Posts Tagged ‘Calories’

Calories DO Count!

Posted: November 5, 2014 in Fitness, Nutrition
Tags: , ,

I had a conversation with an individual just the other day.  We were discussing nutrition and fat loss.  I asked her how many calories per day she was eating.  She had no idea.  Her answer was “Well, I’m really good.  I eat really healthy and I’ve just started gluten-free” (Insert head smack here).  My response was “Ok, but how MUCH food do you eat?  Do you have a general idea of how many calories you’re taking in?”.  *Crickets*  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this same conversation.

My point here is not to make fun of any particular dieting scheme.  I have nothing against gluten-free, dairy-free, Paleo, etc. etc. etc.  My personal philosophy is to not adhere to one particular “diet plan”.  I don’t believe there is a need to cut anything out unless you have an intolerance or sensitivity to it.  Putting that aside, my point is CALORIES DO COUNT!

I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but even if you eat too much healthy food, you are going to gain weight.  I used to be an incessant calorie counter – weighing, measuring, etc. down to the last gram.  It can certainly be a tedious task, but I do recommend it to people that have no idea about portion size.  I’m not saying that you need to do it forever, but at least for a few weeks until you get the hang of “eye-balling” proper portion size.  If you enjoy counting calories or tracking macros, go for it!  It certainly does work and it’s something I’ll do when I’m in contest prep mode.

Now, for the other side of things…how the heck do you know how much you’re burning while exercising?  You can’t go by the calorie count on machines when doing cardio because I have found that more often than not, they OVERestimate your calorie burn.  There are several formulas that you can look up to get an estimate but remember, it is just an estimate.  As for weight-training, calories burned of course are going to depend on your intensity, duration of workout, whether or not you’re doing circuit training, and several other factors.  Again, you can get an estimate by searching online.  Here’s what I do:  I’ve invested in a heart rate monitor (one with a chest strap for continuous monitoring).  This will be a bit more accurate for cardio exercise versus resistance training but I find that it works VERY well.  The chest strap can take a little getting used to but I think it’s worth it.  I know there are newer technologies out there that don’t require a chest strap, but I haven’t gotten the chance to test any of those out.

If you don’t have or want to use a heart rate monitor, you can get an estimate of your total calorie burn including exercise using this calculator: http://scoobysworkshop.com/calorie-calculator/    Follow the plan for a few weeks and assess…losing weight?  Great!  Keep going…  Not losing weight?  That’s ok, you may need to re-adjust your calories, pay closer attention to your portion sizes, etc.

This post is just a reminder…when in doubt, go back to the basics.  Calories in, calories out!  It does matter!  This may need to be another post but…don’t forget, you need to make sure you’re eating enough to support the amount of exercise you’re doing…sometimes the problem is the opposite, not eating enough!

Who doesn’t love a good cheat meal?  I know I do!  Although it can be something to look forward to when you’re in the middle of a diet or weight loss program, it can easily get you into a lot of trouble.  I hate to break it to you, but cheat meals aren’t necessary for everyone.  If you have quite a bit of weight to lose or if you’re coming off a “bulk”, “building phase”, or even maintenance, there really is no physiological reason for you to have a cheat meal.  But, in this stage of the game, there certainly is a mental benefit.  Starting a diet is hard…maintaining it is even harder.  Having a favorite meal to look forward to or a trip to a restaurant can certainly help you get through the diet grind.  A cheat meal or “reefed” can be much more important physiologically if you’ve been in a deficit for a long time or you’re extremely lean (but I’ll leave that for another blog).

Ok, so here’s the issue.  If you’ve spent all week with your diet on point, with a reasonable deficit, one tremendous meal can 100% erase your entire week…especially if you’re on the smaller side (sorry ladies).  I’ll admit, I hate counting calories but as I’ve said before, calories do count.  I’ve been trying to do a slow cut for a couple of weeks now.  My daily deficit is set around 300-400 calories, so my weekly deficit should be 2100-2800 calories if I do it right.  This should equate to just over 1/2 pound of weight loss per week (which is on the slower side, but I have found that I maintain much more lean mass when I aim for under 1 lb/week of weight loss).  So, what happens if I go out to eat with my family and have a cheat meal of 2 slices of pizza and 2 glasses of wine?  Depending on the pizza and the type of wine, that can add up to almost 1000 calories!  Subtract that from my weekly deficit and it has significantly slowed or even halted my fat loss…not good!

Here’s where planning can help out.  I recommend that you don’t necessarily look at your calories on a daily basis, but on a weekly basis.  This is where technology can be a huge help.  Websites and apps like My Fitness Pal or Lose It! can help you track your input.  You can look back over the course of the week and see how you did.  If you hit your goal everyday (meaning you didn’t go over or under your calorie/macro goal), I wouldn’t recommend having a cheat meal of 1000 calories.  On the other hand, if you’ve been slightly under your goal each day of the week, you have some “free” calories to play with.  For example, if I were under 100 calories each day of the week for 6 days in a row, I have about 600 extra calories to play with on a night out with my family.  So, I can either have the pizza OR the wine and still be on track for my estimated weekly weight loss.  Win!

This isn’t to make you completely crazy with numbers…but do try to have a decent estimate if you don’t keep track.  If you know you’ve been under your goal (or if you managed to squeeze in extra workouts during the week), it’s probably safe to say you can give yourself a reasonable treat!