Also you may want to check out this article on why Your FitBit and your Metabolism might not be friends YET and what to do about that.
A couple of months ago, my daughter had a great quarter at school and earned something “special” of her choosing. When she asked for a Fitbit, my wife and I were a bit concerned. While our daughter has a great relationship with food and a healthy body image, our antennas were up. When she explained that she wanted to track her sleep, we breathed a sigh of relief. In all honesty, I didn’t know at the time that the Fitbit even did that. I was no stranger to activity trackers, but frankly, the Fitbit was pretty underwhelming in terms of accuracy and options.
The sleep thing intrigued me, so within days, all three of us had one (the HR Charge, thinking the heart rate monitor would increase accuracy). It uses an optical sensor on your wrist rather than a chest strap. It has some drawbacks, and I’ll get to those. But the reason people use activity trackers isn’t why I recommend them.
Let me be clear — I’m not partial to any one brand of activity tracker, but the Fitbit’s ability to measure heart rate without using a chest strap makes it more user-friendly than most trackers.
Get to it, Paul. How am I doing it wrong?
Working with thousands of clients affords us the opportunity to gather a lot of data and make some general assumptions. For instance, we know that the Fitbit One and Fitbit Flex are typically a couple hundred calories off compared to the Fitbit HR Charge for most people. We’ve also found that, for most people, the Fitbit underestimates calorie burn. That’s probably got you scratching your head, wondering why you can’t lose weight. If you are eating less than the “calories burned” number and still not seeing the results you want (usually weight loss), our observation must be wrong.
Not so fast, and let me explain why.
With Eat To Perform, the idea is to avoid dieting most of the time, then take short periods where performance-focused fat loss becomes the priority. We call this “The Wave Method” – a wave of building followed by a wave of fat loss. The Wave Method isn’t THE way, it’s A way to achieve fat loss. But it does have one component that most diet authors never bring up — the expansion/maintenance component.
Let me give you an example. When I started my last fat loss Wave, I started at 175.9, and ended at 166.8. Here’s where most people get it wrong (and frankly, they get it REALLY wrong). First, they don’t allow for some weight gain. I am already a relatively lean guy, and over the course of 8 weeks I lost 9 pounds and roughly 4% body fat. If you have more fat to use, it’s reasonable to lose slightly more. But here is the key to why what we do is so effective:
WE STOP DIETING AFTER 8 WEEKS.
And when we stop dieting, we reverse out of the diet and allow for a bit of weight gain. It’s realistic to expect to gain a bit of weight back, so in my instance, I’ll establish my top end around 170. For most of our clients, we reverse them out slowly to allow them to adjust better. That wasn’t a concern for me, so within 3 days I jumped back in to full maintenance calories. I am comfortable at 170, so that’s the ceiling I established. It was a guideline, not a rule. So if I went over 170, I typically knew why, and I would just go back to eating normally or tighten up my game for a day or two to get back to 170. Those were the guidelines related to weight.
With regard to my Fitbit, as an experiment I decided to eat the number of calories I burned. The Fitbit is basically trying to estimate your Total Daily Energy Expenditure. And like many of our clients, I found the Fitbit estimate to be on the low side. In fact, over the course of my 30-day experiment, I ate more than I burned and maintained my weight. That’s right, I OVERATE and stayed weight-stable over the course of 30 days.
So, obviously, I was very regimented in the way I ate, right? Nope, I intentionally did this experiment during the summer, when I went to multiple graduation parties, went on vacation for a week, and even got sick at one point. I basically encountered all the things people say cause them to misstep, I just planned them out. I ate very flexibly — while walking around NYC I had a hamburger, fries and a shake.
But that’s not the most interesting part of what I found.
I am like a lot of folks — I think I would like being able to eat flexibly all the time and have treats like donuts and oreos (although that’s probably not exactly what I would choose). So when I started this experiment, the idea was to do all the stuff and eat all the things (i.e., high calorie burn and high calorie intake). And for the first few days I did exactly that with virtually no weight gain at all. I was like, “I’m going to show the world how this is done.” After three days I was exhausted. Eating 4000 calories a day is a lot of work, even with very energy-dense sources. And the amount of stuff (i.e., calorie burn) I had to do was also exhausting. Sure, my sleep was great and recovery was fine. But in the end, it wasn’t a good experiment for one critical reason. It wasn’t realistic for most people. So I settled in at around 2800 calories on most days (that’s calorie burn and calorie intake), and that felt about right.
Now, let me stop you right there. If you have been dieting for the last 20 years and you decide to do what I just described, DON’T. You won’t get the same result without a bit of help. The problem with eating inflexibly for too long is your body adapts to that. FYI — that’s also the reason you are under-eating your Fitbit burn by 700 calories and still not losing weight. The body searches for balance (homeostasis), so if you feed your body an inadequate amount for your activity level, it simply adjusts. That’s why what we teach is so important. You can only dig a hole for so long before you hit a point of resistance. We teach you how to lose fat with the least amount of resistance.
So what’s the point? I probably sound like a broken record, but if you don’t allow the scale to go up on occasion, it won’t go down. Also, even though it might scare you, eating more has a lot of benefits beyond maintaining and building lean mass. You can do more, you sleep better, and, in general, you function better as a human being.
So, should you be eating the number on your Fitbit? I’m going to say yes, you should. This assumes you understand a bit about how things work, and if you don’t, we have a staff of 35 people who can help. But if you aren’t seeing results with your fat loss goals, it’s probably because you have been burning the candle at both ends for too long. That doesn’t mean we can’t help you with fat loss — in fact, that will be the focus of my next article. Stay tuned.
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- Why Dieting IS NOT The Answer by Brad Dieter, PhD - August 29, 2017
- What To Expect When You’re Expecting (Fat Loss) by Mike Millner - May 5, 2017