PART 2: “DIET” and DEFINING YOUR CALORIE NEEDS!
These days with so many controversial “facts” on social media, how do we know what it means to eat a healthy balanced diet? Our heads are filled with what we believe are success stories of those on extreme fad diets, diet pills and supplements. Keep reading to learn the truth behind the “diet.”
Disclaimer: This article is written for the purpose of the average person and not those who suffer from eating disorders, disordered eating, or actual diagnosed health conditions. For those with special considerations, you should speak with a healthcare professional about your dietary and caloric needs. They can help guide you through what will serve your health best!
Diet has become a scary word to us over the years, when we think of diet, we think of restriction and losing weight. Diet is actually just the food a person consumes. THE WORD DIET IS NOT TO BE FEARED! Eating is not to be feared either! As much as we see content that we must focus on weight loss, eating a healthy and balanced diet, while being active is the key to long-term success.
To put it simply, weight is dependent on 2 things: calories in and calories out. What does that even mean?? Calories in, is how much we consume through food and beverage. Calories out, is how many calories your body burns a day through activity (workouts, walking, etc.) and metabolic functions (digestion of food, organ function, periods, etc.). If you are consuming less calories than your body burns in a day, you will lose weight. If you consume more than your body burns off, you will gain weight.
Then we see so many people on social media preaching weight loss by eating a 1200 calorie diet, and we think we should try it too! The 1200 calorie diet is seen everywhere, but did you know that 1200 calories is reported as the average minimum number of calories you can eat in order to maintain normal body function??! That means eating below 1200 calories can impact the function of your organs and is why we often see women on low calorie diets losing their periods AND STILL GAINING WEIGHT! Their body doesn’t have enough energy to support them and stops the bodily functions not needed to survive, like the period. The average woman actually needs between 1800-2400 calories and the average man needing 2000-3000 calories a day.
When people start trying to lose weight, they often think that the fewer calories they eat, the more weight they will lose. WRONG! We need energy for body function. If you are eating well below what is actually recommended for you, your metabolism actually slows down too! This is why we see so many people on low calorie diets still gaining weight! YOUR BODY NEEDS ENOUGH ENERGY FOR YOUR METABOLISM TO FUNCTION AND TO BURN FAT! The fewer calories you eat, the slower your metabolic rate. You can’t run a car without gas…
To better understand the science behind the body's ability to burn calories, we have to look at the body’s metabolism. Metabolism refers to your body’s ability to convert food and beverages into energy to function. You need energy from food to support all the functions of your body. Energy is used for digestion, breathing, organ function, and thousands of other chemical processes. We rarely think about how much the body needs energy to function!
So why do we hear, so often, people say things like “I have a slow metabolism,” in response to not being able to lose weight?? Everyone’s metabolism works differently, and is dependent on many things like:
Body Composition (your muscle-to-fat ratio)
Caloric Intake (how much do you eat)
Amount of physical activity
To go into more detail, when someone refers to “body composition” they are talking about the ratio of fat to muscle. The more lean body mass (muscle) you have, the more calories your body burns, even when you are just resting. Caloric intake is also a key part. As we already mentioned those low calorie diets don’t support the metabolism and can lead to the body going into “starvation” mode, where it holds onto everything going into the body for dear life thinking it’s not going to be fed again. Your body wants you to live and if it fears it will starve, it will save food from being converted to energy, aka no fat burning. This is also called metabolic adaptation! Metabolic adaptation can also occur from overeating and overexercising. That’s why a moderate and sustainable approach is key to success with both nutrition and fitness. Taking extreme approaches to diet, like making a huge cut in how many calories you eat can impact the entire function of your body, your body will fear starvation and will cue you to eat more. This can lead to exhaustion and the body prompting you to binge (overeat). This is where people develop this idea that they need to “fix” their metabolism or that their metabolism is just “slow.” The reality is that we aren’t supporting our body like it needs and the body is trying to save us!
How do I actually know how much to eat?? This is a question I am asked often. This is where TDEE comes into play! TDEE refers to the body’s Total Daily Energy Expenditure, or how many calories the body burns through activity or at rest! Remember that the body is burning lots of calories at rest to keep you functioning! Now the number of calories a person needs, or how many they burn in a day, depends on your sex, height, weight and activity level.
So how do I know what my TDEE is? Your Total Daily Energy Expenditure is broken down into 3 sections:
Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR): The energy your body needs to support function at rest: breathing, organ function, etc. This is 60-75% of TDEE
Thermic Effect of Food (TEF): This is how much energy you need to digest the food you eat. This accounts for 10% of TDEE
Physical activity: How active you are by moving around in day-to-day life and performing exercise. This account for 15-30% of TDEE
Above is a link for a TDEE calculator. You can actually log in your criteria from: age, gender, weight, height and activity level (how much you exercise). It will then tell you an approximation on how many calories you need daily to fulfill daily needs. To find out the accuracy of this number, you can then begin tracking your calories and eating the advised number. If you gain weight, the number is too high, and if you lose weight the calories are too low. The goal is to find the number that keeps your weight stable.
How can I boost my Resting Metabolic Rate and increase my TDEE??! While I must remind people that the metabolism is never broken, there is a way to increase your TDEE and the number of calories you burn in a day, and it’s nothing like those fad diets on instagram and tik tok.
Increase your lean body mass! That’s why it is recommended that people on weight loss journeys start weight training. The more muscle you have the more calories your body burns.
