Archive for the ‘Diet & Nutrition’ Category

See the Intro, Part 1, and Part 2 here.

You know how many calories you typically burn on an average day.  Now comes the hard part: actually keeping track of what you consume.

There was a very succinct statement I found on another blog: “That which is measured gets improved.”  In fact, that article is so spot on that I’m just going to encourage you all to read it instead of me essentially repeating most of it.  But before I do, I’ll point at least this part out:

  • No, it’s not easy.
  • No, it’s not simple.
  • No, it’s not fast.
  • Yes, it’s tedious as hell.
  • Yes, the slow pace of progress can be discouraging.

But here’s the ultimate reason behind it all.  If it was fast and easy, we’d all be doing it, and it wouldn’t be such a big problem the way it is in reality.

This excerpt from the blog above really puts things into perspective with regard to eating:

If you’re overweight, you probably don’t realize how many calories you consume on a daily basis.  If you’re underweight and “can’t gain weight no matter what you eat,” you probably don’t realize how many calories you consume on a daily basis.  Americans have such a warped sense of reality when it comes to proper “portion size” and what constitutes a meal.  We need to be better informed.

In a nutshell, we kid ourselves quite often.  Typically, men underestimate the caloric content of what we eat while women overestimate.  Speaking from the man’s perspective, we also have a tendency to lie to ourselves about not only the foods we eat but our activity levels and body composition (some women do it too, to a degree, but I don’t know what goes on in their heads quite as readily as I do what goes on in men’s brains).  We men like to believe that when we gain weight, we’re gaining muscle mass, that we need this excess food for all of our hunting/gathering activities.

Unfortunately, hunting/gathering on X-Box doesn’t count.

Another excerpt from this article that’s quite accurate:

You CAN’T outrun your fork – 80% of your successes or failures will be a direct result of how you eat. Although the quality of your calories consumed is incredibly important, the quantity of calories you consume is the first thing that needs to be fixed.  Think of your stomach as a muscle that adapts to its surroundings.  If you continually shovel 4000 calories down your throat, your body will start to crave 4000 calories even though it doesn’t need that many.

But this doesn’t mean that if your diet currently consists of about 4,000 calories that you should drop to 2,000 and see the pounds melt right off.  That’s just unsafe.  Gradual changes are not only best, but will also ease your body into its new routine without the pangs of cravings and hunger.  Again, if your body is used to 4,000 calories, then it’s used to that amount of food.  It thinks that’s normal.  The hard part is convincing your body that it isn’t normal (and at this point, be extra cautious of excuses that creep up in your head; you may think “but athletes eat that much or more!”  Yes, but athletes already know this information.  If you’re reading this, chances are that you’re a regular, average person and that excuse doesn’t apply).

Track everything, don’t lie to yourself.  It’s a simple statement, but difficult to do unless you get into the right mindset.

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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.

This is part 1 of a multi-part series about the fundamentals of proper nutrition.  See the introduction here.

What is a Calorie?

Before figuring out your caloric intake requirements, let’s talk about what a calorie actually is and why it’s important.  There are two definitions of “calorie,” only one of which is important here in the diet-n-nutrition-n-fitness realm:

From Dictionary.com:

1. Thermodynamics:

a. Also called gram calorie, small calorie. an amount of heat exactly equal to 4.1840 joules. Abbreviation:  cal
b. ( usually initial capital letter ) kilocalorie. Abbreviation:  Cal
2. Physiology:

a. a unit equal to the kilocalorie,  used to express the heat output of an organism and the fuel or energy value of food.
b. a quantity of food capable of producing such an amount of energy.

It’s this second part that concerns us and when we break it down into what’s actually central to the idea of diet & nutrition, even then, only a part of the definition of the “calorie” is significant to the average person.  What I’m about to describe may make scientists and nutritionists cringe because of the seeming randomness and wild suppositions I’m about to toss out, but please bear in mind that I’m writing this for an audience who has had years of misconceptions about dieting & nutrition, so I’m stating the science in as simple concepts and terms as possible in order to establish a workable set of fundamentals.

First of all, a calorie is not a substance.  We frequently say that a particular food or beverage has 100 calories or has 250 calories.  This is misleading, because it’s just simpler to say.  However, the implication is wrong, because saying “has” indicates that calories are a tangible, physical chemical or something.  This is also made worse by the frequency of advertisements for “zero calorie” foods or additives.

What a calorie really means is that a particular serving of food requires 100 calories of energy to break down or 250 calories of energy need to be expended to process that serving of food.  That energy is supplied by our bodies.  If our body does expend the 100 or 250 calories of energy to break down that food or drink we consumed, then our net gain is zero, and the body doesn’t store any balance — because there is no balance left.

On the other hand, if we consume more food than the body can expend in energy to break down, that excess is stored.  And you know where this is going, right?

Directly to your midsection, thighs, butt, neck, face, etc.!

