Is it All About Calories?

In today’s world, we have food available right at our fingertips constantly. In fact, one of the stressors in our day is having the willpower to say no to food. A lot of us do need to cut back on the quality and quantity of food that we eat on a day to day basis. In this post, I dive into my approach to a healthy diet and lifestyle.

Are you eating enough?

While some of us may be eating too much, others may not be eating enough and may not even know it. It is becoming very popular (especially among the paleo dieting community), to under eat. This is often because people are training a lot and being too restrictive in their caloric intake, hoping to reap the benefits of weight loss.

Instead of fueling their body to perform well by consuming the necessary nutrients and energy to burn calories, they are restricting themselves. Therefore, their body is being put into starvation mode and is trying to conserve calories. They are likely to experience weight gain as an end result. This happens in two ways: Your metabolism slows down in order to keep calories around longer, and you begin to feel hungrier.

A few signs of under-eating may include: unstable blood sugars, your weight not budging, amenorrhea, trouble getting pregnant/infertility, always being cold, chronic constipation, trouble sleeping, and losing large amounts of hair.

How do you know if you’re eating enough calories?

Knowing the amount of calories you need in a day depends on a variety of factors including the amount and quality of sleep you get, your physical activity level, if you have an illness, history of chronic disease and more. However, you can get an estimate of the amount of calories you potentially need in a day.

There is an easy way to roughly estimate your baseline caloric need (the minimum amount you would need in a day). You can take your ideal body weight (use this calculator) and multiply it by 10. This is your baseline caloric need for the day. For example: a woman who is 5’6″ has an ideal body weight of around 130 pounds, so her baseline goal is 1300 calories per day. Note that this ideal body weight calculator does not take into account body frame or or muscle mass and therefore is not exact but an estimate.

The above baseline caloric need does not take into account activity level and different workouts will burn different amounts of calories. For example, a Crossfit workout can burn 12-20 calories per minute on average, so a workout that takes 20 minutes could burn 240-400 calories. If your goal is for a high step count, 10,000 steps burns around 300-500 calories, give or take depending on body size and gender. You would then need to add this to your baseline caloric need.

Read this article, by one of my favorite dietitians, Laura Schoenfeld, MPH, RD, to learn more about this topic.

If you want to lose weight, don’t count calories

Although it is important to ensure that you are eating enough calories everyday, I don’t think it is essential to count the amount of calories you are eating every day. This can often lead to obsession, restriction and guilt if you “fail”.

Another reason to not count calories is to be able to change your mindset. What matters more than how many calories you are consuming each day, is the source of the calories. For example, calories from a slice of bread are digested very differently than calories from an avocado. See this blog post for more.

A better approach that I use is to count macronutrients. The three macronutrients that we need are carbohydrates, protein and fat. All three of these macronutrients are necessary for proper growth and metabolism. By tracking these, instead of calories, you can ensure that you are getting the correct balance between them and helping your metabolism run efficiently so that you can burn fat!fullsizeoutput_2b02

  • Carbohydrates provide your body with quick energy and cause your blood sugar to increase the most.
  • Protein provide the building blocks for you body and help keep your metabolism running well.
  • Healthy fats keep us satisfied, help us absorb the fat soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E and K), provide energy for our bodies at rest or light activity, pad our organs and make hormones.

Why should we eat a carbohydrate, fat and protein together?

Carbohydrates, fat and protein are all metabolized differently in our bodies. Carbohydrates are typically used as energy in our bodies within 30-60 minutes of consumption. If we had too much carbohydrate and don’t need it for energy, our bodies will store it as fat, using the hormone insulin.

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On the other hand, fats and proteins are digested much more slowly and are not used as energy right away. They slow down the digestion of carbohydrates, causing you to be satisfied and full longer. They also keep your blood sugar levels stable so that you can burn fat!

Balancing the right types and amounts of carbohydrates, proteins and fats can help keep a hormone called glucagon running smoothly throughout the day. This hormone is our fat burning hormone. It opposes the hormone insulin. Insulin is released when we eat a high amount of carbohydrates or we eat carbohydrates alone. If we keep our blood sugar levels stable throughout the day, glucagon can be released and do its work of burning fat!

How much carbohydrate, fat and protein should I eat?

It’s much easier to gauge your intake through eyeing portion sizes rather than meticulously counting calories or weighing your food. This is a good way to know how much you should eat as a quick method.

Below are recommendations for a meal. For a snack, I recommend just cutting the portion sizes in 1/2 or consuming something that has protein and healthy fat (like almond butter) with a carbohydrate (like 1/2 an apple).

  • Protein: 4-6 ounces per meal = a palm size amount (4-6 ounces of meat, fish or
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    Example meal: 4 oz. wild caught salmon (protein) + 1 cup cooked Brussel sprouts (non starchy carb) and 1/2 cup cooked sweet potato (starchy carb) + 1 T butter drizzled over all

    poultry; 2-3 eggs)

  • Healthy fat: 1-2 servings per meal (1 serving = 1 T oil like coconut oil, butter, extra virgin olive oil, etc., 2 T nut butter, 1/2 avocado, 1 oz. cheese)
  • Carbohydrate: Try to get 2-3 cups of non starchy vegetables every time you eat a meal. These vegetables are loaded with vitamins and minerals and won’t raise your blood sugar as much as starchy vegetables or fruits. (Non starchy: dark green like kale, spinach, broccoli, onions, mushrooms, peppers, etc.) You can also have some starchy vegetables or fruit (sweet potatoes, corn, peas, apples, etc.) with your meals. Everyones needs are different but I recommend sticking to 1/2 cup and see how your blood sugar reacts to that along with your protein and healthy fat.

Remember that eating too little can harm you the same way that eating too much can. Seek out the caloric balance that your body needs. If you are seeking personalized recommendations, please contact me and I would love to answer any questions! My free Getting Started Guide also has more details on what I recommend.

Please comment below with your questions and thoughts!
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8 thoughts on “Is it All About Calories?

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