This is day 8 of the first edition of the book 2 Weeks to Health, a 2-week course designed to kick start a healthier life. The expanded and reworked second edition is set to be released in the summer of 2018.
Motivation is what gets you started, habit is what keeps you going.
One of my favorite phrases is ‘abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym’. Today we are going to discuss how to improve your diet starting with your calorie and/or macronutrient analysis from day 5. If you didn’t do this analysis yet, read this article, log your diet, and complete this after you have a solid log to look at. Please do not blow off the diet and nutrients part of this course, it is just as important as exercise.
Grab your food log and look at how many calories and/or grams of fats, proteins, and carbs you consumed each day. First, how do you feel about your diet and your monitoring process? My guess is that you tried to eat a little bit healthier just because you had to write down what you ate. That’s good, but now we are going to compare what you ate with what you should eat. I’m going to have you do another Google search. Search for “macronutrients calculator”. Select a couple calculators that you want to try out, there are a lot of them.
Enter the information it asks for, and click calculate. The output will be how many grams of fats, carbs, and proteins you should be eating per day. For example if you are a 35 year old, 200 pound, 5’ 5” female who wants to cut fat and is lightly active, according to one calculator you should be eating around 1,587 calories, 159 grams of carbs, 159 grams of protein, and 35 grams of fat per day. Every calculator will give you slightly different numbers because different calculators will prefer higher amounts of protein in the diet than others. These estimated numbers will not change as long as you maintain the same weight, goals, and activity levels. If there is any change to those three things, you will need to recalculate your recommended macronutrient values. Keep in mind, even if you have a hard workout and burn 500 calories, you can’t say “well I worked out, so I can eat more”. You need to stay at the activity levels that were calculated, and recalculate the amounts as you change your goals, activities, and weight.
If you are not very computer savvy, then you can use these values as a basis for your macronutrients and calories:
- If you are trying to lose weight, consume 1.1 grams of protein, 1.1 grams of carbs, and 0.2 grams of fat per pound of body weight per day if you are male. Females should consume about 0.8 grams of protein, 0.8 grams of carbs, and 0.15 grams of fat.
- If you are trying to maintain your current weight, consume 1 gram of protein, 1.6 grams of carbs, and 0.35 grams of fat per day if you are male. Females should consume 0.65 grams of protein, 1 gram of carbs, and 0.25 grams of fat to maintain.
- To get calories based on these, know that every gram of carbs and protein has 4 calories per gram. Fat has 9 calories per gram. Fun fact, alcohol has about 7 calories per gram. You can calculate the macronutrients you need and then multiply them by their respective calorie densities to get calories.
These numbers are assuming you are working out at least a few days per week. They are also not an exact science. If you are still gaining weight and following this framework, then you will need to keep reducing your calories consumption by perhaps removing a couple dozen grams of macronutrients. If you are gaining weight, you may need to further reduce your calorie consumption.
Now that you roughly know how many calories, carbs, fats, and proteins you should be eating per day, compare what you should be eating with what you actually ate. Does it surprise you? If you found out you are consuming way too much or way too little of something then it is time to start changing your diet so you can achieve your goals. If everything is perfect then that is fantastic. You might not need to change anything, but it will be worth it to continue reading so you can try to better fit your diet into the MyPlate model so you can get all the micronutrient your body needs (have a well-balanced diet).
If you need to cut your fats, proteins, and/or carbs, then the next step is to figure out what to cut, and what to change all together. Just like an exercise plan, there is no perfect plan for everyone, but I am going to attempt to go through some common changes and cuts you can make to get your macronutrient values down to your desired amounts. Some of the sacrifices you will need to make for your health will be tough, but it is the hard decision to reduce or remove certain foods from your diet that will make you a stronger and healthier person.
First, avoid drinking your calories. Whenever you drink soda, lemonade, juice, sweet tea, and other sugary drinks, you are consuming large amounts of carbohydrates due to the sugar. By drinking nothing but water you can easily decrease your carb intake. Second, do not eat fast food, and avoid eating out altogether. For most people, a Big Mac meal will contain all the fat they should eat in a single day. Even the healthier looking meals at nicer restaurants can have a large amount of macronutrients based on the portion sizes and type of food preparation. Third, learn to cook. Having frozen dinners at home can be just as bad for your health as eating out. Also, frozen meals have a lot of sodium, which could lead to high blood pressure and other illnesses. By cooking your own meals you can have full control over what you are eating, and your macronutrient and calorie intakes.
This course is not designed to be about cooking, and I don’t want to tell you what to eat. If you Google “how to eat healthy” or “healthy recipes” you will find thousands of websites. What I want to show you is there is a certain number of calories, fats, carbs, and proteins you should be eating in order to reach your goals, whether the goal is to gain muscle, lose weight, or maintain how you are. If you are serious about reaching your goals, I recommend you constantly monitor what you eat. Since this takes a lot of time, perhaps don’t always do the macronutrient analysis, but keep a food log to keep yourself accountable, then do an analysis a couple times a week to ensure you are eating what you should be.
Even after years of practicing healthy eating, conducting a dietary audit of myself can yield surprising results. I recently ate a couple buffalo chicken ceasar salad wraps for dinner and calculated the macronutrients as well as the sodium in the wraps. Just by eating two average sized salad wraps I had already consumed twice the amount of sodium that the American Heart Association recommends we consume per day. The dressing and tortilla together were close to 1000 mg of sodium and the buffalo sauce was about another 500 mg. The recommended daily sodium intake is 2300 mg or less, with a preferred value of 1500 mg. With two salad wraps that I thought were near bullet proof healthy I had already consumed 3000 mg of sodium, and that was just one meal.
Getting back to calories, a rule of thumb is that it takes a 3500 calorie deficit to burn one pound of fat. This means if you are a female who needs to consume 2000 calories per day to maintain weight, then you need to have calorie deficit of 500 calories per day (3500 divided by 7) to lose one pound of fat per week. This deficit can come from either what you eat, exercise, or both. If you want to lose one pound a week, every day you would need to burn 200 calories exercising, and eat 1700 calories, or any combination of exercise and eating to reach a total intake of 1500 calories per day.
I know I said this course isn’t about telling you what to eat to reach calories or the grams of carbs, fats, and proteins you need, but tomorrow we will talk more about how to improve your diet. Macronutrients are great to monitor until you get all your daily fats and carbs from potato chips, which is not good. The goal is to eat a well-balanced diet while meeting, and not exceeding, your calorie and macronutrient needs.