Do you know if your company is turning a profit or not if you don’t check the sales and expenses?
Do you know you’re going in the right direction if you don’t check the map or GPS?
Why should you diet/health be any different?
One of the best tools to track your diet is by counting calories and checking your macros.
Counting calories not just for bodybuilders
Each one of us expends a certain amount of calories on a daily basis. There are outliers that can eat more than others and others that have a very slow metabolism. But most of the time the calorie calculators online are fairly accurate (plus-minus 200 calories or so).
Of that total amount of calories that we have to eat daily/weekly/monthly/yearly to stay alive, there is protein, carbs and fats, of which we need a certain amount.
When it comes to protein, about 0.6-0.8g/lbs/BW (1.2-1.6g/kg/BW) is a good target for the general population. Athletes need more at 0.8-1.2g/lbs/BW (1.6-2.4g/kg/BW).
I like to focus a lot on protein as that is the macronutrient most neglected. Low protein intake often leads to frailty, reduced satiety, temps, muscle mass, mood, etc.
If you’re undereating on calories or protein or carbs, then you might start to feel suboptimal. You might think you need a mood uplifting herb, but all you need is more calories, protein or carbs. But you’ll never know if you don’t check.
Counting calories isn’t normal
This is totally true, however, in the past people didn’t just have easy access to all the food they wanted. They had to plant, hunt or forage for it. And I can guarantee you that all farmers, tribes, etc., knew about food portioning. They didn’t hunt a buffalo and then ate the whole thing within one week. They dried out the meat so that it could last many weeks.
Nowadays we can eat as much as we want as we’re only limited by how much we can eat and our budget.
Does calories in calories out (CICO) even matter?
Proponents against CICO say that our metabolic rate, appetite, etc., differ each day, so we can’t count that. However, if you look at the CICO per week or per month, you’ll see why someone was losing or gaining weight. It’s because what you do long term determines weight gain or weight loss. Overeating or undereating acutely won’t really do much if we just undereat or overeat right afterward.
Is CICO accurate?
Proponents against CICO will say that everyones’ caloric requirements differ and that when you follow the caloric recommendations of an online calculator, you’ll slow your metabolism.
Boosting your metabolism by maximizing thyroid hormone output is widely overblown. The caloric difference between someone that is hypo or euthyroid, is about 100-300 calories. In the long term that matter yes, but it’s not the difference between 2000 and 4000 calories which some people think it is.
But even if you can maintain your weight at 4000 calories, it’s still CICO. You’re just burning more so you can eat more.
I suggest starting with a recommendation of one of the online calculators and see what happen to your weight. It will probably drop for 2-3 weeks before it stabilizes, which just shows that you’re eating at maintenance. Not because your metabolism has slowed down. If your weight keeps on dropping, you’re in a deficit. With trial and error and checking your weight constantly, you’ll find out your true maintenance calories. From there you can induce a small deficit (300-500 calories) to lose weight if that is your goal.
Eating intuitively is not as intuitive as you think
#1 Thinking a cravings is for a deficiency vs desire
There is this thing going around that “you crave what your body wants/needs”. For example, if your body needs calcium, it will start to crave dairy.
This is true. However, when you crave something like french fries or coffee with cream and sugar, it’s because it tastes damn good and not because your body actually needs it. If you had the choice between a smoothie with milk, egg, cocoa and maple syrup and a MacDonald’s meal or whatever fast food joint’s meal you like, which one makes your mouth water? Which one do you crave? Is the Mac better for you than the smoothie? Should you listen to your craving? See where I’m going with this?
The trick is to learn what your body actually needs versus your desire. You can eat as good and healthy as you want and get rid of all cravings, but a chip still tastes delicious.
#2 Cutting calories is intuitive
What does everyone say when they want to lose weight? “I’m going to start eating less.”
Eating less is a built-in defense mechanism against getting fat. We all know that eating too much can cause weight gain. Now I don’t want to get into the nitty-gritty of digestion, poor food absorption, enhanced food harvest as a result of certain bacteria in the gut, hypothyroidism, uncoupling, etc., etc.
So the first thing we do is stop eating as much as we can short of fasting. This induces a massive deficit and we get super grumpy, irritated and experience poor sleep and ravenous appetite and we binge eat and never lose weight.
