Step away from the diet.

Too many people are on a perpetual diet.  Constantly being a slave to a reduced intake.

The problem is you cannot always be on a diet. Diets are not meant to be a long term thing and they stop working if you are on them too long.

News flash: your body does not give two poops about your physique goal. It actually does not want you to be lean.  The body wants homeostasis, and it will do just about anything to maintain that.

According to Dictionary.com: homeostasis is the tendency of the body to seek and maintain a condition of balance or equilibrium within its internal environment, even when faced with external changes.

Also known as why the eff does our body make this so freaking hard!?

The good news is there is an easy thing you can do. You can trick the body into not maintaining homeostasis and take a break from dieting at the same time. This wonderful thing is called maintenance mode.

In order to maintain homeostasis our bodies will start to compensate for the reduced caloric intake.

Untitled design-4

Mmmm, berries. 

It’s not so neat.

One way this happens the body naturally decreases its NEAT (non exercise activity thermogenesis).  NEAT is the energy expended for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating or planned exercise. It is the mindless fidgeting, toe tapping, walking and playing that we do day to day. It is not planned movement, but the activity we unconsciously or spontaneously decide to do.

When we decrease the energy we put in our bodies, our bodies will decrease the energy it expends (In other words: eat LESS burn LESS). There will be less walking, less unplanned movement.  Even something as simple as tapping your foot or twitching your fingers while working can be decreased.  These movements don’t seem like much, but they add up. NEAT can account for 15-50% of your daily caloric burn. (That could be roughly anywhere from 200-900 calories!)

Increased Perceived Exertion

While on a diet, especially long term, eventually our workouts can suffer.  You will no longer be burning the same amount of calories as you previously were even though the workout may feel harder.  When we are in a caloric deficit or super low carb for a period of time we tend to have a higher perceived rate of exertion (how hard a workout feels). We think we are kicking butt in the gym when in actuality we’re not. Caloric deficits (and extreme low carbing it) can also enhance fatigability which make us feel tired and we think the workouts feel harder than it really is.

I’m hungry.

When in a deficit appetite will go up, this is true especially for women. Leptin is the hormone responsible for our hunger signals.  As our body fat decreases, our leptin increases.  Increased leptin means we feel hungrier.  (Remember our body wants us back at the previous weight, and it is telling you to eat to get back there.)

What often happens when the appetite ramps up, we eat. Sometimes we are not even aware we are consuming more food. Cravings can become more intense, and those occasional indulges become less occasional.

When our appetite is high we tend to indulge in more licks, bites and nibbles.  Like licking the peanut butter off the knife. Having a bite of the kids’ dessert. Nibbling on some leftovers while pondering what to make for dinner. Individually those things don’t seem like much (and there not) but repeatitively they add up! And when leptin is high the tendency is to have more licks, bites and nibbles, sometimes without even being aware of them.

How your body reacts will be unique to you, but here are some signs you’ve been on a diet too long and it’s time to back away:

  • You’ve been in a caloric deficit for 12 week (or longer).
  • Your progress has stalled.
  • There has been a loss of strength.
  • You’ve started showing signs of hormone disruptions. (blood sugar swings, having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, you are retaining more water.)
  • Ladies your menses may have changed.
  • Loss of libido.
  • Loss of appetite OR feeling like you are absolutely ravenously starving and unable to feel full.
  • Cravings are through the roof, and they may be uncontrollable at times.
  • Binge eating
  • Mental fog, grumpiness
  • Physique is starting to look flat and deflated or puffy and swollen.

So, what do you do now? Back away from the diet!

SERIOUSLY TAKE A BREAK.

Maintenance is where the magic happens.

You need to return to maintenance mode. Maintenance is the amount of food you need to eat to stay at your current body weight.  (Not where you hoped to be. Not what you needed to eat in high school. But what you need to eat with your body as it is today.)

The pros to maintenance mode:

It gives your body a break

It gives your mind a break (which allows the next time your diet to be easier)

Now maintenance mode is NOT a free pass. It is not a time to go crazy.  Absolutely do not think of it as a cheat.  Or as a chance to eat all the things. It is maintenance. (if however, you find you cannot stop binging during maintenance mode, your previous diet may have been too restrictive).

