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Posts Tagged ‘diet’

Why Calorie Calculators Aren’t Always Accurate

September 24th, 2010 No comments

Be skeptical of online health and fitness tests (or, Don't Count on Calorie Counters)
When browsing through most health and fitness websites, you’re sure to come across a variety of calculator tools that will determine everything from your body mass index, to ideal body weight and caloric needs. It’s fun to input your stats and see what comes out.

But if you’re relying on these calculators for anything more than an anecdotal number, you might end up following some very bad advice.

Not all calculator tools are the same
Not all calorie, BMI or ideal body weight calculators use the same formula to come up with their numbers, so one can be very different from the next. As well, some calculators take more variables into account than others. But just because a website’s calculator is more in-depth doesn’t make it any more accurate.

Don’t blindly trust the results
Know your body. If something that’s recommended sounds too extreme get a second opinion from your doctor, which you should be doing anyways if you’re starting a weight loss program. At the very least you should see what other calculators come up with, because as I’ve found firsthand no two will be the same.

The advice you get can vary widely
I checked out a few calculators to find out my BMI and my daily caloric needs to maintain my current weight. It’s a good thing I didn’t seek out this kind of advice when I was starting my fitness journey.

In order to maintain my current weight with my moderate activity level (I can’t be considered very active because of my sedentary job and the fact that I don’t exercise every day) they tell me I need to consume either 1,300, 1,815 or 1,909 calories per day. That’s a pretty big difference. Trying to maintain my weight by following the lower guideline and I would end up losing about a pound of week (if the higher one was actually correct).

What makes it worse is I doubt my calorie intake falls anywhere within that range. If I do a quick total of what I eat in one day I come up with a number closer to 2,000. Only one calorie calculator I used hit that target.

As for my basal metabolic rate (BMR) the number that comes up most often is around 1,300, which means I need to consume that many calories just so my vital organs can function. The Discovery Health site’s calculator agrees so I assume it’s a safe number.

Some results can be dangerous
Now here’s where it gets sketchy. Many of these calculators are used for the purpose of deciding how many calories you need to eat to lose weight. But since they can’t even get the numbers right when it comes to maintaining weight, imagine how far off they could be when it comes to losing weight. When I put in the weight I was at a year ago they calculated that I’d need to eat between 1,100 and 1,466 to lose weight. Plus a number of them mentioned adding exercise without changing caloric intake.

Well, I did lose weight, and I did it by eating better, doing cardio and strength training but there’s no way I would have starved myself like these tools suggested. My one pound or less a week came off the healthy way, which is why I’m feeling pretty good about my chances of maintaining it. Listening to bad advice could cause your body to work against you and conserve instead of expend calories, making the weight loss process more difficult than it has to be.

Know the Facts Before You Cut Calories

June 30th, 2009 No comments

The ridiculous 1200-1600 calorie a day diets that I spoke about in my last post don't often take exercise into account, even though most of the diets can be found in the pages of fitness magazines. When exercise is added it can create a big problem for dieters. As an example, if you shave calories down to 1600 a day and cut 500 more through exercise, it actually brings you lower than the approximately 1200 a day needed just to keep your brain and body functioning properly. Try and build metabolism boosting muscle with that kind of lifestyle. Am I the only one thinking this sounds like a good way to slow down and not speed up your metabolism?

And that’s not a number I pulled out of my head. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, 1200 calories, or more accurately 10 calories for every pound of body weight on a woman and 11 for a man, is the number that your body requires just to keep internal organs functioning while you’re at rest. It is known as your resting metabolic rate (RMR). As soon as you get out of bed your caloric requirements increase.

I view those approximately 1200 calories as the end result, not the target. Say I eat 2100 calories a day. 400-500 go to my workouts, be they cardiovascular or strength. Several hundred more go to activity I engage in throughout the day, like when I walk to my kitchen, car or desk, tidy, water my plants, etc. And of course when I eat more I burn more calories through digestion. The point is at the end of the day I’ve used these calories up so I don’t store them as fat. What should remain is the 1200 calories that go to my body’s basic functions - although since I’ve been building muscle for over a year that base number has probably increased, because muscle requires more calories for maintenance than fat does. We should be trying to meet the goal of using up the calories we take in, not trying to create a deficit.

I should point out that I obviously don't know all the answers, I'm just tired of all the focus on cutting calories as the solution to every person's weight problems. I'd much rather see a "diet" that doesn't mention a calorie goal at all, but that encourages people to eat quality foods and eat small meals more often, which gives the body a steady supply of fuel so it doesn’t have to store unused energy as fat. What are your thoughts on weight maintenance?

Why We Should Be Done with Starvation Diets

June 30th, 2009 No comments

After coming across yet another diet prescribing 1200-1600 calories a day to lose weight safely, I've got to get something off my chest. There are a few things about these diets that really bother me. Since this rant is going to be a little long and scattered I'll continue it on the next post as well.

Most experts say it is safe to lose 1-2 pounds of fat per week, although we've all seen contestants on The Biggest Loser drop twice that amount in a day (that's another issue for another time). So if someone has become overweight by eating 3,000 calories a day, wouldn't it be safe to assume they'd still lose a healthy amount of weight by cutting that down to 2,000?

