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Posts tagged ‘calories’

Math and Physics Apply to You

It really bothers me when people say “it isn’t the calories” or “diets don’t work” or “calories in, calories out is a myth”. The laws of thermodynamics apply to everyone. Fat gets stored when we consume more calories than we need, and it gets released when there are too few. There are nuances to this, as to where the fat gets stored, what kind of fat gets made, whether the body turns to fat or muscle to obtain calories, but those nuances don’t negate the basic principles.

Here is the basic principle

You’ve heard it takes eating 3500 fewer calories to lose a pound which is the basic formula for figuring weight loss. A better way to understand this is not to think about individual pounds, but goal weight. Lets say you currently weigh 200 lbs, and want to go to 180. To maintain 200 lbs, in a lightly active older man takes about 2,350 calories. To maintain 180 is about 2150, according to the Mayo clinic calorie calculator. All you would need to do is trim 200 calories a day and stick with that in order to get to your goal weight. However, that 200 calories a day would take quite some time to get you there, which most people don’t like. Most health professionals cut about 500 calories a day to speed up the process. I also have to say my experience with calorie calculators, such as MyFitnessPal, shows that they are overly generous in their estimation of calories needs, so you do need to tweak according to your experience. For example, most calorie counters say I need 1,700 calories a day to maintain, I find 1,500 to be more realistic.

The idea behind this is simple, lets use cars as an example. If you have a truck that gets 23 miles a gallon, most of the mileage is due to weight. If you have a compact that gets 38, it’s mostly because it is lighter. Now some fuel efficiency is also tweaks to the engine, better engineering and streamlining, but weight is the biggest factor. The truck needs .043 gallons to go a mile, the car .026. We are similar. A heavier person takes more calories to move than a lighter person. As you lose weight, it takes fewer calories to move you, so you need to adjust your calories downward to continue to lose weight

Now we get to the hard part

Therein lies the rub. We get heavy because we like to eat more than we need, it is hard enough to cut back to lose the initial weight, then finding out you need to cut more to continue… well, you can see why we are in this fix. Food is a more immediate reward than is looking good. If you do not have sufficient internal motivation, you won’t stick with it. We live in a society reveling in food in complete disregard for it’s impact on health.

So what is the answer?

First, find your motivation, and it can’t be appearance. It has been shown over and over that is not sufficient motivation. You have to internalize the idea that self love and self care mean eating healthy, not downing a pint of ice cream. Second, find supportive people. Hang out with people on a health journey. You will tend to imitate your friends behaviors. Third, learn to love healthy foods. There are so many, don’t eat stuff you don’t like. If you hate kale, you don’t have to eat it to be healthy. Fourth, find a stopping point you can live with. If you can be happy and healthy at 180, stay there. Don’t make yourself miserable trying to get to 150. Make your goal a realistic one you can live with.

Your Weekly Pep Talk

I know some of you out there are really struggling with your weight. I don’t like to make weight the main issue, health is far more important, and while there is a correlation between the two, most people focus on weight for appearances. I like to refer to it as healthy eating. Healthy eating usually leads to weight loss, since most people don’t get too overweight on eggplant and okra, even if it is fried.

I’m here to give you a pep talk.

All the right information is already out there, it’s just so much easier to succumb to the “lose weight fast” garbage. So I’m just going to give you another reinforcement of the good stuff so you can renew your efforts this week.


What are the sticking points for you? Quantity? Feeling hungry? Favorite foods you don’t want to give up? Psychological need to treat yourself? Everyone is different. Take a piece of paper and write down your problem areas. Be specific. Write “Every night I REALLY want a bowl of cereal. I can’t go to sleep without it”. Or, “Going out to eat makes me so happy, I can’t give it up.” “I won’t or can’t cook.”

