Everything About Diets is Wrong, Part 2

Posted: August 22, 2011 in Diet & Nutrition

This is part 2 of a multi-part topic about diets.  See the Introduction and Part 1.

In Part 1, I talked briefly about what calories are in relation to establishing the foundations of a good mentality toward nutrition.  Now I’ll bring into light the importance of taking an extra few minutes to understand what and how much you’re consuming in foods and why.

Another unfortunate aspect of diet misconceptions is that we assume “less is more.”  The fewer calories we consume, the more our bodies will rely on our storage.  And therefore, we lose weight, get skinny, sexy, muscular, or whatever vain mental image we conjure for ourselves.

While true in a very simplistic way, it’s still a gross over-simplification of what really happens.

Every human adult* requires a minimum amount of caloric intake just to survive a day.  That means just the autonomic body functions that keep running to keep us alive: breathing, heart beat, immune system, blood flow, kidneys and liver filtering the bloodstream, and so on.  For adult women, that average amount is 1,200 calories at a minimum per day.  Adult men require 1,500.  And again, this is the base amount required just to keep the machinery operating at minimal levels.  Any amount of additional activity is going to need more energy.

What we actually expend in a day can vary wildly, from person to person and even week to week.  It all depends on our natural metabolism and activity levels.  Many of us are typically on the sedentary side of the scale and thus require less calories to burn to get through an entire day.  It’s when we eat more than we burn that we gain weight, of course.

To maintain a good healthy weight or even to lose a few pounds, we therefore need to establish our base metabolic rate, or how much we typically burn on the average.  Because calories are so difficult to measure, we have to resign ourselves to calculating ballpark figures.  I’ll use myself as an example.

First, I go to any of the on-line calculators to establish my base caloric requirement.  I start with the calorie calculator, like this one.  I enter my stats (and as always, remember to be honest with yourself because in order to make changes, you have to start with the truth; fudging the numbers only hurts yourself in the long run).  The result was that my basic burn rate is about 2,300 calories per day (assuming exercising 1-3 times per week).

The average adult can expect to lose around 1-2 lbs. per week safely.  Attempting any more than that right away typical leads to problems, especially when coupled with desperation.  While this rate of loss may seem slow, it is the most effective way for that weight loss to become permanent because you’re not shocking your body into an unexpected and sudden drop in body weight.

Burning about 3,500 calories in deficit will be approximately one pound.  Thus, a calorie deficit of between 3,500 – 7,000 per week is safe.  Since my base rate is 2,300, I have to target about 500-600 calories per day in deficit between what I consume and what I expend.  Thus, my intake should be around 1,700 – 1,800 calories per day.

But all this was the easy part.  The hard part is actually calculating and tracking what I eat.  And that’ll be next week’s topic.


* “Adult” is specified here because children and teens have a different set of caloric requirements than adults.  Teens especially end up in an unfortunate and dangerous combination of 1) bodies that are still growing and 2) the unrealistic expectations and images from mainstream media that dictate degrees and standards of “attractiveness.”  Especially prevalent in teen girls, body dysmorphia is a term used to describe seeing flaws that don’t actually exist.  Girls who are actually of a healthy physical weight and proportion see themselves as fat because of the unrealistic or impractical imagery shown in media.  This not only applies to images of unhealthy weight, but also comparing with adult women who’ve already reached the end of physical development.  As such, the scope of information covered in ZRT is intended to be used by adults who’ve presumably stopped growth and development.

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