There is so much we still have to learn about health and nutrition. I love exploring how different diets and activities impact our health, but I really think it is important to use what we have learned. In the world of nutrition the calorie is an integral part to knowing how our body uses energy and if we understand our caloric needs we can also then have control of our weight.
Today I am going to cover in simple terms
- What calories are
- What are the different ways our body gets calories
- Why and when we should track them
- How to read a nutrition label
- How to track calories with MyFitnessPal
How Our Body Weight Works and Energy
Your weight is the combined weight of all the parts of your body. All of the solid parts of your body that are not body fat are called your LEAN MASS. In a healthy person you generally want this to be heavier . You want denser bones, you want more cartilage, you want good muscle tone. Your WATER MASS is the weight of all the parts of you that are liquid, the water in your cells, The water in your blood, how much pee you have in your bladder. This number changes day to day as water is constantly going in and out. This can vary up to 10lbs a day . Last of all we have your FAT MASS, this is all the of fat that your body has made to save energy for later. When we try to lose weight we want to lose fat without losing lean mass. When we try to gain weight we want to gain lean mass without gaining fat.
We are made of stuff and our body is constantly taking energy with food and spending energy we have the Calorie. A calorie is a measure of how much usable energy is in a food. If we want to change our weight then understanding how much energy we need is the best way to do it. Every successful diet causes us to eat less calories than our body needs and therefore we lose weight.
Keto – By cutting out carbohydrates we limit the amount of foods we can eat and less food
Paleo/ Whole 30- By cutting out processed foods we cut out the high calorie we foods we are tempted to abuse and eat lower calorie foods where we need a ridiculously high amount of food to overeat
Intermittent Fasting/ Fasting – By limiting the windows we can feed the total calories we eat in a day/ week generally goes down with normal meal sizes.
Jenny Craig or another meal service- By eating only the prepared foods on the plan I am eating a set amount of calories and losing weight because of it.
We can either move more, eat less, or do both but all that matters is burning more than you lose. I am speaking only from the physical side of things knowing what to do and actually doing it are different things and uncomfortable change always has a mental and psychological part.
- Different things have energy and our body uses them in different way. What they are used for impacts how much we need of each type. This matters for your general health and happiness, but in the end it is total calories that matter most for your weight
- Protein-4 calories per gram, Most filling and is used for your body to preserve and build muscle.
- Carbs- 4 calories per gram, Least filling, main energy source for higher intensity activity, the more carbohydrates you eat generally the more your weight will fluctuate in how much water you have.
- Fat-9 calories per gram, Very filling, main storage source of energy for the body and main energy source for low intensity activity
We could go further in-depth into macro-nutrients but the main point today is what your food is made of can make a difference but how many total calories matters the most.
Why and When to Track Calories
If calories are the currency our body uses for energy, tracking calories is accounting. Yes we can save money without accounting if we just decide to spend nothing(starvation diets with little exercise) or we can save money by making a ridiculous amount of money and struggling to spend it all. (this is how the teenage football player can eat McDonald everyday and maintain weight) Both scenarios will only work for awhile and aren’t best case scenario and potentially aren’t that healthy.
I firmly believe a person should learn skills to maintain their weight and then track calories for short periods (a couple months ) when they aim to gain or lose weight. Both healthy weight loss and healthy weight gain are periods where you are trying to change from the comfortable norm and tracking your calories keeps you honest and assured that you are making progress.
Tracking with MyFitnessPal
MyFitnessPal is the number one app people use to track calories. It has the most data and most logged foods to make tracking as easy as possible. The app uses your information to make a good guess of how many calories you need based on your goal, activity level, gender, age,height, and weight. Remember this is just a guess and energy needs vary slightly day to day. Only through very very consistent tracking can you learn your true needs . Below I will have how and when to modify your calories based on how your weight is changing.
- Download from the app or android store by searching for MyFitnessPal
- Sign Up and complete the login process. Your answers here will be put into an algorithm to give your calorie daily goal.
Tracking a meal
You can track a meal 3 main ways
- Searching for food- The app has uploaded foods from all over the world and it is amazing how often you can find exactly what brand or restaurant you are eating. When looking at a food be mindful of the amount and make sure it matches what your are actually eating.
- Scanning a bar-code – If you are eating a food from the grocery store you can scan the bar-code on the bag or box and it will show what you are eating and all you have to select if the amount .
- Create a new item- If you made something you can create new item and put the nutritional information yourself and then it will always be there for you to log . This is a more intensive process but may be worth it if you make a specific recipe often.
As you track foods your diary will show how many calories, protein , fat, and carbs you have left to help you make choices towards your goal for the rest of the day.
Remember that calorie tracking is a tool to hit your goal of eating fewer calories than you burn. Paying attention to these tips below will help you avoid a lot of wasted time.
- Consistency is the number one thing that matters for success
- You have to track your weekends to be successful if you take the weekend off from tracking don’t be surprised when the scale doesn’t move for you.
- If you forget to track breakfast and lunch it is better to estimate before you eat dinner than to try to restart on the next day.
- Log your food before you eat it so you don’t forget and so you know how much you are actually eating. Once you eat it you can’t take it back.
MyFitnessPal is an estimate and because your weight is a fluctuating thing, your first week may be dramatic weight loss or a little off. If you have bigger weight loss than the app said you should then keep it there and see what happens in week two. If you have no weight loss or less weight loss than you should have , then lower your calories manually by 10% for the following week and reassess the following week. Remember you should expect to be hungry and restricted to some extent. If hunger is all you think about or you struggle to sleep then you may be doing things too aggressively . Manageable hunger is the goal.