Make a plan

When it comes to food, planning is everything. Like spending, it is the impulse items that get you every time. Even if you don’t count calories, you need to control portions, and decide  what you are going to eat when you are hungry ahead of time. Plan breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus any snacks you need. If you need a good quantity of food, plan to add a large salad to each meal- yes, you can eat greens for breakfast. Really clamp down on the starch and fatty foods, and decide how you can increase your vegetable and fruit intake. Swap hot dogs for fat free ham or turkey, add 2x as much lettuce, tomato and onions to your sandwich.

Some things are a given, if you are still eating white bread or pasta, swap it out for whole wheat immediately. No one should be eating white bread any more. Make sure your pasta and potato servings are 1/2 cup. Put that potato in your one half measuring cup. If it won’t fit, eat half. Buy one box of “white wheat pasta”, whole wheat or Barilla’s protein plus. Cook your pasta, rice and potatoes ahead of time and reheat- it makes more of the starch resistant, meaning it won’t raise your blood sugar as high. A lot of starches are empty calories, and cause bouncing blood sugar that makes you hungrier sooner. Empty calories mean they don’t have any nutritional value other than calories.

If you can’t or won’t cook, read menus and labels carefully. All restaurants are supposed to have their calorie counts available. Choose carefully and stick with it. Be ready to ask for a “to-go” box early in the meal and place 1/2 in it, or split it, if the meal is over your calorie limit. Remember the 1/2 cup for starches? Most restaurant potatoes are double that, so don’t eat the whole thing. Many supermarkets have salad bars and take out items, again, choose carefully. Cheese should be a condiment. Olives are high in fat, hence calories, so go sparingly on them. Treat breaded and fried things like the plague.

Address your needs.

If you are a sweets lover, don’t sit here and say “I just won’t eat them.” You can try that, but it won’t work for long. Instead, find healthier sweets by making or baking your own, or buying less harmful ones. Portion control on sweets is hard for people. My husband and I will cut a Klondike bar in half to make it more reasonable. Make sure you are eating till full of the good food, so you aren’t eating sweets when you are hungry. Don’t keep “trigger” foods in your house. I can’t have trail mix in my house. Every time I do, I eat 2-3 portions a day. Find a sweet that satisfies you without causing binging.

I hope something I’ve said here resonates with you, and that you will feel empowered to make some constructive changes or get back on track. Eating isn’t black and white, it is a continuum. Don’t get discouraged, at any point you can improve, and that’s all you need to do.

Boost Your Metabolism

boost your metabolismOk, now that I have your attention.

This is what everyone wants to hear, right? “I want to burn more calories, without changing what I’m doing.” But can we be honest, and talk about what metabolism is, and what we are doing when we are “burning calories” ?

Metabolism is just the sum of all the chemical reactions that happen to make you alive and mobile. Your metabolism consists of your cells dividing, your heart pumping, your lungs breathing, tiny muscular contractions keeping you upright, secretions being produced, etc. Approximately 90-99% of all the calories you burn each day are spent just keeping you alive. All large skeletal movements are added to that, so the more you move, the more calories you use one top of the basic ones.

You are not above the law.

The math is pretty basic. The laws of thermodynamics do apply to living things. However, all measurements are approximate as we are all a bit different. For example, most measurements are based on men having more muscle mass than women. That may or may not be true. Most good calorie trackers currently tie into fitness trackers or allow you to put your activity range in, allowing them to dial in better. Until we get to the point where we can perfectly register every bite you put in your mouth and all your exertions, there will be some discrepancy. Having said all that, I will not believe you if you tell me you are eating 12oo calories a day and not losing weight. (Unless you are a child or child sized.)

Eeek! Starvation mode!