Diet with maintenance

A very fancy and non scientific line graph demonstrating how much better it is to include periods of maintenance in you life.

Two ways to approach this.  Calorie and macro counting or intuitive eating.

Intuitive Eating

The easiest way is to return to a more intuitive way of eating.

The rules are simple:

  1. Eat when hungry, but before you are starving.
  2. Eat protein at every single meal. (Men should aim for 6-8 servings/day and women need 4-6 day)
  3. Stop eating BEFORE you are full.
  4. Load your plate with lots of veggies and fruit. (6-8 servings a day!)
  5. Fill the rest in with healthy carbs and fat.

The trick is you really need to listen to your body.  Especially your hunger and fullness cues.  That is when your body tells you it is hungry, before you get hungry. And it tells you to stop eating BEFORE you feel overly physically full. If you and your body haven’t been on good speaking terms lately then food tracking may be a better choice for you.

Food tracking.

This would be setting a prescribed set amount of calories and macros and logging your daily intake.  This takes more work, but it is best if you don’t have great appetite cues (ie: you don’t know when you are hungry and or when you are almost full)  or you just prefer tracking.

1st: make sure you are consuming enough protein.  If you are consuming less than .8 grams/LB of body weight bring that up first. (Ex. If you are 150 pounds 150x.8=120)

Once you have been eating at least .8g protein/Lb for 2 weeks, then assess your carbs and fat.

Pick one, either carbs or fat to bring up. (If your fat intake is under 35 grams start there otherwise start with carbs.)

You can bring up the fat up by for 10-20 grams or carbs up by 25-50 grams.  Continue to eat that amount for 2 weeks.

Watch your weight, measurements and progress photos.  Objectively watch your body (this is hard and can help to have a second opinion). Using mainly scale weight and progress photos, once you notice you are no longer losing weight and it is holding steady, you are in maintenance mode.

Optimally  you’ll stop increasing your intake right before you start to gain weight back, but if not it is no biggie just back pull back a little. (If you were low carb editing, I don’t recommend just going by scale weight, as an increase in carbs can cause the numbers to creep up BUT it is not fat, just the body replenishing glycogen)

Once you hit maintenance you should try to hang out there for at least 2 weeks.

Both methods can work, you just need to chose the best that works for you.

So, quit trying to white knuckle it through your perpetual diet and take a break! You will find that you will bust through that plateau and then next phase of dieting is even easier to adhere to.

 

If you would like more personalized help, fill out the contact form and I will get back to in 24 hrs and we can chat about your personal situation.

Calorie Counting. Is it the answer?

The pros and cons, how to do it and how to figure out how many calories you need.

In this article I am discussing calorie counting, however, when are talking calorie counting, what I really mean is tracking and logging your food intake.  I believe your macronutrients (carbs, fat, protein) are very important too.  I will discuss counting those at a later point. For now, let’s just start with tracking, logging and counting calories. What you learn here will carry over to counting macros. But before we get started I have just one important statement to make: calorie counting is not the end all be all.  There are other things we can do that do will have an impact. Also, less is not always more. DO NOT keep taking away calories if you are not seeing results.  There are other things that may need to be adjusted first)

Am I for or against calorie counting? Well, I don’t have a clear cut answer for you.  There are times when counting calories is beneficial, and then there are times when it is not. Nice huh? Calorie counting does have its purpose, but it can easily be misused. It can also be very inaccurate.

So when can it useful?

When you do not know how much you are consuming.  Some people do not have a reliable internal fullness meter.  They can eat and eat and don’t know when to stop until they start to feel physically uncomfortable, and by then is too late.  You need to stop eating right before you feel completely fully. Some have a hard time with this, maybe that is due to ignoring your body’s natural hunger and fullness signs, maybe you were taught to “clean your plate” as a child, or maybe you have a hormone issue like leptin resistance.  Calorie counting can help by giving you a clear amount that you should be eating.  Calorie counting, however, is not the only way to deal with these issues. It is just one. Other ways would be learning healthy habits, learning serving sizes and for those with leptin resistance balancing blood sugar and lowering triglycerides.

