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By: Andrew Sullivan
I didn’t want to write an article about choosing the salad in the drive thru, chewing your food 73 times before swallowing, or shopping around the perimeter of the grocery store. Yes, these kinds of lifestyle changes certainly do add up and contribute to improving health measures, but usually not as much as we would like see.
The notion of a “healthy” diet means something different to everyone. However, in the field of nutrition, one concept remains certain: the calories we consume must equal the calories we burn, or there will be a change in our body mass. To demonstrate this concept, a nutrition professor lost 27 pounds eating only Twinkies and taking multivitamins.
Many of us have no idea how many calories we intake and expend. Furthermore, most people who do make an effort to track calories tend to underreport their food intake, usually by misinterpreting portion size, and overreport their activity levels. The simplest way to meet your health goals is to keep track of your food and activity as precisely as you can, otherwise, we are merely guessing!
How Many Calories Do You Need?
Most of us overestimate the amount of physical activity that contributes to our total amount of calories burned. In a comatose state without any extraneous movement, 80% of our energy usage is devoted merely to keeping us alive—heart pumping, lungs breathing, our calorie-hungry brains, along with every other organ system that is constantly using energy! This baseline calorie expenditure is called our Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). We must also factor in all of the physical activity we perform daily if not comatose, as well as the Thermic Effect of Food (TEF), which is the energy required to digest and absorb the food that we eat.
How to Track Calories Burned
So, how should we track calories out? Hopefully you are already engaged in a fitness program. If you are working toward a specific goal, tracking your activity in terms of the following will not only help you push toward your goals, but also give you a more accurate notion of your calorie expenditure.
Wearable technology such as a Fitbit can also help paint a picture of your daily activity levels.
How to Track Calories In
With calories in, if a nutrition label with the calorie count and serving size is not available, a kitchen scale and your favorite smartphone application will work as well!
The government’s MyPlate Plan is designed to help you calculate the calories you need to meet your goal weight, whether that’s to gain, maintain, or lose pounds. Despite the “average” calorie requirement of 2,000 a day, calorie needs can vary greatly from person to person, from as little as 1,200 to as much as 4,000! I highly encourage you, without any further commitments, to at least go through the steps to determine your total daily energy expenditure.
If your goal does happen to be weight loss, the macronutrient that is the most important is protein; lean mass is retained best with a higher proportion of calories coming from protein.
In summary, significant changes to your health require significant changes to your lifestyle. Just like with your therapy or fitness program, it usually takes weeks of consistent effort to demonstrate noticeable change. Stay patient, and be willing to adapt if the changes you have made aren’t working as intended—it’s an opportunity to learn new processes and become more in tune with your body!
If you are feeling overwhelmed, experts are available to help. Consult with a registered dietician or check in with a friend, family member, or your friendly fitness staff at Sheltering Arms to keep you accountable!