It’s January and like so many people after the holidays, I’m looking to drop a few pounds. Between holiday indulgences and my postmenopause metabolism, I currently weigh more than I ever have and I’m just tired of carrying the extra weight. But, I’m not going on a juice cleanse or following a fad diet. Instead, I’m focusing on two things: eating quality, nutritious food and eating slightly fewer calories than I burn each day.
I’ve learned before that I do better on a diet when I lose weight very slowly so I’m shooting for a loss each week of ½ to 1 pound. If I cut 250 calories from the total needed to maintain my current weight and increase my exercise by 250 calories each day, then I should be on track to lose about one pound per week.
But how do I know how many calories I really need to maintain my current weight? There are plenty of online calculators to help calculate your daily caloric needs, but what if the estimate is too high? I could think I’m cutting enough calories to lose weight at a steady pace, only to get on the scale and discover that I haven’t lost any weight (or worse, gained some!). I think we’ve all felt that heartbreak.
Cutting too many calories isn’t quite as tragic, but it does make losing weight harder. If I’m battling hunger, I’m constantly resisting temptation and it’s inevitable that I’ll give in at some point.
And then there’s the menopause effect on my metabolism. I know from my weight gain that my metabolism has slowed down. But how much? My uneducated guess is “a lot” but that’s not really a scientific estimate.
Science to the Rescue
So an estimate of my caloric isn’t good enough for me! I want to know exactly how many calories I personally need. I want an individualized plan.
And guess what? That’s totally possible with a Resting Metabolic Rate Test. In my not statistically valid survey of 10 friends, not one had heard of this test, but they are actually widely available. I took mine at 1st Choice Sports Rehab Center in Atlanta, but you can probably find one in your area with a simple Google search. The cost was around $125 and I felt that was very reasonable considering all the information I got from the test.
My test results were fascinating and revealed an actual problem with my metabolism which would explain why my weight gain has been so extreme over the last few years.
What Happens During a Resting Metabolic Rate Test
A Resting Metabolism Rate Test measures the oxygen you breathe in and the carbon dioxide you breathe out and calculates the calories you burn simply sitting at rest. You can’t eat or exercise prior to your test since those things can temporarily boost your metabolism. You have to wear some type of device to measure your respiration. You can either wear a mask on your face, which must have a very tight seal or you can clip your nose and breathe through a tube in your mouth. Neither way is at all painful or scary. I ended up having to take two tests and used the mask the first time and the clip the second.
Dr. Nick Delfavero performed my test. First, he strapped on a standard heart-rate monitor strap with sticky gel and made sure we were getting a good reading. He commented that my heart rate was low – 51 – and at the time I didn’t think about mentioning anything about that because I was excited about the test. But I have a condition called Bradycardia, which causes my heart rate to frequently be slow. It’s normally not really an indicator of a health problem; according to my doctor, it’s just something we need to keep an eye on. I had a stress test recently to confirm that my heart is ok and I passed it with flying colors.
I noticed during this test it fluctuated between 49 and 53, which is normal for me when my heart is running slow.
Once the heart rate monitor was connected, Dr. DelFavero connected the mask and ensured that the seal on the mask was air-tight. With that done, it was just a matter of sitting and waiting for the results, which can take as little as 10 minutes or as long as 20 minutes. My test took around 20 minutes, perhaps a bit longer. I sat and looked at Facebook and took a few selfies, as one does.
My Test Results – Round One
Finally, it was time for the big reveal. I have always had a pretty high metabolism, but I know it’s slowed down recently so I was expecting to see something in the Normal range or perhaps even be pleasantly surprised and see that I’m still on the high-end. I was shocked when the results of the test showed that my metabolism was about as slow as it can be without going off the scale.
You can see the full results below, but here’s the final number. According to the test, if I eat over 1106 calories per day, I will gain weight. Sigh.
I was distraught and concerned because I thought the test must surely be wrong and was therefore useless to me. The results seemed a bit off to Dr. DelFavero as well so he kindly offered to have me back for a re-test.
My re-test was scheduled for the next week and the appointment time was later in the day. Normally, my heart rate has increased up by that point in the day and when Dr. DelFavero connected the heart-rate monitor, he commented that my heart rate was more in line with normal. If I recall correctly, it was around 58 and hovered around there for most of the test. This time, I also opted for the nose pinch and mouth tube, which was completely comfortable.
The test was over in the blink of an eye – less than 10 minutes. And this time the results were as I would have expected: a total of 1906 calories per day to maintain my current weight. My metabolism was just to the left of Normal.
Interpreting the Test Results
For most people, this test is a simple one and done procedure. Take the test and here is a recommended calorie range just for you. My particular case required a bit more finessing but I still found it useful.
Dr. DelFavero felt that the results from the first test were so low because my heart rate was low at the time of the test. My bradycardia may not be a health problem at this point, but perhaps it is affecting my metabolism and exacerbating the normal post-menopause weight gain.
On my first test, the recommended calorie range for weight loss is 778-1000 calories per day. Oh, hell no to that. I know myself well enough to know that after 3 days in this calorie range, I’d find myself in the pantry eating peanut butter straight from the jar.
The recommendation from my second test is to keep calories to keep calories between 1000-1300 for weight loss. That’s more doable, but still a bit depressing when I think about how I lost weight after my second baby by strictly keeping my calories under 1500 and thought I was in hell the whole time. However, these numbers reflect the new reality of my metabolism.
So what to do?
For now, my plan is to keep calories around 1300/day and to work on burning an extra 250 calories through exercise and increasing my general activity. I’ll need simply accept that my weight loss will probably be very slow but the resting metabolism rate test helped me understand this before I start. This calorie level seems doable but if I find that it’s too low then I’ll bump up a bit and just live with the reality that my weight loss may be slow and that I’ll probably never be the 125-pound waif I used to be. And that’s fine. We need a little extra weight as we age to fill out our faces, right?
I found the resting metabolism rate test to be really useful in coming up with my plan for losing some of the extra weight I’ve gained. I’ll check in periodically via the Midlife Rambler Facebook page and update everyone on my progress.
What strategies have worked for you in managing your weight as you age? I’d love to find out; let me know in the comments!