Reproduced from OnHealth.com archives
Chat With Experts,
January 14/00 ~ Body Fat
Guest Expert: Ron Brown
Welcome to OnHealth Chat With Experts. Let's get started. Our guest is Ron
Brown, the author of The Body Fat Guide: The Easy
Way to Analyze YourBody Composition and Energy Balance. Certified as a
personal fitness trainer with the National Academy of Sports Medicine, Brown is
also a registered massage therapist, and has operated his own Massage Therapy
and Fitness Training Clinic Today he's here to bust dieting myths and answer
your questions about what works and what doesn't in your quest to lose weight
and get in shape. Here's our first question:
There are as many diet plans and products out there as there are dieters.
What, in your opinion, really works and is healthy?
The only thing that really works for permanent weight control is properly
modifying your energy balance. All of these diets you mentioned are great for
temporary weight control. There are 1001 ways you can eat fewer calories than
you burn off. And that results in temporary weight loss. But, to keep the weight
off, the amount of calories you eat has to EXACTLY equal the calories you burn
off. And that's something a diet doesn't teach you. And since you don't learn
those skills from a diet, 95% of dieters regain their weight. So really a diet
is the last thing you need. You might need to go on a temporary diet to reduce
your body fat. But, eventually, to keep the weight off, the amount of calories
you eat and burn must be properly balanced. My book, "The
Body Fat Guide," is subtitled The Easy Way to Analyze Your Body
Fat Composition and Energy Balance. It's the only book I know of that
teaches you that. I wrote the book for my fitness clients when they kept on
regaining their weight.
On the other hand, what is the best example of modern day weigh-loss snake oil?
Well, one of the most popular ones which is back in vogue is the
high-protein diet. Protein doesn't provide energy to the diet very effectively,
so when you eat an unbalanced diet that replaces other nutrients with protein,
you have a hard time getting enough energy. So, you lose weight. But, like all
unbalanced diets, you can't stick to it very long. So, you revert to your old
ways, and the weight comes back .The program that I suggest shows you how to eat
a balanced diet to properly suit your energy needs. But, how do you know how
much that is? That's why I teach people how to follow their energy balance
numbers. The numbers take the guesswork out of how much you need to eat to
maintain your weight, lose weight, or even gain healthy weight. Getting back to
the high protein diet:
There is an interesting biological fact that, in my mind, settles the
question of how much protein we really need to eat, and that's the fact that
human breast milk is only 10% protein by calories. In other words, an infant,
whose protein needs are much higher than at any other time of human life, will
double its weight in six months on a diet of10% protein. Therefore, how can an
adult who is not building muscle at the same rate require more than 10%?In fact
our actual adult needs for maintenance are about 5%. But 10% is usually
recommended as a safety factor. Nevertheless, 30% protein and above has health
risks, and also is not a substitute for learning the weight management skills to
permanently control your weight.
Question from Olive Oyle: Can you explain what BMI numbers REALLY mean?
Sure. BMI is a way to classify your weight according to your height. A
certain range of numbers is considered a healthy range.
But, I believe BMI has limited value. It doesn't take your body composition
into consideration. In other words, how much of your weight is fat and how much
is muscle? Two people may weigh the same and have entirely different body
For example, an athlete might be overweight by BMI standards, and yet have
less body fat than someone considered normal on those charts. Similarly, a model
might be underweight by BMI, but, have more muscle than a woman who is normal by
those standards. So BMI has value, but it must be combined with body composition
analysis, specifically body fat percentages, to be of real value. This is
exactly what my book does. I combine BMI charts with body fat percentages so you
get a much better idea of your ideal body weight, and the steps necessary to
Is there a 'holy grail' of body fat percentage for everyone, or does it vary
according to gender, body shape, etc?