Get a full night of sleep! Not sleeping enough reduces your Resting Metabolic Rate and lowers your TDEE
DON’T UNDEREAT! Did you know when you undereat not only are you sending your body into “starvation mode,” but you’re also lowering your thyroid function?? And why does that matter? Your thyroid regulates your hormones for growth, metabolism and overall human development. By slowing thyroid function, you can severely impact your metabolism, which can impact you for years. Remember a car can’t run without gas and if you drive a car to empty it can cause severe damage to the engine that is both costly and timely to repair!
So then why is my social media feed filled with diet fads and detoxes and not knowledge on eating a realistic number of calories?? The health industry often works in extremes. We see extremely restrictive diets and we see extreme overeating. A balanced diet isn’t extreme, though. A balanced diet is simply that, balanced! But what does it mean to have “balance” in what we consume?
A balanced diet actually looks like the image above! Notice how we need protein, fat, AND carbs. We should actually be striving for 20-25% protein, 20-35% fats, and 45-65% carbs. EXCUSE ME??! We need how much of our diet from carbs and fats?? Yes this breakdown may really surprise you. People want to lose weight fast, so they try the extremes and often end up in a circular pattern of weight loss and weight gain. True success comes from finding a dietary plan that suits your personal needs and lifestyle, not just eating what’s “trending.”
One question I am asked frequently is “should I weigh myself?” The answer is “maybe.” Weighing yourself can be a great way to track your progress, but can also lead to an unhealthy mindset towards your weight. Those who have a history of disordered eating, eating disorders or general issues with body dysmorphia (having an extreme tendency towards seeing physical flaws), should not weigh themselves unless directed by a healthcare professional. For those cases, tracking progress through photos, taking physical measurements, looking at fit of clothes, or just how you feel, may be the best path.
For those without a history of dietary concerns, weighing yourself is fine. Most doctors recommend weighing yourself once a week and looking at patterns over time! YOU DO NOT NEED TO WEIGH YOURSELF DAILY! Some tips for when to weigh yourself include:
Weighing yourself at the same time of day. Most people prefer in the morning after their morning bathroom break
Wear the same thing each time
Now even with weighing yourself weekly, the body does fluctuate weight regularly. This is due to lots of factors:
Food consumed: If you are eating excess sodium or heavily processed foods, this can lead the body to hold onto excess water. Remember that eating excess calories results in weight gain and eating in a deficit leads to weight loss. Also, eating foods your body is intolerant or allergic to can cause excess weight gain, digestion issues and water retention. So try not to weigh yourself when you know you haven’t been eating well and are having digestive discomfort.
Exercise: Exercise causes water loss via sweat. Make sure to hydrate. If you have a long workout and notice you dropped significant amounts of weight you may need to drink more water!
Medication: Many medications can cause the body to retain water which then ups the number on the scale
Menstrual cycle: The menstrual cycle is huge in weight change for women. Just note that around the time of your period you may see a spike in weight from water weight that should go away a few days into your cycle.
Illness: If you have been under the weather and noticing significant weight changes, please talk to a doctor!
Alcohol: Alcohol is slow to process through the body and slows down overall digestion.
So how can I track my weight fluctuations to know if I’m actually losing weight? There’s a few ways to do this. Some people will weigh themselves 3 times a day (morning, afternoon, evening) and average their weight for the day and then look at the average number over time. This can be good in the beginning to get an idea of how much your weight fluctuates throughout the day, but can also be extreme for others. Know your limits!
The important thing to remember is that weight WILL fluctuate. You can’t change that fact, and you don’t lose fat on a daily basis. It is actually recommended that you only lose between 0.5 - 2lbs a week. Remember that gaining weight took time, and fat loss takes time too.
So while you can take weekly or monthly weigh-ins, taking measurements is probably your best option. Taking measurements is a really great tool for progress because you can see how much the body shape is changing, you can see the inches come off, and not be focused on a number. Remember that muscle weighs more than fat, so sometimes that number on a scale may be going up but you’re actually just gaining more muscle and losing the fat. If you’re prone to unhealthy thoughts towards your body, measurements focus on realistic and provable changes without the negative thoughts that can surround a scale and the number.
Something to briefly mention is BMI. THE FAMOUS BMI! BMI is your body mass index and calculates your size based on your weight and height. BMI has been used for years as a marker for health, and classifies people as underweight, normal, overweight and obese. While BMI can be a good starting point for those severely overweight or obese to gauge fat loss, it is not the best method for most. BMI does not measure body composition and often classifies people as overweight who are completely healthy. BMI doesn’t take into consideration things like muscle mass, bone mass, etc. and a lot of fitness professionals would be classified as overweight on a BMI scale. So use BMI cautiously.
So while our metabolism is a complicated thing, the key to a successful and healthy diet is not! The worst thing we can do for ourselves is heavy restriction. It can cause a chain reaction to the body that could take a long time to repair. Most people are unaware of how many calories are needed to support the body. Undereating and overeating is very common and is understandable with a world of contradictory information everytime we scroll on instagram. I hope this article helps to clarify that it’s ok and necessary to consume real meals and calories are not to be feared!
Next Sunday keep an eye out for Part 3 of the series! We will be taking a deep dive into specific dietary fads and gaining a better understanding of how these diets actually impact our weightloss journey and overall health. The good, the bad, and the ugly side of online diet culture. I’ll be here along the way to answer any questions you have, so never hesitate to contact me directly through my contact me page.
Until next week… and remember that fitness is for all!