Today’s entry is a dietary reference of sorts, listing recommended intake levels for fat, protein, carbohydrates, fiber, alcohol, and more.
Kris and I have begun a shared diet. It’s been several years we attempted a joint weight loss plan; it’s fun to work together toward a common goal. I’ve created this entry as a set of notes regarding recommended consumption levels, etc.
I seem to start several diets a year, but rarely see them through. (Or, equally as common, I’ll lose twenty pounds, then fall off the wagon and gain all the weight back.) The good news is that mentally I’ve already bought into this one. I’m committed. I want to lose this weight.
My goal is to lose fifty pounds in ten pound increments. I want to lose the first ten pounds, to drop from 210 to 200, by June 1st, which will require an average weight loss of 1.5 pounds/week. Kris wants to lose ten pounds by August 1st. My current daily intake target is 2000 calories; Kris is aiming for 1500 calories. The first few days of a diet are tough for me, and this time is no exception. Yesterday was hell, though I’m pleased to report things were easier today.
Here’s a breakdown of my average daily calorie consumption from the past week:
Because I’ve attempted so many diets during the past decade, I’ve done a lot of reading on nutrition and fitness. I can recite many of the bullet points by heart. Here’s some of what I know:
Calories measure energy consumption. In nutrition, calories measure the amount of energy the body releases when breaking down food. For example, when we say that one gram of protein has four calories, we’re really saying that the body needs to use four calories of energy to process that gram of protein. Confused? Basically, the body has to process everything you eat. It takes energy to do that, and your body can only process so many calories at a time. If you consume too many calories, then the body has to store the excess as fat, energy stores for later use. But if your calorie consumption is low enough, your body says, “Aha! I have some free time. I’ll go work on breaking down this fat I’ve stored.”
How many calories can the body process? A general rule of thumb is that the body of the average man is able to break down calories equal to about twelve times his body weight every day. The average woman’s body can break down calories equal to about eleven times her body weight every day. Active people are able to process more calories; sedentary people can’t process quite as many.
Weight loss is achieved when you run a calorie deficit, consuming fewer calories than your body can process every day. Weight gain is caused by a calorie surplus, consuming more calories than your body can use every day. As a general rule of thumb, one pound is equivalent to 3500 calories. This is a convenient number: altering your calorie consumption by 500 calories/day thus produces a theoretical swing of one pound per week.
In my case, I’m starting at 210 pounds. Using the above formula, my daily requirement is 2520 calories. Thus, if I were to reduce my calorie consumption to 2000 calories/day, I would lose about one pound per week. (Notice that as I shed weight, I’ll need to reduce my daily calorie consumption to maintain this 500 calorie/day gap. For every ten pounds lost, I need to cut my energy consumption by 120 calories.)
Also note that it’s possible to pump up the other end of the formula. That is, by exercising, one can cause the body to burn more daily calories. My rule of thumb (and this is only roughly accurate, but it’s close enough) is that traveling a mile on foot, whether running or walking, burns 100 calories. Biking for ten minutes also burns about 100 calories. So, if I take a three mile walk during the day, I know that my body will burn roughly 300 extra calories that day.
When I diet, I generally aim to maintain a calorie deficit of between 500 and 1000 calories.
One gram of fat contains about nine calories. Fat from all sources should make up no more than 30% of your daily calories. Our foods contain a variety of fats. Some, such as those from nuts, olives, and fish, are “good fats”. Others, such as saturated fats and transfatty acids are “bad fats”. Transfats should be avoided completely. Saturated fat should make up no more than 10% of your daily calories. Put into numbers, in a 2000 calorie diet, daily fat consumption should be limited to about 65g or less, no more than 20g of which should come from saturated fats. (Cholesterol should be limited to less than 300mg per day.)
One gram of alcohol contains about seven calories. I only have vague notions of alcohol and its relation to diet. I was a teetotaler until about five years ago. I did some research tonight, and was surprised to find that moderate alcohol consumption actually is considered acceptable, even healthful. I’d thought such claims were bogus. Moderate alcohol consumption seems to mean the equivalent of one drink (ten to fifteen grams of alcohol) per day for men, and half a drink (five to eight grams of alcohol) per day for women. (One drink is a bottle of beer, or a glass of wine, or a shot of whiskey.) If you consume twice this much alcohol, you begin to be susceptible to various health risks. If you consume four times as much alcohol, you’re considered a heavy drinker. If you consume 80 grams or more of alcohol each day (about six drinks), you are doing severe damage to your body.
