Monday, June 17, 2013
Most of the people I know tell me I shouldn't try and micromanage my diet too much; that it's simpler to just learn "good foods" "bad foods" and "healthy portions" and let common sense be my guide, and that's fine...but there doesn't really seem to be any consistent advice on these things! Name a food, there's good and bad to it; it's all about balancing. And then what about portion sizes? 3oz of red meat, how many times a week? One? None? No more than once a day? How much meat, poultry and fish each week? None? Three portions? 1-3 per day? And if you eat it daily, what should the meat:bird:fish ratio be? How about eggs? We all know now that they don't actually have anything to do with blood cholesterol and they're a great way to start the day. So how many do you eat? One or two a week? Three to five? One a day? Two most days? Do you eat any raw in shakes? Are you allowed to fry them in a little frylite? Or is that bad for you now 'cause it causes cancer? Olive oil is good for you, and you should have 1 tbsp per day, but no more than 2 servings (i.e. 2 tbsp) of fat per day. I could go on for a while; the world of nutrition is FILLED with contraditions! As best I can tell it's about finding what works for you and going with it.
With that in mind, I had an argument with Spark People's nutrition tracker today. I want to prelude this by saying I understand that low carb diets can work, that by putting fewer carbs into your body you make your body burn more fat, that as long as you're not silly about it they can be great, etc. However, low carb diets really aren't my thing. I also understand the basic concept of calorie deficit = fat burned. That's fine. However, I also know that when you eat the wrong things, when you eat an incomplete diet, or when you dramatically cut your calories (by more than, say, 500 per day) you can do more harm than good. Now according to SP, I'm supposed to eat 1,200 to 1,600 calories per day. Let's split the difference and say it wants me to eat 1,400 per day. This assumes that my body needs 1,900 calories to run, and that 1,400 creates a deficit of 500 calories, leading to 3,500 burned over the course of the week, and 1lb of weight lost. However, I happen to know already that a 24 year old woman, 5'6" in height weightin 205lb's and doing light activity throughout the day (housework, walking a mile a day on the school run, running up and down stairs and generally chasing around after a small child with no car) burns about 2,400 calories per day just by going about their daily lives. I've done the research, done the math, checked and re-checked and yep, sure enough, I'm running on about 2,400 calories per day. I do some more quick maths, adding up my average breakfasts (600cal), lunch (600cal) and dinner (800cal) plus snacks and drinks and can easily beleive that I run on about that much. I don't tend to lose or gain weight at the moment; I'm regulating my weight. However, I know I could be doing it better. That's why I'm on SP. That and hey, 205lb's isn't really a healthy weight to be regulating, and mine's generally maintained through late night binges on biscuits and jam bread.
So I know I need to make some changes. But cutting my calorie intake by 1,000 per day? I know I could stand to lose a few lb's but really? That doesn't seem quite right. However, I know that there's more to eating healthy than calorie counting, so I make a mental note to come back to it, and start logging my food throughout the day. I had a nice healthy (more or less) breakfast and sat down with some internet research to see what constitutes a balanced diet. I was pleasantly surprised by the reminder that actually, you have to eat quite a lot to get your RDA's of everything, and it won't break your calorie bank. The Food Pyramid and assorted other similar sources all seem to mostly agree on how much you should eat; 6 portions of grains, 5+ of veg, 3 or 4 of fruit, 2 or 3 for dairy, 1-3 for meat, fish, poultry, eggs, legumes and nuts, and 2 or 3 for healthy fats and oils. Cool. I can work with that. However, this is where the argument comes in with SP's nutritional trackers.
See, I can do all of that without bursting out of my calorie requirements, just about. However, it requires low fat bread, low fat olive oil (which doesn't have the same health benefits), and apparently an apple has 100+ calories these days...who knew? And here I was thinking it depended on the type of apple or something. Silly me! (I know, I'm being catty; SP is an awesome resource but can only offer guidelines, it's not psychic, I know.) I don't hold with highly processed low-fat foods, give me the calories! I know, I can't really offer any solid calorie advice when I have a BMI of obese, but it doesn't take a genius to work out that 50 calories for a serving of butter vs 1 calorie for a serving of cancer (also known as margerine) is a worthwhile tradeoff. I also have to remember that SP is cutting my calories per day by 1,000; twice the recommended amount for healthy weight loss. So I tweak the calorie goals on my nutrition tracker; I'm now on 1,650 - 2,050; between 350 and 850 calories lighter per day. I'm happy with that.
The second part of the argument brings be back to the "low carb" bit earlier in my writing. SP says I should have about 125-200g of carbs per day. Bearing in mind that SP also says the average apple has something like 24g of carbs in it, this gets kinda tricky. So again, I do my own research and find that actually, I should be aiming more for 250-350g per day. Odds are the difference comes from that extra 500cal SP is trying to shave off my daily allowance. Fat and Protein seemed to stay about the same (although I've now changed my daily fat goals from 35-80 to 30-65 instead) but the calories and carbs were way off in my opinion.
And with the changes, I've realized something. First off, 6 portions of carbs (or 4, as I ended up eating), 5 portions of veg, 3 portions of fruit, 3 portion of calcium, 3 portions of protein and 2 portions of fat are actually a LOT of food. Today I weigh in at just over 1,800 calories and I've pretty much stuffed myself with veggies. See, since my biggest problem comes in the evening (generally because I eat dinner early with my son, then do a workout when he's in bed, then suddenly get hit with FEEDMENOW! Bloodsugar drops) so I planned my meals just right; dinner was 1/4 of a cabbage fried with water, BBQ spice seasoning, a clove of garlic and 3/4 cup of mung beans. This filled me up (and if it hadn't, hey, look, more cabbage!) and was yummy. Then after Jr went to bed I satisfied my sweet tooth with natural low fat yogurt with a small sweet potato and some ground flax seeds mashed in. This was sweet enough to serve as desert, filling enough to feel like another meal, but light enough that 45 minutes later I could work out on it. I did 45 minutes of bellydance and 20 minutes of Zumba (which, thank you WiiFit, I'm starting to love) and rounded me evening with 2 small oranges and a kiwi fruit, then a cup of milk, a tsp of brown sugar, and a tsp of pure organic cocoa powder (which also has some pretty epic health benefits).
So basically I had porridge for breakfast, a fried egg sandwich and salad for lunch, a yummy and filling dinner, a sweet desert, plenty of snacks, and a hot chocolate at bedtime. Oh, and guess how hungry, cranky and tired I felt today?
I've lost 15lb's so far without the aid of SP's nutritional tracker; simply making healthy food choices and doing some research. SP is an excellent resource, but remember it's kind of like the bible or a "shows potential" artists work; sometimes it's best to take a step back and look for the idea and reason behind what it says, rather than obsessing over the details. If you're a details person and the resources here on SP work great for you, fantastic...but please don't feel like a failure or a cheat if sometimes you have to march to the beat of your own drummer instead.