It's the latest diet and it really works. It has no unhealthy side effects and you keep the weight off. You don't need to diet or exercise. You need only to take a pill once a day and watch yourself shrink into the body that you always wanted.

How many times have we heard this? How many times are these diet plans followed up with warnings of severe health risks just discovered about the product followed by a total recall. You are left contemplating the hazardous implications for your body, while being bombarded with hungry lawyers who are eager to sue.

Does this sound familiar? We all want the quick and easy fix which will transform our bodies into celebrity bodies, but is it really that easy? What is the real secret behind weight maintenance? Is it really possible? How, exactly, does your body burn calories and how can you increase this rate?

To begin with, your body burns calories all the time. You even burn calories when you sleep. Your body burns calories to keep your heart beating, to keep your digestive system running, and to maintain every other basic function. This type of caloric-burn is called the basal metabolic rate. It can be estimated using the Harris-Benedict Equation:

Men = 66 + (13.7 X wt. kg.) + (1.8 X ht. cm.) - 6.8 X age in years

Women = 655 + (9.6 X wt. kg.) + (1.8 X ht. cm) - 4.7 X age in years

To find kg, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 To find cm, multiply your height in inches by 2.54

This, however, is not an exact calculation of your BMR because many factors can influence your basal metabolic rate. As age increases, the amount of lean body mass a person has decreases and with a decrease in lean body mass, the BMR decreases. This also means that by increasing lean body mass, a person's BMR will increase-a little plug for exercise. As height increases, BMR increases. During specific periods of growth (growth spurts, pregnancy) BMR increases. An increase in temperature, either extreme cold or heat, can also cause an increase of BMR.

We all know people who have very high basal metabolic rates. They are the people who seem to burn 400 calories with each blink of an eye. What if you aren't one of those people? How can you increase your BMR and what does this mean for weight loss. Physical activity is the best way to elevate this basic rate of caloric burn. By doing physical activity, this rate increases by specific factors. For example, by doing very simple activities such as ironing, painting, driving, or cooking, your BMR automatically increases 1.3 times for both men and women.

Here is a chart depicting the factors by which your basal metabolic rate would increase if you performed the following exercise

LevelType of activityFactor
Very lightCooking, driving, ironing, painting, sewing, standing1.3 men1.3 women
LightWalking 3 MPH, electrical trades, sailing, golf, child care, housecleaning1.6 men1.3 women
ModerateWalking 3.5 - 4.0 MPH, weeding, cycling, skiing, tennis, dance1.7 men1.6 women
HeavyManual digging, basketball, climbing, football, soccer2.1 men1.9 women
ExceptionalTraining for professional athletic competition2.4 men2.2 women

Source: Williams, MH Nutrition for Fitness and Sport

Okay, so the BMR calculates how many calories we burn without exercise, and now we know how many we burn with exercise, but how do we actually lose weight? Well, simply put, we need to take in fewer calories than we burn. There are 3500 calories in a pound of fat. This means that to lose a pound of fat over a week, you need to average a deduction from your normal diet of 3500 calories over that week. To gain a pound, you need to do the opposite. If you are one of those lucky people trying to maintain your current weight, you need to use the following formula to figure the amount of calories needed:

Men: kg (body weight) X 24 = kilocalories/day

Women: kg (body weight) X 23 = kilocalories/day

Now you understand the basics behind losing and maintaining weight, but how do you actually put this into practice. Are there healthy ways to cut calories? Yes! Follow typical food guides, such as the Mayo clinic and the USDA food guide pyramids and make fruits, vegetables and grains the largest part of your caloric intake. Eating whole fruits and vegetables is VERY healthy and will help with appetite control. Drink at least 6 glasses of water a day. Water helps with body regulation and helps you feel satisfied during and between meals. Consume most of your protein from beans, nuts, seeds, poultry, etc. Avoid eating too much red meat, which can have unhealthy side effects. Make sure you get enough dairy and try to avoid sweets which are very high in calories and low in nutritional value. By making healthy food selections, you can easily shave off enough of the calories to lose at least a pound a week. You will never hear that this weight loss plan will cause heart disease or any other health hazards. Determine your basal metabolic weight, decide where you want to be and how many calories you need to burn to get there, choose foods and menus to help you get there and go for it!!!

References Basal Metabolic Rate. Discovery Communications, Inc. (2004). Eating Advice. (2004).

Build a Healthy Base. (n.d.). Retrieved on October 15, 2004 from:

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