The calorie rating of a serving of food is a combined figure.  It’s a ballpark number.  It’s the sum total of all the ingredients of the food and represents a comprehensive scale that we can understand, when it would be much more complicated to calculate the energy required to break down the fat, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, chemical additives & preservatives, etc.

Where the Calories Come From

To keep within the realm of simplicity, calories come from three major macronutrients:

  1. Protein
  2. Fats
  3. Carbohydrates

Everything food & beverage can be broken down to having some combination of these three.  Obviously, some things are lower in one category than another, but this is the basic summary.  Each gram of protein is effectively 4 calories of energy required for breakdown, as are carbohydrates.  Fats, on the other hand, require 9 calories of energy to break down per gram (and though not a nutrient, alcohol requires 7 calories of energy per gram).

Whatever you consume again requires energy to break down and if you eat more than you expend in energy, you gain weight.

Mathematically, you may be able to start seeing that eating foods high in fat and drinking a lot of alcoholic beverages therefore leads to greater weight gain or a greater requirement to increase physical activity in order to “burn off” those extra calories, right?

Right! As I noted in the introduction, it’s all a simple mathematical equation.

Next week, I’ll get into more of the theory of calorie requirements for the human body and counteracting consumption with activity.

(well, not exactly, but for illustrative purposes, we’ll run with this)

The word “diet” has many negative connotations.  It’s something nobody wants to do.  It’s associated with fads.  It’s punishment.  It’s often coupled with a whiny “I gotta get on a….”  In the immortal words of Garfield, “it’s ‘DIE’ with a T!”

It’s also implied to be temporary.  And all of these things are why the common interpretation of the word “diet” make that word completely wrong for many people.

We go “on a diet” because we’ve been conditioned to believe that’s what it takes to lose weight.  We do it because we’re overweight or obese, and therefore, we know it’s what we should do.  But of course, we don’t actually want to.  It’s another “hafta.”  We hafta diet.  We hafta reduce our food intake.  We hafta give up the stuff we love.

And because we hafta get on a diet, we fail.  The diet fails.  The reduction fails.  The elimination of food groups fails.  Why?

Because it’s something that we don’t really want to do.  We procrastinate.  We give up.  After a while of being on a boring track that feels more like punishment, we lose motivation, faith, and desire.  Then, after we stop with the dieting, we compensate for that period of torture by indulging in what we really wanted all along, whether it’s garlic bread, pizza, ice cream, or beer.

And it’s that overcompensation that leads to additional weight-gain beyond where we were before we ever got started on this extended misery known as “the diet.”  Which then leads to the guilt and shame of having lost control, which is then similarly overcompensated by more self-flagellation and denial….which leads to failure, shame, and more misery and just keeping this cycle going.

This is known as “yo-yo dieting,” and is among the most commonly observed failures of lack of information and oversaturation of fad programs and scams.

So what does work?

First, stop calling it a “diet.”  A diet implies something temporary, something that you do to yourself until you get to your goal weight, and then stop.  Unlike a race, however, weight knows no start and finish.  It’s an ongoing thing.  It’s permanent.  If you stop eating right, you will gain weight again.  It’s simple math and science, things that get glossed over in our highly commercialized society where everyone has to make a buck, no matter how ethically or unethically.  So stop calling your eating plan a “diet.”  Start calling it “nutrition” or “meal plan” or “eating habits.”  Those are more permanent concepts and the more it’s permanent in your head, the more it’ll be easier to accept than a temporary period of punishment.

Second, understand that eating properly is not a temporary thing, like with “diet.”  It’s a lifestyle.  It requires changing your habits for the rest of your life.  Once you accept that, if you backslide into bad eating habits, you will gain weight again and that it’s perpetual, it again becomes easier to ingrain into your daily routine by avoiding bad foods and oversized portions.

Third, denial never works.  This applies to all the BS diet fads from Atkins to hCG to ABC (“Ana Boot Camp”) to Cortislim to Hydroxycut and any other diet-in-a-bottle nonsense.  Any denial of food or food group is unhealthy at the very root of all things.  Pseudoscience fills the airwaves, promising miracle results for little effort.  That is a crock of lies.  The human body needs food.  The human body needs macronutrients like protein, carbohydrates, and yes, even fat.  The big trick — and it’s not even a trick at all — is moderation.  No, it’s not glamorous, it’s not sexy, it’s not exciting (which may contribute to frequent diet failure; doing it the right way is tedious and boring….but it works).  But it works.  Think of this tiny math equation:

If you eat less than you burn, you will lose weight.

Can a concept be any simpler?

You don’t have to cut out carbs, or overload on protein, or graze on grass and dandelion greens to lose weight.  Veganism isn’t the way either — at least, not for health reasons (twisted morality, perhaps, but that’s outside the scope of ZRT so I won’t even get into the philosophy of being vegan).

