Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Intuitive nutrition--the universal key to healthy weight for life. Part 7. Calorie count.

22 September 2009
Hi there! This is Svetlana.
At the very bottom of this post I put a link where you can go and see my Powerpoint presentation on Intuitive Nutrition, which has tons of additional helpful information.

Today I want to talk about the next principle of intuitive nutrition which is calorie count. Calorie count (approximate, of course) is much needed when you practice intuitive nutrition. It's needed at least for a while, until you know how much on average you consume per day, so you can build your strategy from there.

The principle of calorie count is less important than following a "grey zone" of a hunger scale, slow eating, and portion control. If we eat only when hungry, and do it slowly to limit the amount of food ingested, and stop before feeling overstuffed, the amount of calories consumed most likely will be reasonable. However, some people prefer high caloric foods to low-to-moderate caloric foods, and while eating those rich foods (even in a greay zone) they would consume more calories than other people who fill up on salads and pasta.

I highly recommend memorizing caloric value of basic and frequently used foods, so you can calculate approximately how many calories per day you consume, and adjust them accordingly. You may consider a food journal for 7-10 days to write down absolutely everything you eat and drink, and at the end of each day calculate calorie intake. Not only this will give you an idea how many calories on average you consume daily, but also will show what foods and beverages can be easily eliminated or limited, as low in nutritional value and high in calories.

In order to maintain current body weight one has to approximately match calories burned with calories consumed. In order to lose weight one has to consume less and burn more until desired body weight is achieved, and then match calories burned with calories consumed to maintain the achieved body weight. The rule of thumb is: to lose one pound one has to cut out 3,500 calories. It does not matter if one does it by extra exercise, or dietary restriction, but there is no other way one can lose weight. The simplest and easiest way is to “undereat” a little and “overexercise” a little to burn extra calories as you consume less. In this case you don’t have to starve yourself or exercise until you drop, you can balance both. No matter which way you chose, calorie count is important.

The first step in designing a personal plan for losing weight (including both nutrition and exercise routine) is to calculate how many calories you burn in a day; your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). Total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) for each individual consists of two components: Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) and daily physical activities. BMR is the minimum calorific requirement needed to sustain life in a resting individual. It can be looked at as being the amount of energy (measured in calories) expended by the body to remain in bed asleep all day! Calories are burned by bodily processes such as respiration, the pumping of blood around the body and maintenance of body temperature. Basal Metabolic Rate depends on your age (younger people have higher metabolism), gender (men have higher metabolism), and current body weight. BMR calculators can be found on line, and by plugging in your weight, height, gender, and current weight you can calculate your BMR within seconds. This number represents approximate number of calories your body burns during a 24-hour period if you do absolutely nothing physically! Obviously the body burns calories on top of those burned due to BMR, based on the nature of work and daily exercise routine for each individual, as well as on general life style (active vs. sedentary). It is important to understand that all the numbers we are talking about are approximate and based on very rough calculations, but nevertheless, they represent a ball park we can refer to.

To know how many calories per day you burn in real life (Total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) you have to plug in activity factor.

Now that you know your BMR, you can calculate TDEE by multiplying your BMR by your activity multiplier from the chart below:

Activity Multiplier

Sedentary = BMR X 1.2 (little or no exercise, desk job)

Lightly active = BMR X 1.375 (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/wk)

Mod. active = BMR X 1.55 (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/wk)

Very active = BMR X 1.725 (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days/wk)

Extr. active = BMR X 1.9 (hard daily exercise/sports & physical job or 2X day training, i.e marathon, contest etc.)


Your BMR is 1339 calories per day

Your activity level is moderately active (work out 3-4 times per week)

Your activity factor is 1.55

Your TDEE = 1.55 X 1339 = 2075 calories/day

Adjust your caloric intake according to your goal.

Once you know your TDEE (maintenance level), the next step is to adjust your calories according to your primary goal. The mathematics of calorie balance are simple: To keep your weight at its current level, you should remain at your daily caloric maintenance level. To lose weight, you need to create a calorie deficit by reducing your calories slightly below your maintenance level (or keeping your calories the same and increasing your activity above your current level). To gain weight you need to increase your calories above your maintenance level. The only difference between weight gain programs and weight loss programs is the total number of calories required.

Negative calorie balance is essential to lose body fat.

Calories not only count, they are the bottom line when it comes to fat loss. If you are eating more calories than you expend, you simply will not lose fat, no matter what type of foods or food combinations you eat. Some foods do get stored as fat more easily than others, but always bear in mind that too much of anything, even "healthy food," will get stored as fat. You cannot override the laws of thermodynamics and energy balance. You must be in a calorie deficit to burn fat. This will force your body to use stored body fat to make up for the energy deficit. There are 3500 calories in a pound of stored body fat. If you create a 3500-calorie deficit in a week through diet, exercise or a combination of both, you will lose one pound. If you create a 7000 calories deficit in a week you will lose two pounds. The calorie deficit can be created through diet, exercise or preferably, with a combination of both. Because we already factored in the exercise deficit by using an activity multiplier, the deficit we are concerned with here is the dietary deficit.

