The Nutrition Pyramid: Energy In v Energy Out

The one aspect of your diet to master before you look at anything else. You want these two things to be equal (to maintain your current weight) or for Energy Out to exceed Energy In (to lose weight).

Whether you eat nothing but crisps or nothing but vegetables if you eat more calories than you burn you will gain weight – regardless of what you eat, when you eat it or how you eat it.

Your Objective:

Understand how many calories you should be eating, how to work that out and why that’s important.

To workout how many calories to eat you need to know your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure). This gives you an idea of roughly how many calories you burn in a day INCLUDING your normal activity… this means that you don’t need to add on exercise calories to this number. That’s important because who has time to work out a different daily calorie expenditure? You want an overall figure you can use every day.

The equation is

M24/F22 X Bodyweight in KG = BMR

e.g.

24 X 90kg = 2160 calories per day.

This is the BMR – Base Metabolic Rate. The absolute minimum calories the body needs to wake up, do nothing all day except for breathe.

To find how many calories you should eat for your activity levels multiply this figure by 1.1/1.2/1.3/1.4

1.1 – lightly active – moderate exercise but sedentary job

1.2 – moderately – active intense exercise but sedentary job

1.3 – Very Active – Moderate exercise and active job

1.4 – Extra Active – intense exercise and active job

e.g.

2160 X 1.3 = 2808 calories per day

Now…If you are here for fat loss you need to get in a calorie deficit by around 10- 20% the sweet spot!

e.g.

2800 calories X 7 = 19,600 calories per week!

80% of this is 15680 calories per week OR 2240 calories per day.

If you want to lose weight this is the absolute foundation of doing so. Without this anything else you do is a bit pointless as the foundations just aren’t there to support it.

Do the Basics Well

Successful people do the basics well and consistently

Sometimes it’s easy to look at things and think- they’re too simple there must be more to it than that. The reason I’m not getting the results I want isn’t that I’m eating too little or too much it must be how my body responds to certain foods… and so on.

Now the truth is there are lots of variables to our health and fitness. But, you can take account of all these things and yet if you don’t nail the basics it won’t be effective.

Think of your fitness and nutrition like levels in a game- to get to level two you must master level one. Each level acts as a foundation for the next level. You’ll often hear of things like the nutrition pyramid – that’s the same concept, you need to establish a solid base (in nutrition that’s getting your energy balance right as we discussed yesterday) before looking at macro and micro nutrients, meal timings or supplements will be useful- you basically don’t want to build on a shoddy base!

It’s human nature for us to want to look into the specifics, the idea that little tweaks will be the things that makes everything fall into place for us is tempting. But it’s the little tweaks at the basic level that will first make the difference. Once you’ve cracked those then feel free to move onto looking at the specifics of what and when you eat if you still want to- although you might find that you feel less of a need to.

One Small Hack

This week I’m trying a little hack to reduce my calorie intake.

Quite simply I’m swapping breakfast for a Whey protein shake 4 days a week.  I normally have a breakfast of around 400-450 calories a day, whereas a shake is around 90 calories thus reducing my intake by about 300-350 calories a day.

It’s actually easier too because it reduces the amount of meal prep I need to do.  On the days I have more time in the morning I’m still going to make breakfast, because it’s one of my favourite meals of the day when not rushed.

If you’re trying to lose weight not everything you do has to be dramatic or complicated.  

Toxic Diet Culture?

Today I saw a post referring to calorie counting / losing weight (dieting) as toxic.

Toxic!

In 2022 can we please stop referring to anything we don’t personally like as toxic? Because whilst calorie counting may not be right for everyone that doesn’t mean it’s toxic. same with weight loss.

Now, quick caveat, there are people for whom calorie counting isn’t a good idea, it can indeed for some become obsessive and be damaging. For those people yes calorie counting is not to be encouraged.

But for many calorie counting is the most simple straight forward, cost effective and practical way of creating a calorie deficit – which if you want to lose weight – is what you need to achieve.

So let’s reframe the notion that calorie counting is toxic. Calorie counting is simply a method of tracking energy intake which for some people will work well but whom for some may not be beneficial.