When you have no idea what a serving size is.

It can be hard to eat proper amounts when you don’t know what a serving size it.  You know the back of the cereal box says a serving size is 30 grams, but what does 30 grams look like? (Spoiler, probably a whole lot smaller then you thought, and definitely not the size of an average cereal bowl!) I find it very helpful, not just for my clients but also for myself, to occasionally count calories as a way to check my portions.  My recommendations vary by client, but generally an occasionally 2-4 week count can be very helpful. Some, however, will benefit from a longer stint of tracking.   When you start tacking your intake you may realize you are eating more (or less) then you thought you were.

serving_size

Bowl on the left is one serving of cereal, at 30 grams. It has 100 calories. While the bowl on the right, is a a typical bowl of cereal. It has almost twice the amount calories.

Those Last 5 Pounds

Calorie counting can help with those “stubborn last 5 lbs.”.  When it comes to that stubborn fat or last few pounds, calorie counting can help (note, I said Help and not fix. Calorie counting is just one piece of the puzzle). Those last few pounds can be tricky, and it helps to have an idea of what you are eating, so we know where to make adjustments.  Maybe it is the calorie amount, maybe its macros or maybe is nutrient timing.  If you’ve been tracking it can give a nice picture to see where we can adjust next. (Remember less calories is not always the answer.   There are other things to look at to like macros, exercise, stress, sleep quality and even micronutrients.  Calories are just ONE piece of the puzzle)

Very Particular Goals

If you have a very intense physique or athletic goal. I’m talking someone who has to get to a certain body weight by set time, or someone who main focus is athletic performance.  If you have a very intense end goal, we need a good clear picture of your intake.   In these situations, the macronutrients (and micros for those whose goals require a very low calorie diet) are also important.

Under and Over Eating

Food tracking can also help with chronic under and over eaters.  A lot of under and over eaters do not even realize they are doing it.  By paying attention to the exact amounts they are (or are not) eating it can help them realize they need to eat more or less.  This also come back to knowing your serving sizes.   When many fist start logging their foods, they are surprised my what they actually are eating.

So what is wrong with calorie counting then?

It is not sustainable. I hate to say you can’t count calories forever (because you could) but do you WANT to be counting calories forever? Along with counting, I advocate learning healthy habits.  (In my coaching, I teach those healthy eating habits so you don’t have to count calories forever.) With healthy eating habits you are not stuck constantly measuring and logging your food. You also have a healthy eating system that is a little more portable then lugging a food scale around with you.

Calorie counting and food logging can be used as a crutch.

Sometimes, counting calories and logging our food can turn into a crutch.  The problem with this, is it tends to not contribute to long term success.  If you are JUST logging your food and not learning healthy habits at the same time, you are not likely to maintain your desired weight long term. You may be able to achieve it, but the tricky part will be then maintaining it. Instead of letting calorie counting (or macro counting) turn into a crutch for you, use it to learn from.  Learn your serving sizes, learn the breakdown in your favorite meals, and learn healthy eating habits that will teach you how to stop eating at 80% full.

It can be inaccurate.

Did you know what is on the label might not actually be what you are consuming? The FDA allows for a 20% range of error on food labels.  20%! So, that 200 calorie snack you just had could actually be 160-240 calories. There was a study[1] done where the researches went out and tested 10 low calorie frozen meals and 29 restaurants low calorie entrees to see what they really contained.  They found the frozen meals off by 10% and restaurants UNDER estimated their calories they listed on menu or website by 18%.  For example, Denny’s had their dry toast listed as 97 calories but after being tested it was really 283 calories!  Calorie counting can give an idea and be used as an estimate, but it shouldn’t be thought of as written in stone.

How to count and track calories.

