Tuesday, August 20, 2013

... Honestly, what are you eating?

We loosely discussed body fat earlier.  

One hallmark of a healthier body is a percentage of body fat that, for women, falls between 18 and 25.  Your mileage may vary depending on your structure, your genetics and your doctor's recommendations. 

Let us say that you do have excess adipose tissue and that you would like to decrease your body fat percentage.

I have found that the best place to start is to find a physical activity that you love- odds are that your brain will begin the shift to wanting to eat to fuels the body cleaner and meaner of its own accord.

The next best place to start is in the kitchen.

In all of the diet fads and sound nutritional advice alike, there is one common element always addressed:  The Calorie.

We remember from high school of that a calorie is the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of a gram of water 1 degree Celsius.  Pretty handy information in the lab, but what does it translate to when you are about to eat the Snickers Bar?  It means that you need a rudimentary understanding of what is going on there.

A Calorie in the nutritional sense is actually 1,000 calories. It is most correctly described as a kilogram Calorie, or kCal for short.  That "240 Calorie" Snickers is actually 240,000 calories- or, less terrifyingly, 240 kCals.  Call it a kCal to be accurate or call it a "Calorie" to be colloquial, but know that above all else, it is a unit of measure that we use to describe our food in terms of energy.  The energy I write of is that mojo that keeps you going, the fuel in your tank.  You need this energy to live, you need more to thrive.  From watching the Golden Girls marathon to running a marathon, your body from brain to toe has Caloric requirements.

In general, the Recommended Dietary Allowance is 2,000 or 2,500 daily, as seen on most food labels.  The Institute of Medicine recommends that women with an weight of 126 lbs. and a height of 5 feet and 3 inches and over the age of 18 need 2,400 kCal daily.   Relative scales for height and weight are available on-line.  I recommend using the Mayo Clinic's free on-line calculator to get a better estimate of what you need as an individual and then build up your nutritional strategy for Calories from there. 

Once you know how many calories you should be taking in based on your biometrics and basic activities, what do you need to do?  You need to sort out how many you are taking in on a daily basis. Really.  Pay attention to your habits- there is no other way to begin changing them. 

Even though I only do it as the occasional check-in; I will be the last person to argue that counting your calories is a pointless exercise.  The more you learn about nourishing your body, and the more you honestly nourish your body-  that the less you may come to count calories.  For now, it all starts with awareness.

Log those Calories down!  It has been found in multiple studies that the simple act of monitoring your caloric intake alone is an easy method to losing excess fat.  Use your computer, use an app, write in in calligraphy on parchment- pay attention and write it down.  It is an eye opening experience as to how much you are actually taking in to your body.  It also creates a bit of irony called the Mindfulness Paradox in that while you are logging your food just to get an idea of what you are normally eating, you will make better choices almost immediately.

The action plan here is simple:  For the next two weeks, write it down.  Calories only:
    1. Write them down
      1. Try MyFitnessPal- it is one of the most comprehensive apps for food and exercise logging, allows you to shift your goals, and is free
    2. Be Honest.  Otherwise, why bother?  It's not Show-and-Tell, it's illumination
    3. Read the Label- Serving size and calories only. 
    4. Get and use a kitchen scale and measuring cups for servings- Pasta serving sizes are almost always a shocker.
After the two weeks, compare your recommended daily Caloric requirement and your actual Caloric consumption.  Know what is going on. 

Now that we know enough about basic calorie counting to be dangerous- we will chill out and mull it over while sipping a smoothie.

Food for Thought:

Once you understand how many calories you are taking in normally, even given the Mindfulness Paradox, you can begin to look at where the excess or even the deficit may be.  You can begin examining your food choices in terms of Caloric density and then nutrient density.  A small handful of Lay's Potato chips versus two handfuls of red pepper slices with hummus- Calorie-wise they are about the same, nutrient wise they are world's apart. 

While you are comparing your Caloric recommendation and Caloric intake, and takign a walk to clear your head, ask yourself what small changes you can begin to make today.

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