In general, body fat percentages (BFP) are estimates. In my opinion their
real value is to provide you with a point of reference as you modify your
lifestyle. They shouldn't be taken on face value. If one person is 11% BF and
someone else is 13%, it doesn't mean they're a better person. It's just a
measuring tool. That said, a lot of scientists consider 15% BF to be a healthy
high-end for a male, and 22% for a female. Incidentally, there are many methods
to analyze your body composition, for example, bioelectric impedance, underwater
weighing, skin-fold calipers, etc.
My book provides body composition tables that make it simple to quickly
look up your body composition, thereby eliminating the need for all these other
devices. As long as you know your weight and your waist size, you can quickly
find the page that gives you all your body composition information: for example,
your body fat percentage, pounds of fat, pounds of lean body mass, and also,
your resting metabolic rate (RMR). This is a very useful number because it tells
you how many calories your body burns at rest. The more lean body mass you have,
the higher the RMR. That's why when people get older and lose muscle, their
metabolism drops. But, it doesn't have to be that way if you maintain or
increase your lean body mass.
Question from AtlTennis: Are those (body fat) standards strict, or can they
vary as one gets older?
Very interesting. Age is not really a determining factor. Bear in mind the
estimates are still approximate. However, just because you're getting older
doesn't mean the numbers should change by all that much. Although I admit, the
fact is, statistically, the numbers do change. But, I believe that's because
people simply lack the knowledge to modify their energy balance and maintain
their lean body mass.
You mentioned health risks for people who use the protein diets. It sure seems
like eating that much red meat and so few grains would be a recipe for problems
down the road. Can you give any specifics?
I can't speak as a physician, but a recent report by the National Institutes
of Health regarding calcium requirements indicates that excess protein causes
excretion of calcium. And plays a role in osteoporosis. There are also kidney
and liver problems associated with high-protein intake. The fact is, I don't
mean to just be picking on high-protein diets. ANY unbalanced diet, including
low-fat diets, will not substitute for proper weight-management skills.
You may employ those diets if you wish, but sooner or later you need to
learn how to maintain your weight on a normal balanced diet. The question really
is: How much should you eat? And how much you should exercise?
It's not how much you eat and exercise, individually, that really matters.
It's how they balance each other out. For example, some people diet very
strictly and have minimal weight loss, while other people hardly diet and lose
weight quite easily. Also, some people exercise very hard and experience minimal
weight loss; others hardly exercise at all and have no trouble losing weight. It
doesn't look logical, but when you scratch below the surface, you realize that
it's the balance between calories eaten and calories burned that determines
their results. That's why I believe that telling people to "Eat less and
exercise more" doesn't always work. They wind up tired and hungry, and
undoing all of their progress. Remember, exercise is a double-edged sword for
weight loss. Although it burns extra calories, in the long run it increases your
hunger. So, if you simply eat back all those calories, you've gotten nowhere.
The problem here is that people try to manage their weight by feel. If you could
do it by feel, you never would have gained the weight in the first place. The
solution is to follow the numbers, in other words, your calorie intake balanced
with your calorie expenditures. That allows you to get the proper balance.
Eventually this becomes a habit. Then you don't need the numbers anymore. But,
until you use the numbers, studies show that people are very poor at guessing
their calorie intake and expenditures.
Question from Elizabeth: I have a thyroid problem. Can you tell me a good
diet? I can't seem to lose weight
Some people might have a slower metabolism for medical reasons. However
there is still a proper amount of diet and exercise to fit their needs. You need
to use the same tools as everyone else to determine that balance. But, before
you give up, and blame it on your slow metabolism or your thyroid, first SHOW ME
THE NUMBERS! In other words, besides just crunching your abs, you must also
crunch your energy balance numbers. There's really no special diet. All you need
is a normal balanced diet in the proper amount. The energy balance numbers will
tell you what amount that is.
Question from Chris: My uncle told me if I put a tsp. of vinegar in 8oz. of
water and drink it twice a day that I could lose weight quickly. Is this true?
I don't know. But, if I tried it, I might get sick to my stomach and eat
less, and lose weight. So, maybe it works. But, how do I keep the weight off?