So our intuition to cut calories is correct, but the way we go about it is wrong.
Since proper fat loss (about 2-3kg per month) and muscle gain (1-2kg per month) is so slow, we want to increase the deficit or surplus to see faster gains. This leads to more muscle loss or fat gain.
We ideally want to be in a small deficit, about 300-500 calories to maximize fat loss. If we go over a 750 calorie deficit, we start to catabolize a lot of muscle as well. Plus, we then suffer from side effects such as low energy, poor sleep, massive appetite, etc.
#3 Sometimes the body wants more and sometimes the body wants less
There is this belief that the body wants more calories on some days and less on others and over time the body can regulate itself without gaining fat or even losing fat.
This is true that the body sometimes wants more and sometimes less, but if you look at the total calorie intake over the week or month, then you’ll know why you gained/maintained/lost weight. Weight maintenance is what you do in the long run. If the majority of your deficits are bigger than your surpluses, you’ll lose weight. Is eating intuitively in big surpluses and deficits better than just eating more or less the same amount of calories each day? Not necessarily. The end goal will be the same. I prefer to know what I’m doing so that I’m in control of my results.
#4 The body doesn’t want to be in a deficit myth
What happens when you knowingly induce a deficit? You want to pass out before the first day is over right? I had so many failures when trying to lose weight due to this concept. I knowingly accepted that I was going to induce a deficit and I knew the side effects that I was going to experience was extreme fatigue, agitation, low libido, brain fog, poor sleep, ED, etc.
And do you know what happened on the first day since going into a deficit?
I experienced all those symptoms even before the first day was over. The second day was unbearable. Most of the times I cheated on my diet before the first day was over.
Then I listened to a podcast with Menno Henselmans where he discussed that most deficit symptoms are self-induced.
He mentioned that studies in the military showed that calorie intake (unless it’s a big deficit) doesn’t negatively impact mood, sleep, reaction time, etc. The reason is that they aren’t aware of being in a deficit.
Once I thought about it and remembered about my youth (I never counted calories and never experienced these symptoms when reducing calories) and understood the research which resonated with me, these symptoms suddenly went away. Crazy how strong placebo is. Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?
Ever since this realization, I lose weight and I don’t even notice I’m in a deficit. It’s all in the mind.
Now I’m not saying that long term deficits are good (I’m not in the “calorie restriction for lifespan” camp). But short term calorie restriction periods (with a small deficit) to lose weight is beneficial for those that are overweight and unhealthy.
Also, a long term calorie deficit can easily lead to nutritional deficiencies and that will negatively impact one’s health in the long term.
#5 Lean healthy people don’t focus on being in a deficit
Although this is true, a lot of them are “repelled” by overeating. They have a mental block against eating too many calories. And this could be because they hate the idea of being fat so now they don’t overeat. If you want to achieve a goal so bad, you hate/despise anything that opposes your goal. The hard thing becomes the easy thing. Seeing yourself achieve/maintain the goal holds so much value that it makes the challenge seem effortless.
If being lean makes you feel happy, anything that opposed it makes you unhappy, so you stay away from it.
Eating little at a time is oftentimes due to a subconscious mental decision. It’s not intuitive, it’s a mental decision. They might say it’s intuitive, but it’s just because they know that if they eat more, they pick up weight, not because they’ve “eaten enough”.
Another reason some people are lean automatically is because they have reduced appetites due to certain elevated neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, noradrenaline, histamine, melanocortins, etc.. Hence they just eat less in general and they find it easier to skip a day of eating when life gets in the way.
The goal of counting calories is not so that you can spend every single day of your life weighing and measuring food and counting your calories to the last joule. The point is to bring awareness of how much you’re eating per day/week and also what your macros look like. Having an idea more or less is a fast-track strategy for optimizing your health and achieving/maintaining your goals.
Lastly, if you are in a severe deficit and you aren’t losing weight, then you have to stop the deficit and over exercising, eat at maintenance, fix gut issues, consume more nutrient dense food, optimize thyroid and neurotransmitters and actually go and count your calories (so many people cheat here and there and think it’s ok and wonder why they don’t lose weight. 1 bar of chocolate is 500-600+ calories and can easily put you in a surplus).
If you want to learn how to optimize your diet, check out my Alpha Energy Nutrition Course that will teach you how.
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