Saturday, December 17, 2011

How many Calories do you need?

This post is all about calories. Calories are the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of 1kg of water 1 degree. So when your box of Popcorn says it has 120 calories, they mean that the amount of energy you'd be depositing into your body would be enough fuel to burn 120 kg of water 1 degree. Yes, food is fuel, so you also need to remember to burn it off not just store it!
So how many calories do you need? well, that's a slightly complicated question, and there are lots of calorie calculators available online. Basically the number is adjusted by weight (bigger people burn more calories), and height, and age (which sets metabolism and developmental needs), gender (which influences muscle mass and body fat - women need more body fat to maintain their periods/pregnancy), and activity level. In general, people need a lot more calories then most of us are eating. YES! You read that right. People typically need to be eating more calories - but good, happy, healthy calories. For my body and exercise level, I need to eat about 2600 calories - yikes. But since I am losing weight, I subtract 500 calories (that puts me on a course of losing a pound a week). Losing too much weight too fast is very dangerous for the body and should only be done with supervision by a healthcare provider. It's also not as sustainable to lose a lot quickly. Losing weight and getting healthy needs to be a mental and emotional change, so weight that is lost gradually has been shown to stay off! Which is why crash diets DON'T work.

How to calculate it:
If you'd rather be a calorie geek, like me, here are the formulas for men and women. Step 1:
Women: BMR = 655 + (4.35 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) - (4.7 x age in years)
Men: BMR = 66 + (6.23 x weight in pounds) + (12.7 x height in inches) - (6.8 x age in years)
Step 2:
multiply that number by another one based on your activity level:
sedentary: 1.2, Light: 1.375, Moderate: 1.55 ,very active: 1.75
Step 3:
If you want to gain weight add 500, maintain - do nothing, lose weight then subtract 500.

That's your number of calories every day. There are also calorie counters for kids (my daughter is 1 year old, and is very active so she needs about 1400 calories a day). The calorie needs of a pregnant woman should be the same in the first trimester, and only increase by about 300 calories a day for the remainder - so basically a half of a PB and J, ....or a bagel. Nursing moms need an extra 300-500 calories.

So you know your calories, now what?
Divide this number over 5 meals. More calories AND you get to eat every few hours? Awesome. So, I'm 2100 calories so maybe 400, 400, 500, 400, 400 - A nice big lunch, and the rest are about even. You can divide them up in different ways depending on your personality. Maybe you don't like to eat a lot at breakfast, or you'd rather eat light at lunch since you work out then. Mix it up, but remember that a meal is 300-500 calories, and a snack is 100-200 calories. Therefore, don't eat an apple and call it lunch, and don't starve all day so that you can eat 1000 calories of nachos and beer with your friends that night. Your body responds to what it ate last. So if you ate great, your body responds with a jump in metabolism, reduced cravings, and steady blood sugar (so no jolt, no jitters, no crash). If you ate crap and food-like substances, your body slows down, your bowels stop working properly and you start craving more salt, fat, and sugar. Did you skip a meal? Your body knows it - it slows down the metabolism and you start getting too hungry to make good choices.

A note on EXERCISE
Adjust your caloric needs if you aren't going to exercise more then 2 days in a row. Your calorie calculations are assuming you will be consistent with exercise - and the intensity level. Also, having worked out doesn't mean you can eat whatever you want...the old, "I can eat that, I did workout today," doesn't actually work.
When to workout/eat depends on you. Some people can't workout on an empty stomach, and others can't workout on a full one. In general, try to not eat 2 hours before you exercise. If you need something in your tummy, have a banana, a sports drink/recovery drink, or a healthy snack bar (definitely only around 100 calories).

A note on fasting
There are some times when fasting can be good for you - for spiritual purposes, to give your body a chance to cleanse, and to focus the mind. But that's where this list ends. Eating less than 300 calories at a meal isn't enough to feed the body so that it feels full, so you get enough nutrients, and to keep that metabolism up. Eating less then 1000 calories a day, is a strict no-no. Want to balance the deficit on the calories in/calories out thing? Exercise. Trust me. Ultra low calorie diets may force some bodies (not all) to lose weight, but since your body is lacking nutrients it will steal them from you. That's why people with eating disorders have brittle bones and frequent fractures, their body stole the calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus from their bodies since it wasn't in the diet. Your body will steel calories from the muscles in your body - which you not only need to exercise, stand, make out, and smile - but you also need to beat your heart. Get the idea?
Yes, some diets call for periods of fasting, or a skipped meal. If that works for you, fine. If you aren't losing weight, get cranky (a sign of low blood sugar NOT lack of will power), or that it leads you to making bad food choices - don't bother. Eat! But eat well:)

Good Eats!
Ok, this is the last bit of advice: eat well! Eating healthy foods means that you get to eat more, not less! For example, a small order of french fries has 300 calories. For the same calories you can have a large baked sweet potato, 1 cup of broccoli, 1/2 cup of cottage cheese, and 1 oz of chicken. That a full plate compared to a little sad paper bag of fries. Want to eat a dunkin donuts' blueberry muffin? That's 500 calories. Instead, you could have had an omelet with 1 whole egg, 2 egg white, 1 oz of shredded cheddar, mushrooms, onions, peppers, a tortilla wrap, a cup of non-fat plain yogurt, AND a cup guessed it, fresh blueberries! That's a boat load of food! Still think the starvation diet is where it's at? I'd rather eat all that versus 1 muffin that will probably not even make you feel full.

Good luck, and happy eating:)

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