Are you going to drink vinegar for the rest of your life? See, the problem with
dietary supplements, drugs, restricted foods and unbalanced diets is that the
weight always comes back when you come off of these things.
Question from jbsqmlb: I have a breathing problem which requires me to take
prednisone. I have since gained a lot of weight, mostly around the middle, and
can't seem to lose any of it. I there a secret to dealing with the prednisone
and still lose weight?
Again, that's a medical question -- I think you should ask your doctor.
However, even if it stimulates your appetite, well, there are lots of things
that stimulate your appetite, but, that doesn't justify eating more than your
energy needs. How many calories are you burning every day? Until you know that,
you won't be able to figure out how many calories to eat, regardless of your
How do we make sure we don't cross the line between paying attention to our body
and our weight, and obsessing on it in an unhealthy way?
I love that question. I get asked that a lot. As a matter of fact, that is a
common question, because, I believe, so many people are in calorie denial. It
seems to go one way or the other. Eiither we obsess or we deny the problem. I
advocate the middle ground: Responsible awareness.
Obsession, I define as needless worry. When you don't understand how what
you eat affects your weight, then you fear food and fat. This forms the basis of
many eating disorders, like anorexia. I think the solution is not to deny
the problem, but to teach people proper weight-management skills. Unfortunately,
when speaking with a director of an eating disorder clinic, I was told that what
they tried to do with their clients was get them to "forget about their
weight." This type of denial might help some in the short run, but it's not
a long-term solution.
Question from AtlTennis: I have a VERY slow resting heart rate, do I need
to get it higher than the average person to benefit from aerobic exercise?
Again, that's a medical question. Your slow heart rate might be due to a
pathological condition, or you may be in excellent shape. I don't have enough
information to advise you.
Is it true that the faster you lose weight the faster you put it back on?
It depends what kind of weight you lose. Generally if you're losing quickly,
you tend to lose more muscle, in the form of water, because muscle is over 70%
water. It's very easy to replace that water and regain that weight. But, if the
weight you lose is body fat, which has a lower percentage of water, then the
rate at which you regain it is simply determined by the rate at which your
calorie intake exceeds your calorie expenditures. The maximum amount of weight
loss I recommend is 2 pounds per week. That may seem like a small amount
compared to losing 10 pounds of muscle, but the changes in your body composition
are dramatically better when the weight you lose is exclusively body fat. To
lose 2 lbs. of body fat per week, you must eat 1000 fewer calories than
you burn off every day. So, by the end of the week, you will be in negative
calorie balance by 7000calories.That equals 2 lbs. of fat.
Question from cardioqueen: I'm starting my training for a marathon in
January, what should I eat during training, and what should I eat on race day?
I'm not a marathon coach. You should probably talk to one. However, you will
need a diet that is balanced with the proper amounts of carbohydrates and fats.
Those are your energy nutrients that will get you through your training. Having
enough energy nutrients will help spare your muscle, so your body doesn't burn
muscle for energy.
I'm not interested in going to a gym, but I know I need to lose a little flab.
Are the good old sit-ups, push-ups and a brisk walk around the neighborhood
enough to shed a few pounds, if I do them every day?
Absolutely. You don't need to be an athlete to manage your weight. You can
get as lean as you want with exercise that is no more intense than walking.That
doesn't mean, however, that a well-rounded exercise program isn't important for
your health. But, strictly from a weight-management point of view, the
lower-intensity activities allow you to go longer and farther, and thus burn off
more fat while sparing muscle. A common problem is that people who exercise to
lose weight at very high-intensity levels burn off a large amount of muscle,
because they are not eating enough to fully replenish that muscle. So, even
though their weight drops, it's largely because of water, carbs, and small
amounts of protein from muscle. Keeping track of your energy balance and body
composition numbers will prove it to you.
That's all the time we have for today's chat. Thanks for joining us, and thanks
to Ron Brown for being here. His book, The Body
Fat Guide: The Easy Way to Analyze Your Body Composition and Energy Balance,
is published by HealthStyle.