Swimming is a very good way to exercise. Except not for me, because I can’t swim. Does that mean swimming is toxic and a bad way to train, because it doesn’t suit me? Pretty sure everyone reading said no in their head just then.

Very few things in life are in themselves toxic, our relationship with something may well be toxic, that doesn’t mean it is also toxic for everyone else.

Diets get a bad rap, because traditionally they’ve been seen as restrictive and not sustainable. That’s really not the case these days. Most coaches will encourage sensible calorie deficits and won’t suggest you cut out food groups or stop eating your favourite foods.

Diets are just using a bit more energy than you consume each day to create a physical change in your body. Unless you’re doing that to please someone other than you it is not toxic.

Certain things might be a bit triggering to us personally, that doesn’t mean they’re automatically toxic, I think it’s a bit unhelpful to ourselves not to recognise that, as it puts all the responsibility for our reactions onto society, when in reality we can’t control what other people say or do so we have to instead look to control how we chose to react to it.

How Strict Should You Be Over Christmas?

How strict should you be with your diet over Christmas?

A question that is asked every year again and again and will always garner some varying answers. Some will argue you should continue to track, offer ideas for damage limitation. Others will be aghast at this and say this is extreme and Christmas should be enjoyed.

Now let’s be honest here.

If you are happy where you at, are not working to lose weight or towards any specific goal and want to binge eat mince pies from 1st December then go for it.

If you are trying to work towards a goal however that mindset is likely to leave you feeling a little crap by January. What might be a more balanced approach is to decide in your mind when Christmas actually is. Because Christmas is really the days between, say, 24th- 26th December maybe even 24th- 31st December. The rest of December is the Festive season sure, but not actually Christmas.

So a strategy of:

  • Not tracking at all and eating whatever you like between Christmas Eve and Boxing Day (or New Years Day)
  • But tracking for the rest of December so you are aware of what you’re eating
  • Yet also being aware that you might not hit a deficit or even maintenance every week because you’re still going to be going to events and celebrating with friends
  • But being aware that by tracking you probably won’t go madly off track every single day and you’ll feel in control which in itself can stop you from going on a mad binge
  • When you do go out you can then chose whether you just eat whatever you want or if you decide to follow damage limitation strategies (not depriving yourself but substituting full fat mixers for diet, having a small wine instead of a large, lining your stomach or pace yourself so you’re less likely to eat a kebab shop on the way home and so on).

The upshot is in December if you eat breakfast, lunch and dinner there are 93 meals. If you eat whatever you want between 24th- 31st December that’s 24 meals. That’s 25% of your month. If you are sensible (not strict just not a dick) for 75% of the month to be honest you’ll start 2022 feeing pretty good.

So how strict should you be over Christmas- the answer is not strict at all but Christmas isn’t 31 days long unless you want it to be!

Do Fad Diets Exist?

I was having a chat about Sliming World today. If you’ve read or listened to any of my content before you’ll know I have both positive and negative views about the club.

Essentially, my view is, that in it’s true form it’s not a bad way to eat. It encourages making food from scratch, eating from multiple food groups ad eating processed foods in limitation. It’s also pretty balanced so you could eat like that well beyond losing weight.

What it doesn’t do is educate you as to why it works, leaving you in a catch 22 where if you leave and stop eating ‘to plan’ you may well put the weight back on. It doesn’t educate you you enough to provide the freedom to maintain weight loss without still subscribing to ‘the plan’. Life changes and if you understand the energy balance equation you can adjust your eating and training habits as life changes and still get results. If you are simply following a plan with no idea of how and why it works, adjusting it as your life changes is difficult and that’s when a way of eating becomes unsustainable.

What might be a suitable way of eating for one person could be a ‘faddy’ way of eating for someone else. By that I mean, if you are using a way of eating (let’s say Intermittent Fasting) as a way of managing your food intake and you understand how and why it works for you then if it becomes unpractical to fast you will likely have the knowledge to adjust how / what / when you eat to a way that better suits but still works. If you are IM Fasting because someone gave you a set of rules (which work but why you’re less sure) what do you do if following those rules no longer suits you?

So essentially, I’d argue, there aren’t bad and good ‘diets’/ ways of eating. It isn’t that Slimming World is evil and tracking in MFP is the way forward for everyone. It’s a case that without knowledge of why something is working almost any way of eating could be viewed a fad.

