Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Why Tracking Matters ~aka~ Take Online Calculators With a Grain of Dieter's Salt

I love online tools. Calculating this and measuring that. In fact, I visited another one today:

Daily Calorie Needs Calculator. 

Nifty, right?

I plugged in my current numbers and it promptly told me I needed to consume 2951 calories to MAINTAIN my current weight (254.8 as of this AM, but I entered 255 rounding it up.)

Excuse me while I snicker.

If I eat 2951--oh, let's just call it 3K cals, shall we?-- I'd gain weight. Period.

How do I know this, you ask?

I've had a weight loss blog for  more than 3 years--May 2007 to be precise. I've logged my ups and downs (thankfully, mostly down, though slooooooooooooowwww as heck). I've lost almost 44 pounds from my high weight, and 34 pounds since May 2007. Roughly 10 lbs a year. A slow rate, but progress. Call me Mrs. Turtle. Call me Dame Snail.

In those 3.5 years, I've done, on and off, either Weight Watchers food journaling to track intake and points or nutrition tracking to check calories and nutrient breakdowns. My latest round of tracking showed me what I needed to eat to MAINTAIN--ie, the exact same weight on the scale for nearly a week--and it was around 2350 cals. Yes, way fewer calories to maintain than the calculator suggests. 601 fewer. And that was when I was 10+ pounds heavier.

Granted, my body is damaged. My thyroid is a lump of scar tissue and I need to use drugs to supplement what it no longer supplies. I have an autoimmune (well, more than one) condition that puts me often into a flare of inflammatory processes. And I'm menopausal and 50.  And pretty sedentary. None of that is a plus for weight loss. So, maybe that's why I'm so far off that general calculator for weight/height/age.

If you are trying to lose weight and not succeeding, I suggest you do the nutrition tracking for a few days at your normal eating, and see at what level you stay still (or gain, if you are gaining now). Now, cut back, say 500 cals. If you were maintaining, cutting back 500 cals should be 1 pound loss a week (might be more if you lose a lot of water). If you cut back 500 cals and still aren't losing, check your portions to see if you're estimating your intake incorrectly. Measure EVERYTHING. Then cut back more. If  you start losing 1 to 2 pounds a week, you're eating 500 to 1000 fewer calories a day than you need to maintain at the level you are at with the amount of exercise you are doing .

As you lose pounds or become more or less active, you need to reassess to maintain the rate of loss.

I you want to lose faster, yes, you have to cut back more. You knew that. But I would never recommend eating less than what will offer your body proper nutrition (fruits/veggies, protein, healthy fat). Most nutritionists caution against going below 1200 cals a day consistently. If you go below that, I recommend medical supervision and care to pack as much vitamins/minerals in the calories you do eat, particularly muscle-sparing protein.

I really think it's useful to know where you maintain, cause it might be way off the calculator and you may be someone who needs to eat LESS than most others to be a similar weight.

Tracking is also good to show you that you may be eating MORE than you realize, calorie-wise. If you measure and you log, you can't lie to yourself about how "I don't eat that much." It's easy to think you had a cup of pasta when you had a cup and a half.  It's easy to think that was a medium or small apple, when it was a large one. It's easy to imagine that sip of this and nibble of that doesnt' add up, but if it's more than what helps you maintain, it's what makes you gain.

Yep. It's really easy to eat 1000 and think you ate way less.

Something else, and easier, you can try:

Use the calculator to get their base suggestion for maintaining weight. Jot that down.  Now, change the weight in the calculator to the weight YOU WANT TO BE. That lower amount should be enough to get you to lose. And it would get you used to eating what it takes to maintain a normal weight.

In my case, I put one lower than my goal happy weight, one that has me no longer overweight. It said: 1977 calorie needs.

I would lose weight at 1977. At a slow rate, but I would.  I doubt I could maintain the weight the calculator states at that level. I might have to be at 1400 to maintain 150 lbs. Or I'd need to up my exercise (which, frankly, isn't alluring).

The main reason I'd suggest gauging where YOU maintain is just to get an idea of how different you may be metabolically. Of course, it's a given that you'd have to be super honest about intake (no fudging on the nutrition tracking). It's silly and does no good if you refuse to log that spoonful of cake or nibble of cheese or slurp of someone's soda or milkshake. You have to really treat it as an experiment.

If you are losing, tracking will show you at what caloric level you lose X pounds. If at Y caloriez you lose 1 pound a week, then you're eating/burning roughly 500 calories MORE than you need to maintain. That can give you an idea of your own individual factor as opposed to a general calculator.

Online tools are quick and fun. But they may not be accurate for you--not about BMI or caloric needs.

So, just keep that in mind, and use the tools with some caution and care. Or you may be eating too much. ; )


Midori Mighty Warrior said...

Thank you for the post :) I played around with the calculators...interesting - I didn't realize I had to consume that many calories to maintain my weight - In fact, I think it's off a tad ;o)

For sure, tracking is a great tool to help one lose weight; keeps a person honest - even if he/she is having a setback. I learned this with my recent setback.

solidice242 said...

I agree with you, online tools can be very helpful my problem is i dont like taking the extra seconds to load it and fill in the information to make sure i am on track... Can someone say lazy? After reading this I will make more of an effort to so that. Thanks