It  takes many years for people to become overweight, why make them feel like a failure by expecting them to take it all back off in a matter of months through something so torturous as starvation? Seriously...if the average moderately active woman requires about 2100 calories a day, why change that formula if you don’t have to (I understand that there are other factors for certain people to consider and they should follow the advice of healthcare professionals). It is just reinforcing the idea that weight maintenance is about sporadic dieting and not an overall healthy lifestyle.

In one very basic way a human body is like a car. It requires fuel to run. But it is obviously much more complicated. Without fuel a car simply won’t run, whereas the human body will continue to run using stored energy. It sounds good for people wanting to get rid of excess fat. Quit giving your body food and it will start to use stored fat for energy.

But using stored energy comes at a big cost. The body reacts to a limited supply of fuel by conserving it and burning fewer calories. And when the body doesn’t get the right amount of calories for maintenance it uses muscle as well as fat for fuel, which can decrease metabolism further. So when the day comes that you discontinue your diet, and it will, you’ll be eating the same as before but with a body that can no longer burn calories as efficiently as it once could. I hope that analogy makes sense and has you questioning the value of restrictive diets. If you're exercising while dieting, there's even more you should consider.

Kentucky Grilled Chicken a Small Step in the Right Direction

May 6th, 2009 No comments

As you know the F in KFC stands for fried. But not anymore. Kentucky Fried Chicken is now offering a slow grilled alternative that has almost half the fat, sodium (although it's still high in sodium) and calories of the original fried recipe.

Sounds like a step in the right direction, but I just can't wrap my mind around the idea of KFC being a place to eat healthy. Hopefully when people are choosing the grilled chicken they also pick better sides and drinks, such as green beans and salad (not the ceaser) while skipping the almost 200 calorie options, which include mac & cheese, BBQ baked beans and of course the home-style biscuit.

Sure the chicken is grilled, but that won't matter if you complete your meal with 800 calories worth of sides and beverages.The garlic parmesan dipping sauce sounds delicious, but at 130 calories and 13 grams of fat it might not be the best idea.

Just for fun I tried out KFC's nutrition calculator (click on nutrition facts) to find out what it would take to put together a decent meal. It's a little time consuming and I can't help but wonder if this was intended. Only the truly motivated will stick around to see the results, and they are probably not the people who would be eating at a KFC anyways.

My meal: 1 grilled chicken breast, a side salad with low fat italian dressing, a small cob of corn (no butter) and the biscuit (8 grams of fat without adding butter). It comes in at just under 500 calories, which comparitively isn't bad. The 1640 mg of sodium is though - it's more than half of what the CDC considers to be the upper limit for sodium intake. It's above the limit for those with high blood pressure or over the age of 40.

The bottom line is if you already eat at KFC a grilled chicken meal is better than a fried one. But don't fool yourself into thinking it is a great choice. If you have the willpower to be around all those temping breads, side dishes, sauces and desserts without giving in and ordering them then a KFC grilled chicken meal every once in a while isn't going to hurt. If you often give in to temptation it's probably best to avoid this sort of place altogether.

The grilled chicken is only in U.S. locations right now so I've haven't had a chance to try it, let me know if you have and what you think about it.

Categories: nutrition and health Tags: ,

High Fructose Corn Syrup – Is it as Bad as they Say?

May 6th, 2009 No comments

If you know anything about corn syrup, it’s likely you know it’s not that good for you, although your taste buds may disagree. Here’s the condensed version of the full story:

For some time now popular opinion has been leaning towards pinpointing the consumption of high fructose corn syrup as a major cause of obesity. On the surface it makes sense. Just after this corn-based sweetener burst onto the scene as an ingredient in everything from soda to bread, people started gaining weight - and associated conditions such as diabetes. If corn syrup is not the direct cause of obesity, say some opponents, its initial low cost was a big contributor. With the arrival of corn syrup, sugary high-calorie foods could be priced lower and purchased more often.

More recently the Corn Refiners Association has been fighting back, claiming that since corn syrup is made from corn (the reason some consider it to be natural) and has the same amount of calories as sugar, it can’t possibly be as bad as people are making it out to be. (They also have on their side the fact that the FDA has ruled corn syrup safe to consume.)

Some researchers might disagree. As explained more fully in this Prevention Magazine article, studies have found links between diets high in fructose (which corn syrup is) and certain conditions associated with diabetes. Nothing conclusive, but enough to warrant further research. (As far as I know there have been no studies that show benefits of consuming high fructose corn syrup.)

So it seems high fructose corn syrup doesn’t have many redeeming qualities beyond its sugary flavour, but it also hasn’t been proven to be harmful. Maybe the lesson here is that rather than blindly trusting the information we’re given by scientists on either side of an argument, we should trust our own instincts. And if something is being touted as being “just as good” as something else, it’s helpful to consider what that “something else” is. If corn syrup is only as good as calorie-laden, nutrient poor sugar, should the comparison really make you think that it’s ok to eat more of it?

We all know there are better sweetener options out there than corn syrup and refined sugar. Honey and agave nectar are two natural alternatives to consider. But if we smother our food in honey it will still have a negative effect on our health and waistlines. So enjoy the sweetener you prefer, as long as you do it in moderation.

Categories: women's fitness Tags: ,