How much damage did you do this weekend?

It’s generally accepted now that to lose weight you need to be in a calorie deficit, but how often do your weekends derail your progress?

The thing is that you could be in a deficit all week but if you go too big on the weekend that will all go to waste.

If you eat a salad one day you aren’t going to immediately lose a stone or if you eat a massive cake one day you aren’t immediately going to gain weight.  Your body doesn’t reset every day and bank a deficit or surplus, your energy levels are a continuous thing.  This is why coaches will often suggest clients track across a week rather than day by day.  Not only does it allow for flexibility, as some days your plans may mean you’re going to eat more and others less, it also helps adjust your mindset to avoid panicking after a big calorie day or going mad after a low calorie day because you need to ‘reset’ or because ‘you deserve it’.

So say you calculate your TDEE IS 2,500 a day so you want to eat 2,000 a day to be in a 20% deficit.  That’s creating a deficit of 3,500 calories across the week.

You do really well Monday to Friday and actually only eat 1,800 each day so you’ve built that deficit of 3,500 calories already.

But then on Saturday and Sunday you eat 4,000 calories each day,  you did well all week and deserve it right?  Only thing is that’s 3,000 calories more than your TDEE across two days, 4,000 calories more than your goal to remain in a deficit. 

And there we have it- your surplus over the weekend has suddenly cancelled out your deficit from the week.  Do that every week and you might not put weight on because you’re pretty much coming out even but you’ll struggle to lose weight.

So the solution?  Well you don’t need to not eat more at the weekend, I think naturally we all do (or at least all of us who work Monday to Friday tend to).  What you can do is be more mindful.  Keep track of the calories, make sensible choices where you can to avoid unnecessary calories (do you really need a full fat mixer when a no calorie one is available?)  By not letting the weekend be a crazy ‘time off from tracking’ you will probably find you end up consuming less just by being more aware. 

So now if you’re back in that same situation above and you’ve hit a deficit of 3,500 Monday to Friday you still have an extra 1,000 calories to play with at the weekend whilst remaining in a deficit, so you could actually have 2,500 calories each day and still hit your target.

Or you could even reduce your deficit target to 10% for those two days, then you’d have 2,750 calories each day to play with.

Or you could even aim for 10% deficit across the whole week.  Now the same Monday to Friday would leave you a whopping 6,750 calories for your weekend to remain in a (smaller) deficit.  Slower progress but you would still see progress.  

The point being whilst YOLO is a tempting attitude for your weekends or any time off if you really do want to make changes to your body you need to understand how being really good in the week doesn’t automatically counteract a crazy weekend.  It can certainly be used as a tool to help balance out your energy deficit, but if complete abandon is applied and you find you frequently aren’t getting the results you want a little more awareness could be your first step in changing that.

Calories are fact

There’s been lots of content around calories and calorie tracking in the news and on social media recently (at least there has on my feed).  The announcement that restaurants will have to display the calorie content of dishes in an effort to tackle rising obesity levels in the UK has been met with a variety of reactions.  Notably anti dieters have argued it could have a negative effect on some people, those with or recovering from eating disorders for example.  Others have argued that, much like the super skinny waif super models of the 90s, the emphasis could have a negative impact on young people (mainly female it is generally assumed) perception of themselves.

I struggle with the anti calorie counting movement if I’m honest.  That’s a slightly against the trend thing to say but hear me out.

Of course there are people for whom calorie counting is not beneficial and if your doctor or any medical professional you are seeing advises against it you should follow their advice.  Nor do I advocate obsessively tracking every last morsal of food nor restricting youself in the amount of type of food you eat.  I don’t believe you need to be a certain size or weight to be happy and I think you should eat what you enjoy eating, and be a meat eater, vegtarian or vegan for whatever reasons you so choose.

The fact remains however that being aware of the energy values of what you consume daily is useful.

People who are at a happy healthy weight for them probably consume about what they expend on an average day, either without thinking or conciously.  People who want or need to lose or gain some weight for their health probably do not. Yes there are exceptions, but generally the majority of us are not genetic marvels, the majority of us who wish or need to change of current mass are simply eating either too much or too little.

