Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Plateau

A very frustrating place to be. I have been on the plateau for the last month and a half and it finally looks like I found the way down off of it. The definition of hitting a plateau is if you have not lost any weight after 3 weeks, you've hit a plateau. My weight would go up 2 pounds and then down 2 pounds and it was this way for a month, therefore PLATEAU. It was time to hit the internet and figure this out. So I started my research to see how other people figured their way off.

According to Journal of the American Dietetic Association researchers found that weight loss typically halts after 6 months and that stall can last weeks, months, or even longer. Well I had been doing well for 7 months so it looks like I am like the rest of the world. Now the hard part was figuring out what would work.

The first thing I needed to do was try to determine the cause. Could I be eating more calories than I thought? Research shows that most people underreport the number of calories they eat. Well I keep daily track of my calorie intake on my Sparkpeople page. I try to keep it around 2000 calories a day and looking at my charts I do see to stay around that goal. According to my Resting Metabolic Rate or how calories I need to stay at my current weight, I need 2715 calories a day. While I am a little over the recommended 500 to 700 calories a day to lose 2 pounds a week I still should be losing 2 pounds per week.

The science behind weight loss is not a mystery. Since I am a mechanical engineer I go back to the law of thermodynamics which express the symmetry of the world. It’s simple if I am at equilibrium with the energy in (in the form of calories intake) is equal to the energy out (in the form of calories expended) I will not lose weight. Since energy cannot be created or destroyed if I decrease intake (i.e. calories) and increase outputs (i.e. energy) the extra energy need for the output comes from me and hence weight loss.

This works well in mechanical systems but apparently not in biology, no wonder I am not a doctor. This thing called metabolism come into effect with the bodies burning of fuel. Metabolism is the number of calories the body burns and is made up of three components: resting metabolic rate, physical activity and a small amount needed for food digestion. The problem it seems that my body has some defense mechanisms when the gap becomes too wide. It slows the metabolism down to preserve itself and its by my age (metabolism naturally slows about 5% per decade after age 40). Great it appears that my bodies working against me.

Since about two-thirds to three-quarters of the calories I burn every day are accounted for in resting metabolism. So by increasing the body's metabolism would help because the number of calories needed each day would be higher.

Now comes the hard part. I weeded through all of those websites that state how to raise your metabolism through gimmicks, pills, natural herbs and stuff and found out metabolism can only be boosted in two ways: increasing the body's muscle mass and increasing the body's heart rate.

Body muscle mass

Metabolism is somewhat a function of genetics, but it seems I can increase basal metabolism by building muscle. Researchers state that muscle cells are up to eight times more metabolically active than fat cells, and muscle burns more calories than fat.

Body heart rate

A person's heart rate has an impact on metabolism – the higher the heart rate, the more calories burned. Exercise or drugs seem to do this and I am too old to do drugs.

Action Plan

Increasing my bodies muscle mass seems to be the clue. Damn that means exercising. Something that I am not great at, hence the shape I am in. For the last 4 months my knees have been killing me and I have not made an effort to swim. In fact the last two months I have not been able to do much walking. Could this be the problem? I had been seeing my general practice doctor about the problem and he had me on 600 mg of ibuprofen three times a day, which did not help. Then finally I went to the orthopedic surgeon and he shot both knees with cortisone injections and within two days I was walking normally and I went back to swimming.

A amazing thing happened I wandered off the plateau.