Calorie deficit thresholds: How low is too low?

It is well known that cutting calories too much slows down the metabolic rate, decreases thyroid output and causes loss of lean mass, so the question is how much of a deficit do you need? There definitely seems to be a specific cutoff or threshold where further reductions in calories will have detrimental effects. The most common guideline for calorie deficits for fat loss is to reduce your calories by at least 500, but not more than 1000 below your maintenance level. For some, especially lighter people, 1000 calories may be too much of a deficit. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that calorie levels never drop below 1200 calories per day for women or 1800 per day for men. Even these calorie levels are extremely low. A more individualized way to determine the safe calorie deficit would be to account for one's bodyweight or TDEE. Reducing calories by 15-20% below TDEE is a good place to start. A larger deficit may be necessary in some cases, but the best approach would be to keep the calorie deficit through diet small while increasing activity level.

Example 1:

Your weight is 120 lbs.

Your TDEE is 2033 calories

Your calorie deficit to lose weight is 500 calories

Your optimal caloric intake for weight loss is 2033 - 500 = 1533 calories

Example 2:

Your calorie deficit to lose weight is 20% of TDEE (.20% X 2033 = 406 calories)

Your optimal caloric intake for weight loss = 1627 calories

Positive calorie balance is essential to gain lean bodyweight

If you want to gain lean bodyweight and become more muscular, you must consume more calories than you burn up in a day. Provided that you are participating in a weight-training program of a sufficient intensity, frequency and volume, the caloric surplus will be used to create new muscle tissue. Once you've determined your TDEE, the next step is to increase your calories high enough above your TDEE that you can gain weight. It is a basic law of energy balance that you must be on a positive calorie balance diet to gain muscular bodyweight. A general guideline for a starting point for gaining weight is to add approximately 300-500 calories per day onto your TDEE. An alternate method is to add an additional 15 - 20% onto your TDEE.


Your weight is 120 lbs.

Your TDEE is 2033 calories

Your additional calorie requirement for weight gain is + 15 - 20% = 305 - 406 calories

Your optimal caloric intake for weight gain is 2033 + 305 - 406 = 2338 - 2439 calories

Adjust your caloric intake gradually.

It is not advisable to make any drastic changes to your diet all at once. After calculating your own total daily energy expenditure and adjusting it according to your goal, if the amount is substantially higher or lower than your current intake, then you may need to adjust your calories gradually. For example, if your determine that your optimal caloric intake is 1900 calories per day, but you have only been eating 900 calories per day, your metabolism may be sluggish. An immediate jump to 1900 calories per day might actually cause a fat gain because your body has adapted to a lower caloric intake and the sudden jump up would create a surplus. The best approach would be to gradually increase your calories from 900 to 1900 over a period of a few weeks to allow your metabolism to speed up and get used to it.

Measure your results and adjust calories accordingly.

These calculations for finding your correct caloric intake are quite simplistic and are just estimates to give you a starting point. You will have to monitor your progress closely to make sure that this is the proper level for you. You will know if you’re at the correct level of calories by keeping track of your caloric intake, your bodyweight, and your body fat percentage. You need to observe your bodyweight and body fat percentage to see how you respond. If you don't see the results you expect, then you can adjust your caloric intake and exercise levels accordingly. The bottom line is that it’s not effective to reduce calories to very low levels in order to lose fat. In fact, the more calories you consume the better, as long as a deficit is created through diet and exercise. The best approach is to reduce calories only slightly and raise your daily calorie expenditure by increasing your frequency, duration and or intensity of exercise.

This brings us back to my recommendation to memorize caloric value of basic and frequently used foods, so you can calculate approximately how many calories per day you consume, and adjust them accordingly.

Caloric value of different foods can be found on multiple web sites. Charts usually list various foods (either in alphabetical or food groups order) with corresponding values for total calories, and grams of protein, carbohydrates, and fat. It may be helpful to print out one of these charts, highlight with a marker those foods you consume frequently, and memorize their caloric value, so you can do quick and dirty calculations every time you eat or drink something. The best ever reference for nutritive value of foods is by Susan E. Gebhardt and Robin G. Thomas from the US Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Nutrient Data Laboratory, Beltsville, Maryland in 2002. You can find it on line at http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/Data/HG72/hg72_2002.pdf

This wonderful document is not only very easy to read, but also it gives most up-to-date, most comprehensive and scientific approach to nutritional value of most common foods. It can be used


Please visit this link to see my own Powerpoint presentation on Intuitive Nutrition for additional information!


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