Again, I’ll say that anyone with any form of disordered eating should seek professional advice and follow that, not what someone on the internet says, but if you are an average Joe, then being aware of the energy balance equation is likely all you need to make any changes you either need or desire.

I was flicking through some recipes the other day, there were purposefully no nutritional values given because the author wanted to promote a non diet culture.  I respect that, it goes with their ethos and fits in with their values (and the recipes look lush), but I couldn’t help thinking, man it would be easier if they were provided so I didn’t need to add each ingredient into MyFitnessPal.  Because for me, knowing what I’m eating is useful, it’s like knowing how much fuel is in your car rather than just driving with blind hope you’ve enough to get to your destination or paying for things without knowing how much cash is in your bank account.

I almost feel like being so against calorie counting is as much of a red flag as obsesively calorie counting.  If the idea of knowing how may calories is in your food on a menu really does trigger something and stop you eating it (as opposed to heping you making an informed decision) then perhaps that is also a sign you need to look at your view of food.  Because eating what the fuck you like because you enjoy food is great, but if the idea of knowing the energy number attributed to that freaks you out there’s still an issue.  The goal is surely to know that sometimes you’re eating higher calorie foods but you’re just aware of your overall energy balance so allowing yourself to mainatin your energy levels, feel good and remain nurourished and healthy.

For every person who has struggled with an eating disorder where calories are a trigger word there are plenty of people that just aren’t really sure how the energy balance works.  All the media coverage around diet clubs like Slimming World attest to this.  Fitness professionals argument against these clubs is that they don’t properly educate people, bringing the notion of calories more to the forefront of people’s conciousness could help change that.  There will be people for whom calorie counting is not beneficial, they can ignore those numbers.

In fact that’s the issue isn’t it.  Almost every policy in the world will not benefit some people, but will benefit others.  We need to know how to ignore things that don’t help us, to learn how to not get affected by things that we may see as opposed to be outraged that something that could benefit someone else but doesn’t benefit us is visible to us, even if it upsets us.

That isn’t saying not tracking calores is wrong or that you should track every day.  It’s saying that for some people who want or need to make a change undertsanding and being aware of their consumption is vital and clouding a realtively simple process of tracking with intuitive eating, mindful eating, anti diet ideas doesn’t help them.  Those concepts all work, they are all valid but if you are eating intuitively and not happy with the direction you are going in you need to retrain your intuition.  When you learn something new you follow rules and methods and don’t follow intuition, eating isn’t much different in this case.  If you are happy and feel your energy levels are great you can crack on with what you are doing.

The crux of the matter is calorie counting isn’t the thing that causes disordered eating.  Deciding you wat to lose some weight because you’d like to or because you’ve been advised I would help isn’t the sign of disordered eating.  Caloires in v. calories out is a simple fact, like gravity.  The issue isn’t that it’s all the stuff we have constructed around it. 

Did you gain weight in Lockdown?

