lean muscle, which will increase your BMR. According to the experts, the most effective way to exercise and build lean muscle is strength training (resistance training or weight training). If you belong to the Friendship Fitness community in Columbus, Ohio — you’re in the right place! If you don’t, you should totally check us out. We have something for every skill and activity level!
Eating too few calories (restricting food/crash dieting) can slow down your BMR. Your body goes into survival mode and attempts to conserve energy. On the flip side, eating too many unhealthy calories will deprive your body of vital nutrients, which can lead to deficiencies that will drastically impact BMR. A poor diet also increases your body’s triglycerides, bad cholesterol, and blood pressure, and can result in metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic Syndrome is a term used to describe a group of health risks, including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, unhealthy cholesterol, and abdominal fat. Collectively, these factors contribute to life-threatening conditions, such as heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and diabetes. Some fast facts about metabolic syndrome:
- 47 million Americans have it (or 1 in 60 people).
- People with metabolic syndrome are prone to accumulating fat tissue and cannot process calories efficiently.
- Metabolic syndrome dramatically lowers BMR.
Factors We CAN’T Control
BMR increases as weight, height, and surface area increases. The larger the person, the higher the potential BMR. This may sound backward since we’re talking about weight loss. But remember, we aren’t talking about body composition, we’re talking about inherent size. It takes more work (and calories) to support a larger body.
Sorry ladies, but physiologically you tend to have a lower BMR than men of the same age. By nature, men and women have different body compositions. Men have larger bodies and tend to have more muscle and lean body mass while women have smaller bodies and tend to have more fat cells.
As we age, our BMR typically starts to slow down. Once again, we have body composition to thank for the decline. The older we get, the more lean muscle we lose. Changes in hormones and physical activity will also contribute to changes in your BMR.
The Full Circle of Weight Loss
Diet and exercise (although seemingly small parts of the pie) play a significant role in increasing BMR and turning your body into a fat-burning machine. As you set out on your weight loss journey, don’t get caught up in calorie counting. Instead, focus on eating a healthy balanced diet that gives your body the right kind of calories. By “healthy and balanced diet” I mean eating more unprocessed whole foods and focusing on your micro- and macro-nutrient levels.
Macronutrients include protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats. You need all three of these to build muscle and energize your body, hence my vehement disapproval of crash dieting or diet fads that eliminate entire food groups (unless you are medically instructed to do so).
Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals like calcium, potassium, Vitamin A and Vitamin C that are vital to maintaining good health. You need specific amounts for the production of enzymes, protein, and other elements created by your body. Without enough micronutrients, deficiencies can slow down your BMR and affect other areas of your health.
Healthy energy will empower you to work out consistently, easily break down and process foods, recover from workouts faster, lose weight and keep the weight off for good! As food and exercise replace fat tissue with lean muscle, your BMR will slowly increase and THIS is when you will really hit your stride. In the Friendship community, we love to use the myfitnesspal app to help us learn how to balance macro and micronutrients (free in the Apple app store). For additional help, our Dublin, Ohio gym location also has in-house dietitians and a nutritional coaching program that will support you every step of the way until you finally get the results you’ve always wanted.
Click here to learn more or schedule a FREE nutrition consultation.
See other popular blog articles: Dietitians vs. Nutritionists: What’s the Difference? and Embracing Change: Pregnant and Post-Pregnancy Fitness