Which brings me to my next point. Actually, to my whole point in writing this. When we talk about “starvation mode”, or raising or lowering our metabolism, what we are actually talking about is increasing or decreasing movement. Remember the last time you were literally starving? Like after having the flu, or when you fasted? You feel like you can’t move. The effort to lift an arm feels like too much. That is all we mean when we talk about lowering your metabolism. If your body doesn’t have enough for the “keeping you alive” part, you certainly won’t have the energy for a 20 minute cardio workout. So you want to eat enough to feel capable of doing exercise. (Willingness is another issue.) Your metabolism isn’t some magic engine that is revving up while you are sitting in front of the computer. It is you deciding to walk to work, run on your lunch, hike after work, or get to the gym. Your metabolism revs up as it is required to, by moving. You can’t make your cells divide faster, or secrete more, the only part of your metabolism you have control over is skeletal movement.  And, if I may speak from personal experience, moving makes you more energetic. No one gets more energized by sitting on the couch. People who say “I’m resting up” don’t ever seem to get rested enough to do anything.

Take home message:

Use a decent calorie tracker, know your limits and move, Move, MOVE! (And don’t fall for hype. If you take something to “boost your metabolism”, then use it to move!)

(But don’t take anything to boost your metabolism, they are generally useless.)

Do the math.

How to lose weight:

Oooh, here it is, the big secrete. At it’s heart, weight loss is a math problem. Start with your basic metabolic rate; Weight divided by 2.2, x.9(for a woman), 1 for a man , x24. That total is the number of calories it takes to keep you alive, at your current weight, the amount you burn just breathing, digesting and metabolizing, for one day. The amount of activity you do will determine the amount of calories above this will be needed to maintain weight. If you are sedentary, add 25% to that total. Moderately active, add 50%, extremely active, 75%-100%. Of course, these are estimates. You can buy devices that will actually measure your activity output.

If you want to lose weight, you need to consume 500 fewer calories than your total out put to lose weight. So take whatever total you got above, subtract 500 and that is the starting point for  weight loss.

So lets say you are a 135 lb, moderately active woman.

Divide 135 by 2.2=61.36 (your weight in Kilograms)

61.36 x.9=55.224 – How many calories an hour you burn. 55.224 x 24= 1,325.376 – or your basic metabolic rate.

1,326 x.5 = 663,  663 +1,326 =1,989- rough estimate of maintenance.

1,989-500= 1,489 -The amount of calories, roughly, that would equal weight loss. You would start with this number and see what happens. If you don’t lose weight, you know you have to dial it back. It is rough, because we don’t burn the same amount of calories at all times. There are devices like the fitbit, jawbone, or plenty of others that can help you know what to do. There are also lots of great apps to help track what you eat, and count the calories for you.

There, was that the sexy secret you were waiting for? Sorry, weight loss is not sexy. Don’t tell me you starve yourself and can’t lose weight. There are no fat people in food deprived areas.

Having said all this. The math is the easiest part. The hard part is cutting calories and not feeling hungry or deprived. You can just cut 300 calories and exercise 200 calories more worth. Making drastic cuts is not the way, since you will go back to over eating when you start to eat again. The little day to day tweaks will help, then you create a diet that you can live with for the rest of your life. Remember, it is only 500 calories a day between loss and maintenance. Since we all have binge days, all days have to be somewhat like loss, to balance out the overage days.

So go home, do the math, and start logging what you eat. Oh, and I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but people WILL lie to you, especially to sell you stuff. Weight loss supplement commercials are full of lies and half truths. Learn the facts, that will protect you from the lies.

The Problem with Sweets

The Sweet Challenge

lots of candy

That’s what I’m talking about.

How many sweets do you eat a day? I don’t mean deserts, I mean sweet tasting things. Granola bars, fruit, cookies and pastries from the store. Breakfast cereal, sweetened beverages, the coffee’s, latte’s and smoothies. I am hereby challenging you to find out, just how many times a day do you eat sweet tasting things.


