QUANTITY OF FOOD
The last part of healthy eating involves the amount of food that you should be eating. The first thing that most people do when they are trying to lose weight is cut calories. However, cutting calories is not a good long term approach to fat loss. Calories are the units used to measure the energy we get from the foods that we eat. Calories = Energy. Energy is not a bad thing! Energy is what powers our bodies. You need energy to workout with any type of intensity. A starving body is not going to perform very well and will not benefit much from exercise. Long term caloric restriction also decreases metabolism, the body’s primary ability to burn fat. One of your long term fitness objectives should be increasing metabolism, thus increasing caloric intake over time. Not reducing it!
I highly recommend addressing the quality of your food and your nutrient timing before reducing caloric intake. Also make sure you are regularly engaging in intense exercise that burns fat and build muscle, such as the exercise promoted on this page. Most people can achieve very good results without even worrying about calories, so long as they are training hard and eating good healthy foods at the right times.
We still need some idea of just how much we should be eating. Believe it or not, your hunger is actually a very, very good indicator of how much and how often you should be eating. The only problem with your body’s own ability to regulate appetite is that it can easily be thrown off. Processed foods, particularly “fat bombs” can throw off your appetite by being extremely high in calories but very low in total volume (the amount of space the food takes up in the stomach). Because a large part of appetite is determined by the volume of food in the stomach, these foods essentially trick your body into eating way more calories than you need. Some studies have also shown that many of these foods also have addictive, craving inducing properties which can also trigger unnecessary hunger. Your appetite can also be thrown off by being deficient in a particular micronutrient or macronutrient. This is most likely to occur when there is not a lot of variety in the diet, or when the person is consuming a large percentage of “empty calories” (calories with little nutritional value). Another common thing that can interfere with hunger is poor sleeping habits. The body performs a lot of its hormone regulation during sleep. Some of these hormones are responsible for regulating appetite and if you are not getting enough sleep, or poor quality of sleep, your hormone levels can become out of balance, making you feel hungry when you shouldn’t be. Aim to get 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night (alcohol can interfere with the body’s natural sleep cycle reducing the quality of sleep).
Despite these problems with our hunger, if you are eating a diet consisting mostly of a wide variety of whole foods (and getting enough sleep), your body will be able to tell you how much and how often you should be eating. Simply eat when you are hungry and stop eating when you are full. Not stuffed. Full.
If you do want to know how many calories you “should be eating,” there is a pretty simple way to get a decent estimate. The Harris-Benedict formula is a formula that estimates daily caloric expenditure. Knowing roughly what you burn on a day to day basis, you know roughly how many calories you should be eating. A calculator that uses this formula can be found on the side bar to your right. Just plug in all your information (height, weight, age, activity level) and the calculator will tell you roughly how many calories you burn on a daily basis. Do not overestimate your activity level. The average person is sedentary. Even if you are exercising regularly, your activity level is probably only light or moderate. Very few people have high or very high activity levels. If you are using the exercise guidelines found here at Force One Fitness, select moderate activity.
The number that the calculator gives is the estimated amount of calories needed by your body, per day, to maintain weight. Again, make sure you are eating mostly nutritious whole foods and have really gotten down your nutrient timing before reducing calories below maintenance level. If you have done both of these things and still are struggling to lose fat, subtract 250-500 calories from your maintenance calorie total. So if you had been eating roughly 2500 calories per day but not losing weight, reduce your intake to 2000-2250 calories per day for a week or two and see how your body changes. If you still do not lose fat, you may have overestimated your caloric needs or you may have a metabolic disorder that makes it difficult for you to lose fat. Talk to your health care provider if you think this might be the case. Most metabolic disorders can easily be regulated with medication.
So now you should know roughly how many calories you should be eating per day. Next you should figure out roughly how many calories you should be eating per meal. Taking into account that you should be eating every 2-4 hours, most people find themselves eating about 5 times per day. If this is the case, take your daily caloric intake and divide by 5. That will give you an idea of roughly how many calories are in each meal. If you are eating 7 times a day, divide by seven. If only 4, divide by 4. So someone with a daily caloric target of 2500, eating 5 times a day, should be eating roughly 500 calories per meal. Remember to take into account your nutrient timing as well. Some meals are going to be larger than others depending on your activity levels. Also, on days that you are exercising your total intake should be higher than on days that you are not exercising.
Knowing how many calories you should be eating is not even half the battle of calorie counting. The more difficult part is knowing how many calories the foods you consume have in them. Most whole foods don’t have nutrition labels on them, so you need to have a way of measuring how much you are eating as well as a database that tells you how many calories are in that amount of food. If you are counting calories I highly recommend buying a food scale. It is the only way of really knowing exactly how much you are eating. After a week or so of measuring you will then be able to “eye-ball” your food portions pretty accurately and you will always have that skill at your disposal. There are many calorie counting databases on the internet where you can look up how many calories are in the foods that you are eating. One of my favorites is http://www.calorieking.com/ They have a huge database that even includes foods served at most chain restaurants.
KEY POINTS from QUANTITY OF FOOD
• Make sure you have got your exercise, quality of food, and nutrient timing down solid before you reduce your caloric intake. Most people will be able to get great results without having to worry about calories so long as they are doing everything else right.
• Your hunger is actually a very good indicator of how much and how often you should be eating. Your hunger can be thrown off by eating by eating fat bombs, and other processed foods, as well as by poor sleeping habits. If you are getting plenty of rest and eating mostly nutritious whole foods, your hunger will be the best way of knowing how much and how often to eat.
• If you do decide to count calories you need to know how many calories you should be eating per day, per meal, and also how many calories are in the foods that you are eating. It is a pain in the butt, and that is why I recommend strict calorie counting as a last resort.
• Use the Daily Calorie Calculator to your right to get an estimate of how many calories you should be eating on a daily basis. Divide this number by the number of times you are eating per day, to get the number of calories you should be eating per meal. Remember that some meals are going to be larger or smaller than others, but try to stay in the neighborhood. You would never want to eat two meals worth of calories in one sitting.
• Figuring out how many calories are in the foods that you are eating requires measuring to find the amount that you are eating, and also a way to look up how many calories are in that amount of food. Using a food scale is really the only way to accurately measure calories. http://www.calorieking.com/ is a great, simple site to help with calorie counting and has an awesome food database showing you calories and macronutrient breakdowns of most any food you can think of.