Ten reasons you might have put weight on during the Pandemic

  1. Boredom – You eat because, what else is there to do? When you can barely leave the house celebrations, treats, relaxation can all tend to be food based activities. When you’re bored, eating is something you can do, or cooking, and if you’ve cooked it you’ll eat it right? This has led to you eating more than before and more than you expend. That can lead to weight gain.
  2. You became the new Mary Berry – Tied in with number 1, I think I was the only person in the world not to bake banana bread in lockdown ‘the original’. If you managed to find some flour it was likely you baked. As above, the more you bake and then eat the more likely you are to find yourself in a calorie surplus.
  3. Comfort Eating / Stress – We’ve all been more stressed than normal this last year. For some you may eat less when stressed, but if you’re like me you’ll find yourself eating more, it’s a form of comfort eating. Eating lots of (normally) high calorie foods can be a way of trying to make yourself feel better but also a way of making it more likely you’ll be in a calorie surplus.
  4. More booze – Maybe you’re less about the food and more about the booze. Drinking from home is now the only way we can drink and another way to maybe settle the nerves and beat the boredom. But it’s cheaper than pubs and the measures are bigger so the calories can be deceptively high.
  5. Less gym / more Netflix – Gyms are closed meaning for many our normal way of training is not an option. We adapted but you may be missing aspects of your normal routine, be in variety, intensity, volume. This may mean you’re expending fewer calories. Equally, who hasn’t completed Netflix / Amazon Prime / More 4? Jesus I watched the whole series of MAFS in two weeks. With less options to go outside there is just more sitting in the day, again leaving us to burn fewer calories.
  6. Less NEAT – Which leads me to NEAT- the calories you burn when not specifically exercising. These make up the majority of your calories. Before Covid if you went to the gym there will have been the getting ready, packing a bag, walking there and back whereas now you stand up off the sofa and you’re ready to go. Before Covid you travelled to and from work, to the shops, to social occasions, you moved about without thinking about it. You may now be consciously going for a daily walk which is great, but you’re probably still moving less.
  7. WFH – No commute, no popping out for a coffee / lunch, no moving about the office / shop / restaurant. You might also find you snack more. You’re near your fridge- makes grazing so much easier. Working from home equates to moving less and possibly consuming more.
  8. Disrupted sleep patterns – Lack of sleep and weight gain tend to be a common couple. The stress of the last year and the change to our routines has affected many people’s sleep patterns. That may be affecting you’re weight.
  9. ‘The Third Lockdown Trap’ – Is it just me or did you maintain weight in the summer when you could run outside until late and the light evenings meant you wanted to train but come the winter Lockdowns you were tired by the evening and the dark made it feel later than it was and you just lost all motivation? By this time fatigue had also set in and in general I struggled so much more to want to eat well or train. The gym is a saviour in the winter because it provides the environment I need to keep me motivated. I missed that.
  10. Changes in shopping habit – You could no longer get an online shop maybe, going around a shop leads to more temptation to buy high calories foods to add to your normal diet which you may normally avoid with online shopping. The feeling that when you went shopping your should buy everything you could need for the week to avoid unessential trips so buying way too much and eating it anyway. These little changes to our habits could create a calorie surplus unwittingly.

Now I think for almost all of us this is the first Pandemic we’ve ever lived through (and going from the hording of last March most of us probably imagined living through a Pandemic would be slightly more dramatic with looting, soldiers and check points than the daily walks, Banana Bread and home workouts that it was), it’s not a shock therefore if at some point over the three lockdowns, 4 tiers and all the rules in between you’ve found the change in your daily life had led to some weight gain.

Is it a bad thing? No, there are many bigger problems of course. That being said weight change can make you feel less comfortable in your skin, less confident and if there’s one thing we do know about Covid- being fit and healthy helps reduce the chances of getting seriously ill. So you might well want to lose a bit of weight, get back into feeling fit again and that’s ok, we’re all allowed to feel our best at a certain shape / size and want to maintain that.

But there is no shame in having put on a bit of weight, it’s hardly a shock, none of us knew how to react and it’s hard to handle your emotions when faced with uncertainty and the unknown. We do know that guilt over any weight gain won’t help you however. Understanding why you may have gained the weight can help you both feel more empathy for your self (why do we always judged ourselves much more harshly than others) and also work out what we need to make the right changes to start to get back to where you’d like to be.

Is Calorie Counting Restrictive?

One of the most commonly quoted objections to calorie counting is the lack of freedom, the feeling that it is a restrictive way of eating.

Yet if you eat intuitively but find yourself saying I can’t eat ‘that’ I think that’s more restrictive than tracking how many calories are in ‘that’ as you eat it.

‘That’ might be bread or pasta or ‘bad’ carbs. ‘That’ might be chocolate or cake or crisps. ‘That’ might be a takeaway or other type of junk food.

We often put lots of rules in place with our own diet, have our own ideas of what constitutes a ‘good’ diet and what is ‘bad. If we find ourselves saying we mustn’t eat certain foods or eating them and then feeling guilty that is not a non restrictive diet. Whether you track or eat intuitively if you find yourself avoiding certain things you enjoy that is still a restrictive way of eating.

In fact, if you track your calories to work towards your goal and eat all the foods you enjoy whilst doing so I’d argue that that is much less restrictive than not tracking but having a list of avoid / bad foods.

Calorie counting for all it’s apparent simplicity causes a great deal of debate amongst some people, but I think sometimes it gets a bad rap for restrictive ways of eating when it can actually be a way of eating much more freely and removing some of the guilt from eating certain foods.