When it comes to dieting- calories, weigh-ins and other painful numbers come to mind. If you've been sweating out buckets and you're still not losing weight- or maybe even gaining- don't lose hope quite yet.
There is one likely factor up for blame! It all comes down to calorie balance: calories in (how much you eat) vs. calories out (how much you burn). Today I want to set you up with a few basics on calories, keys to a balanced diet, and some realistic tips to keep you on track. With a little direction, maybe those numbers don't have to be so painful after all.
What's the deal with Calories?
The US Department of Agriculture claims that men should consume 2,400 to 3,000 calories per day, and women should consume an average of 1,800 to 2,400 calories per day. The variation in number of calories is dependent upon level of activity, age, weight, etc.
To Maintain Weight
At the end of the day, to maintain body weight, a person must consume the same amount of calories that are expended. Calories expended include both Basal Metabolic Rate (the amount of calories your body consumes at rest, daily), plus calories expended from physical activity. This is why people who are heavily active will require a huge amount of calories in comparison to the average person, to replace the deficit created by excess calorie expenditure.
To Lose Weight
To lose weight, a person must consume less calories than calories expended. In order to get a gauge on what exactly that looks like, 1 pound = 3,500 calories. That means that to lose a pound in one week, you will need to subtract a total of 3,500 calories from your diet- that's cutting out 500 calories each day.
While cutting out calories may seem hard, it may be as simple as skipping that fancy coffee drink, or 20 ounce soda which both typically contain at least 250 calories (empty calories). Instead drink water, tea, or a low-cal juice.
A common misconception when someone starts an exercise program is that weight loss is a given. However, while they are certainly torching more calories, this makes them even hungrier. They end out eating more to get back to that feeling of equilibrium, and won't lose any weight. It's all about that balance- that is why tracking your diet in some way is so important!
Tracking Your Diet
So, should you be counting your calories, or what? I think that counting calories can be a fantastic method of tracking your diet. But there are also a variety of other methods that are equally valid. Some sort of tracking is a good idea, in order to avoid overeating, but to also make sure you are still fueled to make fitness gains.
I personally don't track my calories. That is way too much work for a busy gal like myself. I instead prefer to track my nutrient intake. It sounds complicated and at first, it took some education, and reference- but now that I have everything calculated out, it's easier for me to ask myself- " okay have I eaten my 3 cups of veggies, or seven ounces of grains for the day?", rather than checking every label and adding up the cals.
In order to get set up, I used the SUPERTRACKER feature on the Mypyramid.gov website. Create a profile to determine your suggested calorie intake based on age, gender, weight, activity level, and goals (weight loss, maintenance, etc.). After your calorie assessment, SUPERTRACKER breaks each of the nutrients into number of servings to fulfill your specific caloric needs, and gives a plethora of examples of what a serving of each looks like, as well as healthy tips for each (this can be found in the 'My Plan' tab of your account). - highly recommend this resource!
This way, I I fulfill the number game while being able to pay less attention to it, and more attention to the content of my foods. It makes me think- 'I haven't eaten any fruits yet today, how can I incorporate a serving of fruits into my next meal?' I prefer where this tracking method takes my brain.
Developing a Balanced Diet
Calorie Myth: Eating less calories is better.
If you're looking to lose weight it will definitely benefit you to cut a few calories. A few as in enough to lose .5-2 pounds per week. However, this doesn't mean you should go chopping down calories left and right thinking you'll lose more weight faster.
When too little calories are eaten, it slows down your metabolism- your calorie burning mechanism. Your body is literally in starvation mode, so it will slow down calorie burn to hold on to what it has. This isn't good for two reasons. Reason #1) To burn calories we're looking for a fast metabolism, not a slow one that holds on to every crumb you give it. Reason #2) Most people who lose weight using this extreme method, gain it all back in the end, because their diet was too hard to maintain over time.
Your best bet is to give your body something it can balance for the long haul. Eat a balanced diet, drink water, work out, and get good rest.
Nutritious foods- such as fibrous fruits, veggies, and whole grains, along with lean proteins take their sweet time in your digestive system - keeping you fuller for longer. Unhealthy snacks like chips, candy, and sweets on the other hand are filled with saturated fats and sugars, that are quick to digest, don't have much to them to keep you fueled for very long. You'll end out eating more of them, therefore more total calories just to stay full.
Get more bang for your calorie just by eating nutritious foods. Making conscious healthier choices will help trim calories without obsessing over numbers.
#1) Give it time. If you're looking to shed some pounds, remember: fat and weight loss don't always come hand in hand. When you are working out you will also be gaining muscle- which weighs more than fat. Your body might be positively changing even though you don't see the results on the scale. Be patient. And maybe use a second method of measurement, such as progress photos.
#2) Don't skip meals. Skipping a meal may cause greater hunger pangs for the next meal, which may cause you to overeat. Eating even, small meals throughout the day keeps your metabolism moving, and helps avoid spikes and drops in energy that can be caused by eating large, spread out meals.
#3) Find substitutes for your favorite unhealthy snack foods. There are a few things in my household that were pulling teeth to get rid of. First, I love chips, and second I love ice cream. Me and my roommate have filled our house with yummy crunchy snacks that are healthy- unsweetened banana chips, veggie chips, and whole grain crackers are a few of our favorite substitutes to satisfy the chip crunch we're always looking for. Another few recent findings in light of ice cream: Pressed Juicery has launched frozen yogurts at a few of their sites (The Americana Glendale, CA is a confirmed location) made entirely of fruits, vegetables, and nuts! And they are so good! They have vanilla, chocolate, fruit, and vegetable flavors- along with yummy toppings- and they're only 150 calories! Finally, Halo Top ice cream, is a low calorie, high protein, and low sugar ice cream that can be found in select stores. All of the flavors I've tried are amazing!
#4) Don't even buy unhealthy snacks- They're only going to tempt you! When there aren't cookies laying around, it's easier to reach for the strawberries, or low-cal ice cream as a late night cheat!
While this is no conclusive guide for dieting- I hope it gives you some perspective! What are you doing for your diet? Post questions or your diet suggestions below.
Fuel your body well,
PK Fitness Program Coordinator