I’ve lost ten pounds since the beginning of the year and I’ve walked 20,000 steps every day. Be careful of the conclusion you may draw from those two facts.
I’m not someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about my weight. I was a skinny kid who hated being a skinny kid. The adults in my life kept telling me how much I would appreciate my body type when I got older. Actually, I don’t think they used the phrase “body type,” but that’s what they meant.
For the most part they were right.
Even though my body type is not prone to gaining a lot of weight, I still gain weight. It’s called skinny fat and it is unhealthy and, honestly, not very attractive. Almost all of my extra pounds go to my mid-section instead of spreading out.
This wasn’t much of an issue until I reached my 40’s. There was a gradual weight creep until I couldn’t ignore it any longer. I didn’t like the way things were trending and I also didn’t like how it was making me feel. That’s when I started running. I probably knocked most of the extra weight off in a few months.
Since then I transitioned from running to walking and my weight has vacillated within a range of 15 pounds. It reached the top of that range earlier this year. I wasn’t concerned because I thought the added weight was muscle.
THE WEIGHT MATH
According to medical research the average person needs to burn 3,500 calories to lose one pound. In other words, if you want to lose a pound a week you have to create a 3,500 calorie deficit each week either by decreasing the amount of calories you eat, increasing your physical activity to burn that many calories, or a combination of the two.
Of course, the human body is far more complex than a single one-size-fits-all formula. There are lots of factors that keep most of us from being that “average person.” And, even if you were that person, the human body has a sneaky way of changing the rules without letting you know in advance. I think weight loss experts call that a “plateau” during a weight loss journey.
But, the question on the table is, “Can I lose weight by walking?”
Research indicates the “average person” burns about 100 calories walking one mile. So, if the “average person” needs to walk about 35 extra miles each week to lose one pound. That assumes that this “average person” also doesn’t start eating more food because of all this extra walking.
In case you’re wondering 35 miles a week is about 10,000 extra steps a day.
There are stories of people who have lost weight with walking as their primary, or only, form of exercise. One of my favorites is Jessica Slaughter. She made national news after losing 120 pounds walking 3,000 steps every day in her apartment. To be clear, those 3,000 steps weren’t the only steps she walked every day. That was her exercise walking back and forth in her little apartment. She didn’t stop until she reached 3,000.
Michael Watson also made headlines by losing 115 pounds walking to school every day. Each way took about 20 minutes, so I’m guessing his round trip walk needed about 4,000 steps.
Jessica and Micheal are not outliers. Recently in the Facebook Group, Fitbit Friends, a bunch of people told their weight loss stories.
Kevin lost 165 pounds in one year. He says he started with 2,500 steps a day and gradually increased to where he is now at 15,000 steps every day. Daniel lost 140 pounds in 74 weeks averaging 20,000 steps every weekday and 35,000 on the weekends. Jan says she lost 30 pounds in three months walking an extra 12 miles a week. And, I lost 10 pounds in three months walking 20,000 steps a day.
It would be easy to draw the conclusion that all we did was walk a lot and watch the pounds drop off. It would also be the wrong conclusion.
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED
Fitness isn’t just about exercise. To be as fit and healthy as I can be I also need to eat right, hydrate properly, and sleep well. I do pretty good with the exercise and hydration. I’m getting better with sleep, but eating right has been my biggest struggle.
Because I don’t struggle with weight as much as others, I have always felt the “freedom” to eat whatever I want. Since I don’t overeat, this hasn’t felt like a problem. But, I’m learning that it actually is. And, so very slowly I’ve been making nutrition adjustments that I can maintain.
After the holidays I changed one of my breakfast items and my entire lunch.
I stagger my breakfast over several hours. It includes Greek Yogurt and a couple protein bars. But, the best part of my breakfast is the first thing I eat…four slices of peanut butter toast with lots of butter on seeded Italian bread.
Even though I really enjoyed that toast, I’ve long realized it’s probably not the healthiest way to start my day, so I made an adjustment on January 2. I switched to three slices of toasted whole grain bread topped with almond butter. Surprisingly, it’s pretty good and I’ve not been tempted to go back. That’s a big win!
Lunch was more challenging. I love chicken deli meat with a couple slices of Swiss cheese with mayo on rye bread. The best part was the large pile of UTZ regular potato chips on the side. Yep. You don’t even need to say it.
Now, my lunch is a hard boiled egg, almonds, and a bunch of blueberries or strawberries. Thankfully, I really like all three of these. I just never thought about combining them for a meal.
I wasn’t trying to lose weight when I made these changes. I was just trying to get healthier. My recent annual physical indicates it’s working and I like that my pants are fitting better too.
WHAT ABOUT THE OTHERS?
I wonder how many people saw Jessica Slaughter’s story and thought how easy it would be to walk 3,000 steps a day to lose a lot of weight? But, that’s not all Jessica did. She also made significant changes to her eating. In fact, Jessica eventually became a vegan. She still walks 3,000 steps a day for exercise and is healthier than she’s ever been.
Michael, Kevin, Daniel, and Jan also made changes to their diet. I don’t know the details, but I do know that walking wasn’t the only thing they did to lose weight.
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
The “average person” can lose about a pound a week by walking an extra 10,000 steps a day. That’s a lot of walking for one pound. But, over the course of a year that’s 52 pounds.
I’m not a doctor, nor a weight loss expert. But, I do know what’s worked for me and others. And, there’s nothing surprising here. Eating better, getting at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week, drinking enough water, and getting enough sleep are the ingredients to healthier living.
If your fitness goals include losing weight I would not suggest adding an extra 10,000 steps day all at once. Far better to set a modest Fitbit goal and gradually increase from there.
The 30 Day Fitness Challenge is designed to help you establish a new fitness habit by starting small. This free guide will walk you through how to get started. It’s very easy.
If you’re rediscovering the joys and benefits of walking I’ve also put together this free guide to 37 Ways to Add 1,000 Steps. This will help you find new ways to increase how much you’re walking in ways you might not have considered.
If you don’t have a Fitbit I recommend the Fitbit Inspire HR. This is the Fitbit I use to track my 20,000 steps a day. The Inspire HR also tracks your heart rate and sleep so you get an even wider picture of your fitness progress.
(By the way…if you use the links in this article to make a purchase this blog will receive a small commission. It won’t add anything to what you pay, but letting you know is the right thing to do)
Finally, this blog is designed to help you embrace walking as a fitness activity. Walking is sustainable, flexible, effective, and fun. Every week I post new articles with stories and helpful suggestions to Win at Fitness.
If you click FOLLOW (below on your phone…to the right and above on your computer) you’ll receive an email with a link to each new blog post.