PART 4: Understanding Your Dietary Needs and Finding Balance!
Welcome back to part 4 of the series! Thus far we have discussed digestion, how metabolism works and debunked lots of fads that claim to “guarantee” weight loss. If you haven’t read part 1-3 of the series, I’d recommend doing that now!
***Disclaimer: While I think it’s important to strive for a healthy and balanced lifestyle, this article is not meant to be recommending weight loss or weight gain. A healthy lifestyle has nothing to do with the number on a scale. If you believe you are struggling with your weight or body image, please consult a medical professional. Resources are linked at the end of the post.***
It’s very common for people to have no clue how many calories they should eat in a day, and many people end up overeating or under-eating. Both are not ideal! Knowing your TDEE is key. TDEE is the body’s Total Daily Energy Expenditures, or how many calories you burn in a day even at rest. A person’s TDEE is based on 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). Please be realistic in your usual activity level. If you typically only workout 1-2 times a week, but this week it was 4, go with your usual activity level. It will then tell you how many calories you need daily. To find out the accuracy of this number, you can then begin tracking your calories (more about this below!) 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. That number is also known as your maintenance calories. While the TDEE calculator is one of the best tools for finding maintenance calories (how many calories you eat to not gain or lose weight), each person is different and may vary from the amount listed.
Boosting my Resting Metabolic Rate and increasing my TDEE??! While we’ve discussed this in previous weeks I wanted to remind people that your metabolism is never broken, there is a way to increase your TDEE and the number of calories you burn in a day, and it doesn’t require fad diets, detoxes and cleanse.
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!
Knowledge about what we eat is so important. It’s unfortunate that understanding what we eat, isn’t a priority in school, and is not talked about like it should be. I must say that I had NO IDEA what I was doing when I wanted to get to a healthier weight. I knew I should eat vegetables and not eat so much junk food, but I HAD NO IDEA WHAT WAS IN MY FOOD!
That’s when I decided to download an app to help me understand food. I used Carb Manager, but there are tons of free options. What’s helpful is that you log in all your food and it tells you not only the calories, but the carb, fat and protein content. We all have a rough idea what we eat, but most people mindlessly eat and forget about those 12 handfuls of candy that you ate whenever you walk past your living room candy dish. That’s why tracking can be so helpful. Even writing a food diary can be very helpful as you see the list of everything you consume, and can understand that your perception of your diet and what you’re actually eating may be very different!
Once you start tracking you’ll see where those additional calories are coming from. Oftentimes people think that healthier options equal lower calories and that’s not always the case. If you get a salad for lunch and top it with all the toppings available and then add on that creamy salad dressing, your salad may have as many calories as a Big Mac from Mcdonalds! It’s good to learn the foods that are packed with extra calories you didn’t expect, especially sauces!
Understanding portion sizes and food labels is also very important and probably not as easy as it should be!
The average person just looks at a food label and sees the calories. We assume the calories listed equals what we see as a portion size. Unfortunately, most food labels list calories for a smaller portion than we would typically eat in one sitting. So knowing how large of a portion you eat is of the utmost importance in seeing where your calories are coming from! If something says it is 8 serving but you just ate half the box, you need to multiply the calories listed by 4.
Snacks are where everyone tends to struggle. If you look at chip or candy bags, you’ll see they often have multiple servings. We just assume a snack size bag is one serving, but they’re often 2-3. Companies list it that way so they can have a smaller number of calories listed. If you look at a label, the calories per serving is the largest item and is even in bold font! You see 200 calories and think that’s all you need to know, the serving size per container is smaller and less noticeable. People would think twice about buying a snack size bag of chips if they saw 700 calories in a giant bold font instead of the 200 we see now.
It’s also helpful to know that your food labels will list how much fat, protein and carbs are in it, so you aim for a more balanced diet! Other items to note include fiber intake, sugars and sodium. Daily fiber recommendations are 25 grams a day for women and 38 grams a day for men. Sugar intake should be 25 grams a day for women and 37.5 grams for men. Sodium intake should be under 2,300 mg per day. It’s good to keep these numbers in mind, so you can avoid picking snacks that exhaust all your sodium or sugar for the day in one sitting!
Once you’ve taken the time to find your TDEE, you can then decide if your aim is to gain, lose or maintain your weight. If you only wish to maintain your weight, do nothing! Just eat the recommended number of calories from your TDEE.
When it comes to weight loss or weight gain, people tend to take a pretty heavy handed approach to this. Sometimes people cut their calories in half or reduce them dramatically, but remember that slow, steady and maintainable goals are the key to long term changes. A 10% addition or subtraction of calories is all you need to start with. THAT’S EASY! We are talking about 200-300 calories. You can do that by switching out that side of mashed potatoes for some green beans. Cutting calories doesn’t mean revising your entire take on eating!
As hard as it is to ignore the world around us promoting the extremes, remind yourself you are making long term goals for yourself and that if it’s something you’ll be doing forever, you have to give yourself time to learn and adjust. Remember that the body doesn’t thrive on extremes. Cutting your calories too much, will make your body think it’s starving. You most likely won’t feel great, and you may even binge (overeat) leading you to eat all the calories you had eliminated earlier in the week.
Now that you know how much to eat and how to find out what you’re actually eating, now it’s time to build the perfect plate! The picture above shows an example of a balanced plate. We should be aiming for 20-25% protein, 20-35% fats, and 45-65% carbs for our meals. Now while we should be aiming for these percentages, it’s also important to eat a varied diet as we want to get in all those micronutrients to keep the body healthy and thriving. This is why fruits and vegetables are so important, they contain a lot of micronutrients you need. If you don’t know what micronutrient is, it’s an essential element (like vitamins) needed to live. While you need them in smaller quantities than macronutrients (carbs, fats and proteins), they are still just as important! So make sure to eat a varied amount of those fruits, veggies, carbs and fats. As a reminder, it is ok to eat those healthy fats! Avocado, nuts, and olive/avocado oil are actually necessary for a healthy diet! While we don’t want to overuse them, we shouldn’t fear them.
Throughout our journey in this series, we have worked on debunking myths and creating a manageable view of nutrition. I want people to know that you can have a healthy lifestyle without the complication of thinking health means elimination and restriction. Healthy eating doesn’t have to be difficult. With knowledge of what you’re eating and how much you should eat, you can make the diet fit your needs. You can easily leave room for your favorite snacks or sweets. It’s amazing the freedom you have when you know the basics.
Next Sunday join me for Part 5 of the series! We will be breaking down how to eat healthy on a budget. Something that’s so important, especially in this state of the world, but even those on a fixed income deserve to eat a balanced meal without worry. I’ll help you maximize your budget and hopefully even save you some time prepping for the week!
Until next week… and remember that fitness is for all!
Since weight is such a difficult topic for many to discuss, I want to provide some resources for those who may be suffering, or know someone suffering from an eating disorder, disordered eating, or body dysmorphia. Help is out there and you are not alone.