Cut out empty calories to reduce body fat

STAY FIT

Stay Fit

March 17, 2006|By MARY BETH REGAN | MARY BETH REGAN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

I am a 40-year-old female, 5 feet 5 inches tall, 140 pounds, with no medical conditions. While I am within the normal weight range for my age, my body fat is 30 percent. I'd like to reduce my overall weight to about 125 pounds, with 22 percent to 24 percent body fat.

Here is the problem: I can exercise five or six days per week, which includes 60 minutes of cardio at a relatively moderate pace (4.5 mph on the treadmill or 72 to 75 mph on the elliptical), along with upper and lower body training two or three times a week.

I eat good foods. I indulge in chocolate and treats but in moderation (about 300 calories). The results: Very minimal weight loss and not much fat loss. I've been to doctors and had my thyroid checked. I've hired personal trainers.

I assume I need 1,200 to 1,500 calories per day, but burn about 500 in cardio alone. Why is it that I can't get my body weight and fat down? Do I have to quit my job and live at the gym to accomplish this?

I understand your frustration. Yes, it would be nice if we could all quit our jobs and move to the gym. Why, we might even look like those 20-somethings who teach classes in Power Yoga, Spinning and Super Step.

Then, reality sets in.

In your case, though, you may be able to achieve your goals easily without ditching your day job. To confirm my hunches, I consulted Dr. Michele C. Moore, a physician and expert on women's health and holistic medicine.

Moore, who lives in New Hampshire, has written books for Johns Hopkins University Press, including The Only Menopause Guide You'll Need and Pregnancy and Parenting After Thirty-Five.

First, Moore says, you are on the young end of the age range at which doctors begin to see metabolism shifts that come with menopause. So, she says, that's not likely to be a factor.

Instead, Moore is zeroing in on the empty calories you consume during the day. Unfortunately, you will need to cut non-nutritional calories from occasional snacks and chocolate until you hit your desired weight.

Try to keep your calories to about 1,500 daily. "If she can make that small shift, she should be able to achieve her goals," Moore says.

But Moore warns that you need discipline. She suggests writing down what you eat to avoid mindless snacks. Or you could join a group such as Weight Watchers, which encourages you to record every morsel. Plus, you have to step on a scale each week.

As far as your goals, Moore says they sound on target. Most women your age want 22 percent to 26 percent body fat, so your 30 is on the high end. Also, Moore says cardiovascular studies are beginning to show that fat distribution is more important than total percentage of body weight.

"We are back to the apple and pear issue," Moore says. "It appears central body fat is more dangerous than those saddle bags around your hips."

In other words, you should be more concerned about cardiovascular disease if you notice fat around your waist. A good rule of thumb for women: Consult your doctor if your waist grows beyond 35 inches, Moore says.

Finally, consider visiting Sally Edwards' Web site, heartzones.com. Edwards, a professional athlete and master's level record holder for the Ironman Triathlon, is convinced many of us aren't working hard enough at the gym to burn fat or exercise our hearts.

She has developed a manual and program to show you how to find your training heartbeat range, based on your individual resting heartbeat. You might be surprised to find that you aren't working out in your fat-burning range. You may even be pushing yourself too hard. Whatever you do, don't give up. You are only 15 pounds and a few months from looking great in your swimsuit this summer.

Are you a Stay Fit success? If so, share your story. Please send details to fitness@ baltsun.com, or via regular mail to Fitness Q&A, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.

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