The One Where You Find Out Everything is a Lie

January 17, 2015

Just checking in to say things are going along pretty well in resolution land.


I’ve been thinking on the emotional resolutions – in fact, I accidentally talk to a therapist (we’ll talk more about that another time). I was also convinced to have my BMR and BMI checked by a dietician after a casual conversation about how few people actually need 2,000 calories a day.  (My actual words were that I think the “myth of the 2,000 calorie diet on food labels is the most damaging lie told to the American consumer.” Maybe working on dramatic over statements can be a resolution for next year.)

Anyway, the fact is that most Americans have jobs that lead to them sitting at a desk for nearly 8 hours a day, and a lot of us have commutes that leave us sitting in cars, or on trains, for 60 minutes or more a day.  Where exactly are you burning these 2,000 calories?  (Blah, blah, blah, you have read this all before.) Most of us don’t need 2,000 calories… which is why it’s so handy to know your Basal Metabolic Rate.  Your basal metabolic rate will tell you how many calories you need to consume to maintain your weight without working out.  There are a number of online BMR calculators, but there are painless (physically anyway) methods to get a more accurate reading. You should talk to your healthcare provider about this if you’re interested.  Note: If you are working out more, eating less, and still not losing weight you should be interested.

So, the depressing fact is that to lose weight you need to consume fewer calories than you burn (specifically, to lose about a pound a week you need to create a deficit of about 500 calories a day). Science!

You can create that deficit by eating less, working out more, or (ideally) a combination of both.  Here is where I find out that my entire life has been a steaming pile of lies, and explains why the Fitbit wasn’t a good fit for me.

I know that in order to improve my cardio vascular health, and to maximize calorie burn, I need to push myself into the upper range of my heart rate zone.  And I know that with my fitness level (because I am pretty fit, whether my pant size looks like it or not) that to get there I have to work pretty hard. The Fitbit is great for people who need to be honest about getting moving, but walking for an hour at a brisk pace doesn’t even bump me into the low end of my target heart rate zone even if I manage 6,000-7,000 of my 10,000 daily steps.

In fact, since I’ve been working out wearing my heart rate monitor I’ve discovered that to get my heart rate up and maintain it up on the elliptical I need more RPMS, and less resistance.  Even then, at 50-55 RPMs, I’m hanging in the lower end of that target range.  (Going faster than that is difficult for me physically. As in I am not coordinated enough to move my body in that manner any faster.  This could be because I’m short or just because I am a klutz, I’m not sure which.) It’s much, much easier to get my heart rate up, and keep it in the 75-90% of my target running on the treadmill.  In other breaking news: water is wet.  Also, the calorie counters on these pieces of equipment are wrong, which we all knew, but are wrong by about 30% from what I have deduced, which is much more than I thought. (And not wrong in the, “Hey, I can have a cookie!” direction.)

I’m looking at all of this as “Bad News-Good News.” It stinks that I’ve been working with bad data for so long. The good news is that I still managed to lose a lot of weight working with the bad data, and now that I’m at the stage where it’s genuinely harder to lose weight I have good data!

If you’re interested in learning more about target heart rates I recommend going here.

If you’re interested in getting a heart rate monitor Polar makes some great, reasonably priced units. I have this one.

(Which I bought because a friend who uses heart rate to train has the same one and seems to like it, I’ve only used it once and it’s incredibly easy to use and seems accurate.)

I also have this one, but I prefer to only use it outside.  If you’re a runner it’s great, it’s very accurate and really all a novice to mid-level runner needs in a GPS.  I think that iteration has been discontinued (I’ve had it for years and it still works well!), but I’m sure Garmin has a comparable model in a reasonable price range. (I think I only paid $120-$150 when I got it?)

Maybe I’ll talk more about the food situation later, but the biggest piece of advice I have is this: BE PREPARED. I pack all of my lunches for the week on Sunday, that way there are no excuses about “time.”



Also, coming soon: I’ve convinced a bunch of people to go to Zumba, including my husband.  This experiment will probably result in a broken ankle but I’ll also be wearing my heart rate monitor and we’ll talk a little bit about the over promise of fitness instructors… and I’ll let you know how many “Vodka Points” I earned, since I’m considering Zumba to be my bonus Cocktail Workout.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

carly January 17, 2015 at 9:34 am

Woo, I love this post! I have a few comments from my time training this way (the past 4ish months).

1. If you do 5-10 mins of intense cardio at the beginning of your workout, like stair climbing or jump rope, you can then transition into regular steady-state cardio (or weights, or anything else really) and burn more than you would have otherwise. Some people also end their workout this way…I’m not quite that insane (yet).

2. I like lifting weights, so the fitbit/fuelband really sucks for me (and MFP doesn’t “count” that as a calorie-burning activity either). Granted, I’m not in the “cardio zone” when lifting weights, but I’m not in the “ass on couch” zone either, so I should get some credit for those calories, damn it!

3. To keep up my burn while lifting weights, sometimes I’ll sprinkle in 100 jumping jacks or a tabata of jump rope in between sets. This SUCKS, but if you’re in a hurry and want to get some weights in along with cardio, it’s a good compromise.

4. The worst thing about all this is that you can build cardio capacity pretty quickly if you’re trying, which only means it takes that much more effort to burn the same amount of calories doing the same thing next time. But your muscles and joints don’t improve as quickly, so you can’t just keep increasing intensity forever without hurting yourself (which is probably why I always hurt myself running, to the point where I’ve pretty much given up on that).

5. However, you can also lose cardio capacity equally quickly…I’ve noticed that if I take just a few days off, the burn comes a little easier when I return. There has to be some trick there…maybe alternate weeks of high intensity cardio focus with weeks of weight training focus (I could never do NO cardio, but maybe just steady state, mid-target-range cardio with no intervals). I haven’t quite figured this out yet, but there has to be some kind of trick there.

6. That HR target zone chart you linked to is horrifying, the way it plummets as you age. I’m going to try to kill that brain cell with beer tonight…I don’t need that knowledge looming over me.

7. Great post and sorry for spamming your blog with this long ass comment. I have nobody else to talk to about this…even my other friends who wear HRMs don’t seem interested in analyzing the data! #nerdlife

Patti January 22, 2015 at 3:29 am

This is an amazing comment – I m so happy we’re HRM buddies now. I never got a notification that you left it, which is weird!

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