I have wanted to write a blog article extolling the virtues of molasses as a sugar substitute, since to me it is a no-brainer. I’m still going to throw a paragraph in here later on that. But thinking about this made me wonder why all the emphasis is on substituting, rather than cutting down or eliminating? Granted, we all have a sweet tooth, but much of that is cultural, rather than physical. If you are used to tasting sweet things over and over, that’s what you expect.  So I lay before you a challenge- check yourself out. How many times a day do you eat something sweet? From your cereal, doughnut and coffee in the morning, to the handful of trail mix or granola bar for a snack, the milkshake or pop with your lunch, the fruit flavored yogurt, canned fruit, or cookie. Even your alcoholic beverages, most of them are sweet too. How many hits a day are you getting of sweets? The maximum recommended amount now appears to be 25-50 grams of added sugar, depending on your calorie intake. That’s 5-10 teaspoons. That isn’t a lot, especially when you figure in all the added sugar you don’t really taste, such as in condiments.

The REAL Challenge.

You can all guess where this is headed. After you identify how many sweets you eat, where can you cut down or eliminate? Can you switch to black coffee or tea? Just have a banana with plain yogurt? Buy unsweetened cereal and cut the amount of sugar you put on it until you get to either a tiny amount or nothing. I’m not in favor of substituting, as that isn’t changing your tastes at all.

Now, before you accuse me of being a killjoy, let me just say, you can have sweets. All I’m saying is that if you lower the overall sweetness of your diet, the sweets you do eat will have more of an impact on your tastebuds, and treats will really be treats. Plus, it will eliminate lots of calories from your diet, with adding artificial ingredients. Not to mention most savory foods have lots of good things going for them. This does not mean chips! When you eat a granola bar as a snack, you are mostly getting sugar. Eat a half a sandwich instead, on whole wheat bread. I’m a big proponent of eating more real food instead of snack food. Most snack foods have nothing going for them nutritionally. Save your sugar calories for real desserts!

Back to the Molasses.

Molasses pouring out of bottleIf you are going to substitute something healthier than sugar, my money is on molasses. It has tons of flavor, and I think it is sweeter, so you use less. Plus, it is a real food, it is the cane syrup before it is refined down to white sugar, before all the good stuff is removed. It has calcium, iron and potassium in it, and a 20g serving has only 9g of sugar. If you bake with it, it is adding moisture as well. I made a really good zucchini bread using only 1/4 c. molasses and 1/4 white sugar with two apples as the sweetener. I use molasses in my oatmeal in the morning. Even with my kale in it, it is sweet enough with a scant teaspoon. Here is a great link to Whole Foods’ take on molasses. Of course, you can always find someone who claims molasses to cure most everything. Hey, and how can you talk about a food and not include some recipes?

Are you up for it?

So, pick up the gauntlet, take the challenge and let me know how you did. Was it painful to add up all the sweets? How many do you think you can eliminate? I still have a way to go. I love my chocolate, and depending on the time of the month, sometimes I’m better than others. My first cup of coffee of the day is still sweetened, but I drink it black the rest of the day. This isn’t an absolute thing, it’s a question of refinement, and how far do you want to go. Where do you want to spend your calories, and what do you want to get out of them? Just like you don’t want to waste money, don’t waste your calories.

Is there much of a difference between calories and money?

Frying up some dough.

Frying up some dough.

I was thinking about this topic as I made my breakfast. Mostly because the money part gets a little frustrating. When you are married, for most of us, it is “our money”. So if you are a budgeter, fusser, worrier, and believe money should only be spent after careful thought and consideration, and you are married to a “let’s spend it before we die” person, there is a little room for tension.

You can easily see where the idea of budgeting fits into eating. If you want to maintain or lose weight, you only have so many calories to “spend”. Trying to lose weight is like trying to save for a vacation, you have to not spend wherever possible. Maintenance in eating is like simply not going into debt with money.

The parallels are numerous. Different strategies work for different people in both arenas. Some are better at cutting out the little luxuries, others feel deprived, and would rather make some drastic cut in one place rather than give up the little things.

The interesting thing is in our house, my husband and I have the same differences about eating that we do about money. The same struggles we come to in reaching financial decisions are exactly the ones we have in reaching a dietary consensus. The more I reflect on this, the more obvious the similarities are.

Here is my question for you- Do you see the parallels in your spending and eating habits? Are you disciplined in one, and not the other, or do the problems in one arena mirror the other?

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