Many people might describe their diet as “pretty healthy”. Some might even consider their diet to be very healthy but they are still not seeing the results that they want or deserve. Others might just have a bad diet and don’t know where to start to turn things around.
Whatever stage you may be at, unless you understand your calories you are basically guessing at the healthiness of your diet. If you are in too great a calorific deficit/surplus the implications can be significant. Without going into the science of it, here a few things that can happen if your calories are too far out of whack.
Too many calories:
- Down regulation of dopamine receptors (harder to be satisfied by food)
- Upregulation of dopamine response to appetite stimulus (food is more appealing)
- Increases in muscle and fat mass
- Increased risk of disease
Too few calories:
- Lower metabolic rate (body burns less calories)
- Causes fatigue
- Causes nutrient deficiencies
- Lowers immunity
- Muscle loss (before fat loss)
So eating the right amount of calories is a bit of a tightrope. Too few or too many can both have serious consequences. So how do we get it right?
- Calculate your base calorie need. There are a number of ways of doing this, from in depth lab analysis to just punching your numbers into an online calculator. One study published by the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found the Mifflin-St. Jeor equation to be highly accurate, so it is now considered the gold standard. It basically works out your basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is the minimum number of calories your body burns at rest and then extrapolates this basis how active you are to find your daily requirement. The easiest way to calculate it is with an online calculator, of which there are many. Thanks Google!
- Re-calculate your calorie requirement to achieve your goal. To lose approx. 500g of fat per week, which would broadly be considered a healthy pace, a deficit of around 500 calories needs to be achieved. Therefore if you need 2,000 calories to maintain your weight then you will need to drop that intake to 1,500 calories to lose 500g per week. Another approach could be to increase the amount of calories burnt per day by 250, then requiring a drop of only 250 to achieve the deficit required.
- Understand the calories you eat. The prospect of counting calories is tedious for many people but unfortunately it is something that needs to be understood. This is not to say that you will need to calorie count for the rest of your life but spending a few days closely tracking what you eat can offer a huge insight into where you might be making mistakes, it also really helps with eating mindfully. In general, people’s diets are not that varied and it will not take long until you have a good understanding of what your calorie intake is and how to manage it to hit your targets.
- Understand your macros. It is suggested that 80% of the results of a diet come from a combination of total calories consumed and the balance of macronutrients, i.e. how much carbs, fat and protein you eat. Consensus on the exact balance of these macros has yet to be reached and will vary depending on your goals and will probably involves some trial and error to get a balance that works well for you.
Following these simple steps can have a significant impact on weight, health and general wellbeing. In the short term, improving your diet can help lose fat and promote building lean muscle. Energy will increase and it won’t be long until people notice a visible change ion you.
In the longer term, the health benefits can really add up. Risk of disease drops dramatically, including the risk of cancer, memory loss, heart attacks, diabetes, etc. As you age you are likely to live longer and be happier and more active.
Understanding your calories are just one part of a greater puzzle and if you are a mum with young kids then the challenges are much greater. It is a different ball game when all of your time is taken working and looking after young kids from sun up to sun down. The way parents eat is often dominated by the fact that we have to consider our kids tastes and preferences. But it is possible and, what’s more, it is desirable. Healthy eating with young kids can give parents the boost they need, extra energy, more time and often better sleep for all. Getting kids to eat the healthy food we want them to eat can also help them to build a healthy, life long, positive relationship with food.
Neil Welsh knows how to get what mums want. Lose weight, get your kids to eat the healthy food that you want to eat with no mealtime battles… no matter how fussy your kids are. For more info on understanding calories, macros and healthy eating for your whole family then check out http://neilwelshnutrition.com.