Are all calories created equal?
How many calories should I be taking in?
Here is the question that every client asks at some point. For some trainers, the simple formula of calories in versus calories out is all that's needed to successfully lose or gain weight. For me, this is not the case. It is an effective way to get the ball rolling, but is not the be all and end all of weight loss or weight gain. There are so many other factors that come into play like unbalanced hormones, metabolism, chronological age, muscle mass, medical history, quality of calories, sustainability of calorie intake, sleep cycles, goals, water intake, sequencing of food, misinformation and the obvious, activity level among others.
Let's take a look at a few of these factors to show how it is not as simple as, burn more calories than you take in.
For me, balancing hormones is key. If we just one hormone is out of whack, it has a domino effect on many others. For example, if we are highly stressed and highly anxious, cortisol (stress hormone) is elevated, which affects insulin (fat storage hormone), which affects, which affects glucagon (fat burning hormone), and so on. So, having stress relieving strategies in place like other than drinking your calories in the form of booze, will help you lose that extra body fat. Positive outlets would be meditation, exercise, massage etc.
First we must understand what our metabolic rate is in order to figure out how many calories we need to consume. Our basal metabolic rate is how many calories your body burns at rest or what your body needs to maintain its current weight. You can calculate your BMR here or you can do a Dexa scan or something similar to get a more accurate reading. Based off that you calculate how many calories you need to consume in order to lose weight. This will lead to a calorie deficit. Go too long (2 weeks) with a calorie deficit and fat loss will stop due to leptin and thyroid hormones T3 and T4. This is why refeed (strategic cheat meals) are important.
Quality of Calories
Based off your BMR you may need to consume 2000 calories. If your 2000 calories come from Mc Donalds burgers and beer you may still lose body fat, but are you teaching yourself the correct habits to sustain that weight loss? Probably not. The goal is to get away from the habits that got you in this position in the first place. I would prefer you overdo it on your calories with quality whole, plant based natural foods that under eat on crap food. Another factor in the quality of food you consume is the alkalinity versus the acidity of each item. The more acidic the more inflammation caused. Inflammation leads to fat storage as a protection agent. Check the acidity-alkalinity of your foods here.
Sleep and Rest Cycles
I don't care how much you exercise, if you don't rest and digest properly, you might as well beat your head off the wall. If you are not sleeping properly, you most likely are not eating properly and your performance in the gym is probably under par too. If I was to list the 3 things that are necessary to lose weight in order of importance, it would go like this. Sleep, nutrition and then exercise. Boom. Simple as that. The funny part is, if you exercise, you are more likely to eat better and sleep better.
Our bodies are made up of about 70% water. If we do not consume about half our bodyweight in ounces of water daily, bodily functions and hormones will not work as needed and again our goals are stifled. Drink the damn water people. It's free and easy if you can discipline yourself.
Combination and Sequencing of Food
1. Eat RAW FRUIT alone 2. Avoid mixing STARCHY CARBOHYDRATES with ANIMAL PROTEIN 3. Water-rich VEGETABLES go with everything 4. Healthy FATS go with everything 5. Avoid combining HIGH SUGAR FOODS with other foods. Note: Food combining principles can be more lax if your meal consists of a juice or smoothie, since the ingredients are blended.
Cereal with cow’s milk Chicken and rice Steak and potato Cereal (non-raw) with fruit
Cereal with rice milk Salmon and steamed leafy greens Chick peas and kale Rice cracker with almond butter
If you are presented with a meal with foods that are not properly “combined”, you can also better your body’s ability to digest them by sequencing how you eat your meal. Here is how food sequencing works.
1. Eat SIMPLE FOODS and ENZYME-RICH FOODS ﬁrst These are generally raw foods such as salad or raw veggies. Their enzymes will assist in the digestion of the foods you eat next.
2. Eat COMPLEX CARBOHYDRATES + FIBER-RICH FOODS next These include your starchy root vegetables (sweet potato, yams, etc.…). We eat these before heavier protein because they are digested more rapidly and thus can pass through the digestive tract unimpeded.
3. Eat PROTEIN + FAT last These take the longest to digest and thus should be eaten after the aforementioned foods. This is more applicable to those who eat animal proteins. If you are a vegan than your protein will be coming from easy to assimilate plant sources such as legumes. Furthermore, plant-based proteins don’t carry saturated fats or cholesterol (only healthy fats) which further assists their digestion.
So how many calories should I be taking in for my goal?
Below is a simple, general guide to how many calories you should be taking in to lose weight, to maintain your weight or gain weight.
Do not, I repeat, do not subtract your calories from exercise and assume you can eat the calories you just worked off. You are defeating the purpose. The goal is to be in a calorie deficit.
There is so much information out there, that ciphering through the bullshit can be hard. Should I take this supplement? Should I eat all the protein? Should I do paleo? Look, at the end of the day, you need to find what works for you. My advice to my clients is always
1. Set a measurable goal or vision for your health and fitness 2. challenge yourself regularly to reach a short-term goal that aligns with this vision and 3. find a method you believe in and a method of eating you feel you can sustain for the rest of your life, but most importantly what works for you.
We all have different schedules and different tastes etc. What I could prescribe for one person may not work for the next so, yes, try different methods and use what works and get rid of what doesn't because it's not as simple as calories in calories out.