Jessica Irvine reveals how to balance your body budget

EVERYONE knows that to lose weight you have to eat less and move more.The real question is: how much?

Nutritionists can tell you what types of food are good to eat. Fitness experts can suggest different types of exercises to try.

But, for me, it was economics that finally helped me balance my body budget. The federal budget deficit might be blowing out, but I’m determined to get my bottom line into shape.

To do that, we need to answer the question: how much?

We all know we should go to the gym. But how much? Every day? Five times a week? Three? First time exercisers invariably decide to slog it out at the gym every day, only to give up completely when they realise it’s not sustainable.

Been there. Done that.

Similarly, we know we need to eat less. But how much less? Lettuce leaves for breakfast, lunch and tea? Liquid diets? No meals out ever again? Strict diets, not adaptable to our fast-paced and unpredictable lives, are also doomed to fail.

Throughout my 20s, I struggled with my weight. Which is to say, every year it steadily crept up and every year I wondered why.

Now I know. Too many calories in and not enough out. That’s the real bottom line.

In today’s obesegenic world, with calorie dense food freely available and with so many shortcuts available to stop us from actually needing to get up off our arses, controlling weight is a constant battle.

But with so many negative health and economic impacts arising from obesity, it’s a battle we can’t afford to ignore.

So how many calories are we supposed to be eating, and how much exercise do we need to do?

Like so many things, it turns out everyone is different. Different, except for one thing: we all have a number. A number of calories we can consume each day, without doing exercise, that will keep us at our current weight.

Every moment of every day, our bodies are using energy. To pump the heart, work the lungs, grow skin cells, eyelashes and even pimples. The body requires energy and it gets it from food. That is why, after all, we eat.

But how much should we eat?

Again, it depends on many things, including your height, your weight, your age, your sex.

Clever scientists have designed a way to estimate how many calories your body needs a day just to sustain itself even if you slept all day. Go online to to find out your own ‘basal metabolic rate’. For me, it’s about 1550 calories. So even if I stayed in bed all day, I’d need 1550 calories to maintain my weight.

For someone who gets out of bed, but admittedly leads a fairly sedentary life, you can perhaps add another 250 calories a day needed to fuel the body to walk to the bathroom, to the car etc.

So how much should we eat? The answer is we should eat only what we need to sustain us at rest and on the move.

For me, I should be aiming to eat around 1800 a day to sustain my weight. If you are short, skinny, or a woman, you will need less energy than a tall, heavy man.

Makes sense right?

From January 1 this year, I decided to start keeping a track of every calorie I consume using the MyFitnessPal iPhone app. There’s also a website. On average, I have been consuming around 1750 a day – above the target I set myself of 1500 a day. There are days where I’ve stayed at 1500, or gone under. But there have been Saturday nights which tip the daily calorie total well above 3000. A bottle of wine will set you back 550 calories, after all!

But I’m playing an averages game – one blow out in itself won’t derail you. But blow outs every night will. The good, the bad, the alcoholic, it all gets recorded. It’s a great way to keep honest about what you are eating. There’s also a function on the iPhone app where you can search for calorie counts, or even scan barcodes on food for calorie counts.

At the same time, I set myself a target to burn 2000 calories a week in deliberate exercise, including going to the gym or on jogs. I wear a Polar heart rate monitor (they cost around $150) and it tells me how many calories I burn per session. On average, I’ve hit around 1730 a week in exercise calories burned. I didn’t make every session I planned.

But I made most and that’s the important thing. It’s all about averages, you see.

So far, I have dropped 3.3 kilograms in just under 2 months. I’m happy with that. But I’ll need to step it up a little to meet my target of dropping 10 kilograms before the federal budget on May 14.

Most importantly, I feel back in control of my body. If I put on weight, or don’t lose it, I know why. I either ate too much or moved too little.

The body responds very quickly to the incentives you give it.

In the end, there’s no secret to weight loss. And there’s no easy answers.

In fact, it’s all a bit of a hard slog. It’s not always fun to exercise, and I know most days I’d rather watch tv and eat chocolate.

But investments in your health offer some of the best dividends around.

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