I truly believe that everyone should track his or her calories.
Whether you have fat loss goals or you want to improve your performance you need to know what is going in and out of your body.
Stop freaking out. I know that there is a huge movement among a lot of the fitness world against tracking calories.
It’s too hard. It’s too much work. It creates unhealthy eating patterns. It creates a fixation on weighing and measuring your food. It isn’t sustainable long term.
Most of these arguments come from fitness professionals who are already obsessed with their fitness or from people who have tried every diet under the sun and still nothing works. Other fitness pros are welcome to their opinion but I write this for the rest of the population.
Why have you tried every diet and system yet still cannot achieve the fitness you want?
Have you ever thought that maybe it is because YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT THE FUCK YOU ARE EATING?
It’s true. People do not know what they are eating. They read nutrition labels at the supermarket and feel like a health rockstar. Aside from the fact that they look cool, most people are really wasting their time.
What are you looking for on that label? Ingredients. Ok, I get that. But then you are looking at what? Calories. That is the only other thing on there. Great – you read the calories. What the fuck was the point of that?
When you go home and consume the product do you measure out your portion? Do you know how many calories you are supposed to be eating? Do you know what percentage of carbs, fat, and protein you should consume in a day?
Then what the hell is the point of reading that label? You are just one of the people that think reading the label is the healthy act unto itself. This is not the case. The purpose of the label is to give you the information you need to make informed decisions as to your health.
But if you don’t know how many calories you should be eating and from what sources you should be getting them from, there is really no point to reading the labels.
And this my friends, is why I believe that everyone should spend time counting their calories and weighing/measuring their food.
Now, before we get to the reasons WHY you need to track your calories for a while, let’s talk about one of the biggest myths in fitness: the 500 calorie a day deficit.
Eat 500 Calories a Day Less to Lose 1lbs of Fat Per Week!
This myth hails from a simple mathematical calculation. And it is fraught with more holes than the BMI chart that the medical community just won’t seem to let die.
What is the hypothesis? 1 lbs of fat on your body has 3500 kcals of energy. So 3500 calories divided by 7 days = 500 calories a day.
Take in 500 calories a day less then you put out and WHAMMO; 3500 calories a day torched from your system. Seems logical.
Here is why it doesn’t work in real life.
First, what is a calorie deficit? It means that, say your body needs 1800 calories a day to live, you know, grow new cells, breathe, feed your brain, keep your heart pumping, let you walk around, good stuff like that. This is your BMR (base metabolic rate) or the number of calories you need to live. To. Live.
Generally, anything under 1400 calories is considered a starvation diet. 1400 calories if you lay in bed and do not move and just want to live. Base requirement. Less than this and you are starving. Obviously, this base number can be more for bigger people (taller or more muscle not bigger as in fatter) but we need a good base. Even if you are not active and don’t move much you still need calories to survive. 1400. Minimum to survive.
So, add some exercise and we determine you need 1800 calories to survive. But you want to lose a pound of fat a week! Perfect. Take out 500 calories a day. 1800-500 = 1300.
Not enough calories to live. And for all of you about to write me and tell me all the stories of how you eat 800 calories a day and feel great – don’t bother unless you also provide proof of how active you are and a full medical check of your health.
So we can see the issue here. Simply taking off 500 calories might not always work.
There is also the issue of increasing energy output and decreasing calories. A lot of people add exercise and also cut their calories at the same time. Adding 300 calories a day of exercise means your base need of 1800 is now 2100. But you are only eating 1400 a day – so now with the added exercise you are in a deficit of 800 calories a day.
YOU ARE STARVING YOUR BODY. Seriously. You are in a metabolic nightmare of starvation that will signal your body to do all sorts of things you don’t want; like eat its own muscle tissue and slow your metabolism.
But you want to lose fat and be healthy. No problem at all!
How much of a deficit should you be in to lose fat?
In my experience and based on the current research a calorie deficit of between 100 and 300 calories a day is the sweet spot. This puts your body into a calorie deficit but doesn’t signal your brain that you are starving to death. So when your brain goes looking for a way to make up those couple hundred calories it can dip into your energy reserve.
Your body fat.
Aaaaannnndddddd…..all of this brings me to my real point. You have to track calories.
Here are the 4 reasons you HAVE to track your calories
You have to know what you are eating.
