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Don't Get Burned By Calorie Counting

Last week, I talked about how to assess the effectiveness of your fitness plan. Today, I’d like to take a look at what calories have to do with the big picture of your health. We hear the term 'calories' a lot. Some people swear by counting calories and others reject the idea that we should count them at all, claiming that choosing the right foods negates the need to count at all. Let's dive in and clear some things up.

Calories = energy

Without going too in depth into biochemistry, a calorie measures the energy we absorb from foods we consume. Each food we eat is specifically packed with an amount of energy that allows our bodies to perform millions of tasks that we take for granted. We burn calories just by being human. There is a specific number of calories (energy) that are used to carry out normal human function. This happens while we sleep, talk, eat and exercise, to name a few. Right now, just sitting and reading this blog, you are “burning” calories. Your caloric expenditure depends on multiple factors such as age, sex, activity and fat-to-muscle ratio. This is what we call your 'basal metabolic rate' (BMR).

The balance between calories in and calories out is the key to weight loss/gain/maintenance. Knowing how many calories to consume depends on your goal and your individual basal metabolic rate. There are many tools to help you determine your BMR and how many calories you should consume each day to reach your goal. For most adults, the recommended intake of calories will be between 1600 and 3000 calories per day. I recommend no less than 1200 calories daily. Being hangry will be the least of your worries at that restrictive of a calorie budget. Not eating enough calories can cause dizziness, headaches, nausea, and nutrient deficiencies leading to a whole host of serious problems.

Remember to pay attention to the serving size. Some nutrition labels can be misleading. A “low calorie” snack can become a “high-calorie” snack if you eat more than a single serving size allows. I will do a post soon about how to read nutrition labels. The good news is that the less packaged and processed items you purchase, the less you have to worry about this little detail.

Picking calorie-dense foods is the key to satiety. Consuming foods that are calorically dense (more energy in a smaller package) will allow you to become satiated sooner and longer. This gives you more bang for your “stomach” buck. Below is a comparison of different foods and their respective calories.

Because I’m App-y

Depending on your goals, you may want to see a deficit, a surplus or a zeroing out of calories in vs. calories out. Practicing daily food logging will help determine your individual calorie needs. Most apps will give you a starting point for energy expenditure vs. caloric needs, but that is only an estimate. Everyone will have different needs. Once you start documenting your progress you will see what works best for you and your goals. Some of the helpful apps that I have used are MyNetDiary, Cronometer, MyFitnessPal and MyPlate. I will talk about my experience with them and which one I’m currently using in another post.

The best way to consistently measure your food is by keeping a food scale or a set of measuring cups handy. By measuring every bite that goes into your mouth, you will be certain you aren’t over (or under) eating. You may be surprised at how much (or how little) you were eating before.

Documenting your food intake for a month will give you helpful insight into what is currently working. For many of us, portioning out food and making good food choices doesn’t come naturally, but it won’t always feel so complicated. Like any new skill, practice is the key to success. You will get really good at estimating what 1 cup of rice or 20 grams of blueberries looks like. Like anything else, you have to start somewhere and just keep moving forward.

Once you are consistent with measuring and documenting, you will begin to guess how many calories are in your food just by looking. Eventually, you may not need to measure/count/track at all. But if you find yourself not meeting your weight goals, you may want to start measuring and logging your food again. Don’t be too proud to go back to basics.

Be prepared

We tend to make bad choices when we are stressed, tired or bored. If you don’t have an option ready to go at snack time, you are more likely to grab that processed bar instead of getting everything out to cut up some fruit or veggies. Here at the Garza household, we try to have chopped fruits and veggies ready to go for snacks and even quick stir fries. We prepare a large salad at the beginning of the week and grab portions until it’s time to build another one. Meal prepping can be time consuming, so do your future- hangry-self a favor when you have extra time and do some of the prep work.

Meal prepping is also a good way to alleviate the complication of deciding what to eat at each mealtime. Rather than reinventing the wheel, find some simple, satisfying meals and just repeat them. By the way, Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner are made up concepts. You can eat any food at any time of day if it satisfies you.

Bon Appetit

Take the time to enjoy your food. This ensures that you will chew your food adequately and decreases the likelihood that you will overeat. Meal time brings all the members of the family together at the same time doing the same thing. Cherish this social interaction. Before you start or as you eat, share something you are grateful for or looking forward to. Taking this time to choose your foods and eat them with intention is going to change your relationship them.

Remember, consistency is key, but sometimes it’s nice to have a little help getting on the right path. I offer personalized health consultations about plant-based nutrition, exercise, sleep, stress management and social connection. If you have any concerns about your current health and how to get started on an exercise or nutrition routine, check out the Services page of my website or shoot me an email. I also have compiled a list of helpful sites on the Resource page of my website.

Please comment below if you have any specific questions or would like to see a topic in a future blog.

Keep Moving Forward!

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