You are going to need an accurate way to measure your food.  You can use standard measuring spoons and cups or a food scale.  Note of caution, it is very easy to mismeasure using a measuring spoons/cups.  Take a tablespoon of peanut butter for example:

serving_size_PB

A tablespoon of peanut butter has 105 calories and 8 grams of fat. I used my standard tablespoon and scooped out a delicious heaping tablespoon of peanut butter.  When I measured this same hunk of peanut butter with the food scale, it came out to 29 grams. Which is closer to 2 tablespoons. So while I might have though I was consuming 105 calories (and 8 grams of fat) I was really getting 190 calories and 14 grams of fat!

dsc_0757

That heaping tablespoon of peanut butter was actually almost 2 tablespoons.

After measuring your food, you need to record it and analyze it. You can do it old school by hand or there are hundreds of apps and websites out there. MyFitnessPal, is one of the most popular.  It has thousands of foods, and it even has a barcode scanner.  The biggest downfall of MFP is it allows any person to input a food, there are a lot of erroneous entries in there (and hilarious ones too. Tears of my enemy anyone? Cat food?!) There are a lot of entries that people who just make up the nutritional info for food so it fits their personal needs (you’ll see this a lot with restaurant entries when people guestimate their entrees) Nutritiondata.self.com is the most accurate nutrition data bank.  I personally use MyFitnessPal to log and track, but then I double check my entries against nutritiondata.self.com. (A little trick, look for entries in MFP that say they are based on nutritiondata. They tend to be the more accurate ones.)

So now that you know why you should and shouldn’t count calories and you know how to track and log, but how much calories do you need?

Well… that can vary.  There are a handful of fancy equations out there, where you can input your height, weight, age into different equations and it spits out your BMR (or RMR).  There is Harris-Benedict, Mifflin-St Jeor, Schofield equations. These will tell you just your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) or RMR (Resting Metabolic Rate), which is JUST the number of calories you would need at complete rest, like a coma.  In order to calculate what you really need in a day you also have to take into account your TEA (the calories you burn exercising) TEF (the number of calories burned by eating food), and NEAT (the calories you burned in all activities other than planned exercise).  Then, once you have taken all that in to account you’ll get your TDEE, total daily energy expenditure, this is the most important number when trying to lose, gain or maintain your weight. If you wanted to maintain, you would attempt to consume your TDEE, to lose weight you’ll need to consume less than your TDEE and to gain consume more than your TDEE.  Kind of complicated huh?

Good news there is an easier way. The easiest way, is to use a bodyweight multiplier.  For weight loss multiple your body weight (in pounds) by 12, for gain 18 or maintenance 14, and those would be your caloric need. Very, important: these are just starting off points.  There are many things the can influence this, including how active you are, how much you exercise, your lean body mass, your stress levels and sleep. As an example, I calculated out my TDEE using the above formulas, it came to 1708.  If I was to use the body weight multiplier, and multiplied my body weight by 14 (116 X 14) I get 1740. So, dang pretty close.   Of course there is huge variance for people, and this is only to be used as a starting point.

To recap

There are both pros and cons to counting calories, but in the short term, it can be very helpful in helping you learn how much you need to eat. However, calorie counting is not the only way. There are other things that need to be taken into account. It is imperative to learn healthy habits for long term sucess. Try and learn serving sizes as you go and don’t rely on it as a crutch. Using it as a crutch can lead to failure long term.  In order to count and log, you need to be able to measure and log your food. And there are tons of fancy equations you can use to figure out how much you need to eat, but the easiest way to multiple your weight (in lbs) by 14 for maintenance, by 12 for loss and 18 for gains.  Hit those numbers for 2 weeks, then adjust as needed.

If you would like more personalized help with this, just fill out the form HERE and we can get started working together. Also, feel free to contact me with any questions you might have.  If you have been counting calories and feel stuck, I can help you with that.  Also, if you despise counting calories, but want help reaching your goals I can help you with that also.  I believe calorie counting is not the only way to reach your goals. It is just one tool out of many, and learning healthy habits is necessary for long term success.

 

References

Flack KD, S. W. (2016, Sep). Cross-Validation of Resting Metabolic Rate Prediction. J Acad Nutr Diet, 116(9), 1413-22.

Urban LE, D. G. (2010). The accuracy of Stated energy Contents of Reduced-energy. Commercially Prepared Foods. J Am Diet Assoc, 116-123.