HOW TO EAT FOR YOUR GOALS
HOW MUCH you eat determines your weight.
WHAT you eat determines your body composition.
Each one of us has a certain number of calories we should be eating. The most scientifically accurate way to determine our optimal calorie intake is to get a DXA Scan. There’s one of these scanners here in Vancouver at Body Comp Imaging. I got a DXA scan back in October 2019 and my results showed that I personally should be eating 1491 calories a day (these are MY calories not YOURS so don’t copy mine and expect to get the same results- you won’t). There are also mathematical equations (like the Harris Benedict Equation – you can Google it if you wish) that we can use to calculate our optimal daily calorie intake – but the DXA is definitely the MOST accurate and most recommended method – especially if we’re (wanting to get) really serious about our nutrition.
The Principle of Energy Balance states that when:
Calorie intake < calories burned (aka negative energy balance) à bodyweight decreases/weight loss
Calorie intake = calories burned (aka neutral energy balance) à bodyweight stays the same
Calorie intake > calories burned (aka positive energy balance) à bodyweight increases/weight gain
So therefore, if my recommended calorie intake is 1491 calories, it doesn’t matter if I eat just marshmallows or just sirloin steak all day, the result will be that if I eat more calories than I burn, I’ll gain weight; if I eat less calories than I burn, I’ll lose weight; and if I eat the same amount of calories as I burn, my weight won’t change. Simple as that.
WHAT we eat to make up our daily caloric intake determines our body composition. Body composition is how much lean mass (muscle) we have compared to body fat (simply, what our bodies are composed of). So, if I eat 1491 calories of marshmallows every day (my maintenance calories) – I won’t gain or lose weight, but I sure won’t look very aesthetic – my body won’t be getting enough protein or the nutrients it needs to maintain or build muscle tissue. I would eventually start looking like a marshmallow (soft and squishy – no muscle definition) - and that’s GREAT if that's the look I’m going for - but not if my goal is to be “toned” (which actually means to have lean body mass (muscle) with low body fat) in real fitness terms.
This is where Macros come into play. Macros (or macro nutrients) are Protein, Carbs and Fat and make up everything we eat.
Let’s now take it back to the marshmallow vs. steak example:
According to the MyFitnessPal App (which is a macro and calorie-tracking app). If I was on the all-marshmallow diet, I’d have to eat 83 large marshmallows a day to meet my 1491 recommended daily calorie intake. Marshmallows are made up of pretty-much all Carbs, a tiny bit of Protein (there’s about 16g of protein in 83 marshmallows) and a negligible amount of Fat.
Conversely, to meet my 1491 recommended daily calorie intake eating just sirloin steak, I’d have to eat about 30 ounces of it. Sirloin steak consists mostly of Protein (206g in 30 ounces) and some Fat (about 52g per 30 ounces) and zero Carbs.
So Aisha, what SHOULD I eat?
Well, that depends on your goals!
If your goal is to build/maintain muscle- you’re going to have to ensure you’re getting enough protein in your diet. My recommendation is to eat 1 gram (nutritional, not weighted) of protein for every pound you currently weigh.
I currently weigh 142 pounds, therefore I eat around 142 grams of protein daily (this equates to 568 calories as there 4 calories per gram of Protein). I’m flexible with how I fill the rest of my calories (923 to be exact) up (as 1491-568 = 923). Some days I’m strict with myself and eat very cleanly, some days I’m more relaxed and let myself enjoy a treat! But as long as I’m getting my 142 grams of protein and keeping my calories at 1491/day, I know I'm staying on target.
If you don’t care about your body composition and are just concerned about your weight, forget about macros (WHAT you eat), go back to the 3 equations under The Principle of Energy Balance heading to guide you on HOW MUCH to eat and strictly use calorie counting (not macro tracking) to help you stay on track.
To get results, you don't have to make it complicated on yourself - just chose your primary goal (body weight or body composition) and use the information above to help you.