  1. Consume less than you burn,
  2. Consume in moderation,
  3. Watch your portions.

Again, “can it be any simpler?” I ask rhetorically.

I use the word “consume” above instead of “eat” because liquids fall into this category as well.  The greatest disservice to humankind is that of diet sodas.  Whether it’s Diet Coke, Diet Pepsi, Coke Zero, Sierra Mist Nothing, Invisible Mountain Dew, or whatever else is shoved by the mass producers into your face touting its dietyness, all of it is false.

You will not lose weight drinking diet sodas.

There is a bunch of science behind it (dealing with excess insulin production in anticipation of breaking down incoming nutrients), but the base point is this: diet drinks trick your body into thinking that sugary drinks are coming and to get ready to process it as if it was a full-sugar drink.  The body has no way to telling the difference based on what your brain says, so it prepares anyway.  When the stuff arrives in your stomach and there’s nothing to break down, the chemicals don’t just disappear into nothingness.  They, for all intents and purposes, stick around and get stored.

It throws your system off-balance, and therefore leads to being stuck in neutral or seeing no benefits whatsoever.

The best drink to have is water.  Again, not sexy, not glamorous….but it works.  And remember what I wrote before about excuses in The First Step.  The most frequent excuse I hear from people who drag their feet about drinking water is that it’s boring, that it has no flavor, etc.  That’s the point.  Water hydrates your body the way it’s supposed to, without bringing the extra nonsense and unproductive garbage that comes along with sodas, energy drinks, and so on (and yes, even alcohol, though it pains this dedicated beer drinker to have to say so).

Next week, I’ll start off with the foundations of proper nutrition, talking about calories and delving just a little bit into the science of things, so stick with me as best as you can.  As always, post questions in the comments section and I’ll do my best to answer as much as possible or direct you to more comprehensive resources.

hCG stands for “human chorionic gonadotropin.”  It is a hormonal substance derived from human placenta.  And it’s being marketed as a dietary supplement.

I’ll wait while you finish retching.

Now, here’s the problem.  It’s being sold/marketed as a revolutionary diet aid.  During my time on Yahoo!Answers as a Top Contributor in the diet & fitness section, I ran across many teen and tween girls desperate for weight loss such that hCG became almost a perverse profanity to me (that, and “pro-ana,” but that’s a different post for a different time).  Curious, I researched what hCG was.

And I was horrified.

In essence, an obscure British endocrinologist made some leaps of conclusions about the effect of hCG on the human body, and those leaps were taken to even further ridiculous heights by crackpot scam artist and author Kevin Trudeau (a noted fraudster who spent time in prison on Federal charges relating to fraud, so take that as you will) when he started selling the “hCG Diet.”  This, like all diet myths, are designed to prey upon the unsuspecting consumer’s desperation for weight loss by making wild claims of efficacy in conjunction with promises of it being easy.

The essence of the hCG Diet is this.  With either a pill or injection of supposed hCG, hunger is allegedly suppressed enough to where the person can subsist on no more than 500 calories per day.

The average human adult female has a base metabolic rate of about 1,200 calories per day required to keep all the body parts running — heart, lungs, brain, liver, etc.  The average human male burns about 1,500 calories to do the same.  That base metabolic rate assumes a sort of lab condition where the person is kept at absolute minimum activity.  Any additional activity, like walking around, requires more energy, which raises the required rate above the 1,200/1,500.

So mathematically, how does a person subsist on 500 calories?

The scam marketing will then imply that the body will simply burn off the fat deposits for extra energy beyond those 500 calories that one consumes.  Unfortunately, what that doesn’t take into account is that the body doesn’t work that way.  The science behind weight loss is a little more complex than that, which is why it’s actually more difficult (and therefore, to many people, more discouraging) than just popping a pill and hoping for the best.

If it was ineffective at worst, I wouldn’t have a problem with this whole thing.  I’d just shake my head in pity for the money you just wasted.  But the problem is that relying on eating only 500 calories per day treads the line into “life threatening,” and it’s even worse when the rationale is vanity.

Sure, we all want to lose weight and look hot.  But when that desperation kicks in, reason and logic get tossed out the window in favor of doing everything and anything under the sun to get a bikini body in time for Spring Break when one only has 2 weeks to do it.

In short, hCG Diet is ineffective, a waste of money, completely flips the middle finger at science, and is dangerous.  The fact that it’s promoted by an infomercial king is more reason to be suspicious.

And as a post script, I have to criticize the Better Health grocery store in Novi on Grand River Rd.  Not only are their prices for allegedly organic and natural products exorbitant (especially when most of those exact same products are available for much, much less at Kroger or Meijer), we discovered that we could not take them seriously nor ever spend money there again when they were unabashedly promoting the hCG diet at their registers and at the front door. That told me that Better Health is simply trying to cash in on an uneducated public’s perceptions about health and nutrition.

In short, Better Health is taking advantage of its customers.  And that’s just shameful.