Could you fix your car all by yourself? (Mechanics stay out of this, you do not fit this analogy!). No. Why? You don’t know all the parts, or how the parts fit together, or what all the parts do, or how much fluid is needed, or when to change which fluid.
Your body is the same. It is actually way more complex then a car. And it has certain needs. There is an appropriate amount of energy it needs and set ways to tune it to keep it healthy. You cannot fix or take care of your body if you do not know what you are putting into it.
Are you eating 50% carbs? 20%? Do you eat enough healthy fat? Are you sure? How do you know?
The fact is you don’t. You might guess but you don’t really know. And unless you have some training how could you possibly even guess? You might think you are eating 2000 calories when you are in fact eating 1100 calories. Or the other way, you might think you are eating 1500 calories and are in fact are eating 3000 calories.
The only way to know for sure is to add it up. Make sure you have an accurate portion and then add up all the portions and get the total. *fist bump* NOW you know what you are eating.
And we are talking about the difference of a few hundred calories setting the stage for fat loss or fat gain. It is vital that you know the numbers.
- You need to understand what you need
This isn’t exactly counting the calories but it is uber important. You have to know roughly how many calories a day you need. I am going to give you a general rule of thumb. General. This is not a prescription but the base nubers I use with clients.
Fat loss – 14 calories per pound of bodyweight
-between 20 and 30% carbs, 40% protein, the rest healthy fat
Maintenance – 16 – 18 calories per pound of bodyweight
-30-50% carbs, 30 percent protein, the rest healthy fat
Performance – 18-24 calories per pound of body weight
-40-65% carbs, 30% protein, the rest healthy fat
Those are the general guidelines we use. Everyone is a little different so we use a little trial and error as the weeks progress. But we have to know the facts in order to know what to change. We have to have the data.
Otherwise you are just making a huge guess and guessing doesn’t get you results.
- You’re Guessing Wrong
The untrained eye is very bad at guessing food. If I put down broccoli and potatoes in front of you, could you accurately portion out a 300 calorie portion of each? I bet you could not.
Now, if you learned what 300 calories of broccoli and 300 calories of potatoes was then I bet you could do it just fine. But you have to learn that first. Know a great way to do that? Weigh it and measure it. Do that a couple of times and guess what? You will then be able to figure it out without measuring it.
But unless you do that you will probably guess wrong.
I see it all the time. You are on a weight loss plan and all of a sudden your portions would make a sparrow hungry. Calories plummet, you feel like a lethargic piece of shit, and 4 days later your misery orders a pizza, wings, and an ice cream cake.
You dropped your calories too low, signaled your body that it was starving and then feasted it with enough glorious calories to pack a little more fat on those love handles.
Or maybe you have been eating healthy and making smart choices but do not realize that broccoli is far less calorie dense than rice and you are way under your calorie deficit, again signaling your body that you are starving.
The fact is that you cannot guess with your health. You have to know. And to know, you have to learn. And to learn you have to count.
- You Have To Learn
As I have been alluding to, you have to learn what calories are in what food and what portion will get you the number of calories that you need.
You have to measure and count your calories for a little while. It isn’t to punish you for life or make you miserable. It is so that you can learn how many calories are in what you are eating. This, and this alone, will allow you to make the right choices for your health.
Sticking your head in the sand and arguing that it is too difficult and unnecessary is fucking stupid. It is a lazy way to give yourself an excuse for the lack of your success. Don’t do this.
You don’t have to turn yourself into a human abacus and calculate your food for the rest of your life. You have to do it long enough that you can make an educated and fairly accurate summary of what you are fueling your body with.
If you don’t know how to do this you will never be successful. I truly believe this is something that should be taught in schools. It is a skill that is vital to modern culture where we have access to more food than we could ever consume.
Calculating your calories isn’t a punishment or something you have to do forever. It is an educational experience and you need to do it long enough to actually understand what you are eating.
And frankly it is super easy now with the advent of apps. There is no excuse. Online sites and apps have made calculating your calories a simple plug and play experience. Not like the three years I spent with graph paper, a food count book, and a calculator. Yeah, that’s right. 3 years I did that. And now I can look at a meal and tell you the total calories pretty accurately
Take the time to educate yourself. Not only will it help with your fat loss or athletic performance goals but it will help ensure your health for the rest of your life.