Calming the Calorie Count

Calorie-Count2-505x336Last year, my friend asked me to ask my boyfriend Matt, how many calories she should be eating every day.  Matt is my main squeeze but he also has his degree in Exercise Science and is a seasoned personal trainer…so I asked him.  And he basically told me that he can’t make a recommendation without knowing a lot more information, blah blah blah.  Well, I thought it was blah, blah, blah at the time.  I couldn’t understand why he couldn’t give a faster, more clear answer.

However, now that I’m studying for my nutrition certification, I get it.  There are so many variables for each individual person.  Different types of workout programming can impact your RMR (resting metabolic rate), genetic variables, etc.  I learned that more or less, each human expends somewhere around 1100 calories each day just to stay alive — yah, to consume oxygen and keep you alive, you use around that many calories.  Again, that is an estimated number (because we all have different variables in regards to our energy needs, remember).  But isn’t the human body amazing?!

Furthermore, the coursework I am studying indicates that diet is NOT the majority to your success, namely for fat loss.  They say it truly is 100% diet, 100% exercise; both are equally important to a healthy life.  Understanding how diet and exercise work together is becoming increasingly helpful to my outlook on wellness and fitness.  I’m excited to share my learning with you, but I need to put in some more work before I’m comfortable making any real recommendations.

BUT, let me put it this way.  I will be adding in some additional cardio work to my programming and eating a lot less processed foods.  I have always been saying I won’t snack as much and will eat more “clean”, however with new knowledge, I should make better conscious and consistent decisions moving forward.  Here is what turned a light bulb on for me —  processed foods that lack nutrients (which are a lot of snack foods), do not typically trigger satiety, therefore not suppressing our appetites.  We don’t get satisfied and end up eating more food later.  Essentially, these non-nutrient rich foods are wasted calories and likely cause many of us to be in a positive body balance state (which is when energy storage happens, which leads to fat gain, not loss).

The cardio (aerobic) work I mentioned is something I have not been doing much of over the past year, focusing primarily on strength training.  Strength will still be my priority, but I can see how the body can benefit from a mixed program and utilizes different types of energy during each type.  So weights, walking, HIIT and perhaps some spin classes are on the menu for me in 2015.

PS – I use the word “energy”  a lot, because this is referencing calorie intake (in a very broad sense) — nutrition/caloric intake fuels the body, providing it with the energy it needs.

Therefore, what all of this means is when it comes to counting calories, perhaps we don’t need to obsess on counting as much as I would have thought.  Granted, being in a caloric deficit is often needed for fat loss goals, but sometimes you can under eat based on your activity level.  That can stall your RMR and make you feel sluggish.  I’ve learned that keeping your body in balance with nutrition can be a bit tricky, if you over think it.

So let us stop over thinking.  Today let’s commit to eating more natural foods, cook more meals and avoid grabbing a worthless processed snack to “hold you over” until you get real food into your stomach.  That’s one simple rule we can start with.  Again, try to cook more meals, eat more unprocessed foods and not grab for the bag of Chex mix at the gas station when you are hungry.  Try it — commit to this new habit and don’t obsessively food log.

HOWEVER, I will say that if food logging or using a calorie counting app has helped you achieve body composition goals, I am not saying for you, personally, to stop doing this.  But I am recommending to make a sustainable life habit, as well as relaxing about counting every last calorie going into your body (most of the labels are inaccurate with error up to 25%).

Do note that I am aware of a roundabout calorie intake on a daily basis, but I do not obsess on it.  And now that I know what I know — I’d rather “overeat” on proteins and vegetables, as opposed to pretzels, rice cakes and cookies.

For example, I applied this yesterday when I landed at JFK from a fasted morning of rushing to the rental car return, check-in and flying.  I was hungry and my ride home was about 20 minutes away.  The express snack shop was staring at me and my stomach said, “Do it!  You can’t wait to get home!”  So I scanned the options for a good 5 minutes, annoying those trying to get around me with their suitcases…..and I chose a Justin’s Honey Almond Butter packet.  In the past, I would have said, “Oh no, 200 calories for that little bit of almond butter?!”  I would have grabbed a bag of popcorn or pretzels instead.  But applying my new learning, I knew that almond butter had some positive nutritional benefits and would help suppress my appetite better than any pretzels would, regardless of the calorie count.

And there you have it.  I was fine with that choice — got home and hour later, heated up homemade chili and felt good about my food decisions.

I wish for us all happiness first and foremost — one key to being happy means to have balance in all aspects of life.  If you are obsessing on counting calories, getting in a certain number of minutes of workout time each day…suddenly being healthy is a stressful chore.  Therefore, I hope by sharing some insight on calorie counting and starting with one little change, I can bring some peace of mind to you.

Have a Happy & Healthy Weekend,

~Melissa

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