One gram of protein contains about four calories. A diet should comprise at least 10% protein, though more is better. If I recall correctly, protein shouldn’t make up more than 30% of your daily calorie totals. Thus, assuming a 2000 calorie diet, you should eat between 50 and 150 grams of protein per day. High protein diets are not necessarily more healthful for the body (in fact, the opposite is likely true); high protein diets work because they encourage a feeling of fullness. Protein satisfies. It’s possible to apply this principle to a healthy diet without going overboard. If you’re trying to lose weight, maximize your consumption of beans, rice, and lean meats. (Actually, now that I think about it, rice always makes me hungrier. I wonder why this is…)
One gram of carbohydrates contains about four calories. The bulk of your diet (40-60%) should come from carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are essentially sugars. There are different types of carbohydrates, from simple sugars to complex carbohydrates. Simple sugars are easy for the body to process and provides little or no nutritional benefit. It’s quick energy. The body is forced to break down complex carbohydrates (think “starches”), so the energy from a potato, say, generally isn’t available for the body to use right away.
Two carb-related notes: added sugars (refined sugars), such as those often found in candies, sodas, and sweetened cereals, should make up less than a quarter of your total calories, the fewer the better. (It’s my understanding that these sugars are easily identifiable on nutritional labels because they’re the ones labeled “sugar” under the carbohydrates section.) Also, fiber is technically a carbohydrate, though mainly it’s just bulk that the body does not process. The old guideline was that 25 grams per day ought to be consumed for a 200 calorie diet, though a brief web search reveals that the new guideline is 38g/day for men and 25g/day for women.
Sodium intake should be restricted to less than 5000 mg/day, and preferably half that. (Past reading leads me to believe that sodium intake isn’t as critical for people who are not sensitive to it. I’m not sensitive to it, which is a good thing since I eat a hell of a lot of it.) Potassium intake should be greater than 3500mg/day (and closer to 5000 mg). I’m not clear on the reasons for these levels, though I do know that the body burns some amount of sodium (1500mg? 2500mg?) every day, and thus the need to replace it.
Women should consume roughly 2.5 liters of water per day. Men should consume roughly 3.5 liters of water per day. Some of this water is taken in naturally through the other things we eat and drink. In general, the rule of thumb seems to be “drink when you’re thirsty”. Do that and you’re fine. (Note that drinking extra water each day is great for dieting. It promotes a feeling of fullness. If you are like me and often eat or drink simply to have something in your mouth, water is a perfect replacement. If you drink cold water, you expend a small amount of energy in bringing the water to body temperature.)
The basic rule is: Just do it!
Doctors suggest a minimum of one half-hour of physical exercise every day, though an entire hour is recommended. Exercise has been proven to have enormous health benefits beyond weight loss and fitness. Exercise improves mental fitness. It encourages sound sleep. It enhances self-confidence.
Aerobic exercise, exercise that requires heavy breathing, is good for burning fat in the short term. Weight-lifting and other exercises that build muscle help in a different way. Adding muscle mass increases your metabolism, the low-level fat burning that occurs all day long, even when you’re asleep. A good exercise regimen includes both muscle-building and aerobic exercise. Unfortunately, most people prefer one or the other. (I prefer aerobic exercise.)
When I diet, I never count the exercise. I don’t track it. I do try to exercise, but any exercise I do is “bonus calories”, extra unexpected weight loss. It’s a subtle psychological game I play with myself, but it works.
I admit that most of this entry was composed off the top of my head. The information here could be inaccurate, or out of date, though I think it’s reasonably correct. This page is meant primarily as a resource for Kris and me to access over the next few months as we attempt to lose weight, but perhaps it can be of use to you, too.
One key point that I didn’t make above is that your diet should derive most of its calories from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Fats, oils, and sweets should be used sparingly. This means: don’t butter those peas, don’t eat that candy bar, and don’t use that salad dressing. Season the peas with salt and pepper, eat an orange, and use lemon juice on your salad.
Finally, if you haven’t already signed up for a free FitDay account, give it a look. It’s a simple yet convenient site for tracking calorie consumption, exercise, and weight loss.