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Not So Simple Calorie Counting

Monday, May 28, 2018

When I think back to when I first joined Spark so many years ago, I'm often stunned by how my journey has changed. I joined back then because I was overweight, unhappy, and unhealthy. I needed help. I was so focused and committed to calories in - calories out that I had spreadsheets designed to figure out exactly how much I could eat precisely.

Except the math never quite balanced. It seemed weight management was far more complicated then simple calorie counters.

Fast forward to today. I feel that I have far more metabolic control then I did back then. Through numerous years of self-experimentation, I have pretty good control over how I need to eat and exercise in order to manage my weight.

What I have circled back around to is that calorie in versus calorie out absolutely is true in some respects. But how we eat and exercise changes that "calorie out" dynamic.

I've had metabolic testing done at several intervals so I can observe how my metabolism has changed based on my choices. When I'm sedentary and not eating optimally, my basal metabolic rate drops. When I'm active and eating well, my burn rate rises.

The recipe for slowing a metabolism? Eat less, move less.

The cure for a slow metabolism? Eat more, move more.

I know what my real burn rate through my BMR is from my metabolic testing, but I can still lose weight when I exceed those calories. It depends on what I eat, and how I exercise.

My favorite activity is riding my bike. Through measurements with my heart rate monitor, I can tell I'm essentially performing HIIT exercise every time I get on my bike. I get the best fat burn when I hit my heart rate peak zones 4 or 5 times a session, and ride for approximately 2 hours. I'm getting both performance and endurance training.

All that activity requires calories. In a complete reversal of how I used to approach weight loss, I now eat approximately 1800 calories per day to lose weight, whereas I used to eat 1200. If my BMR is 1400 and I burn 1000 calories in a typical bike ride, then my daily activies are 2400 at a minimum. 1800 calories in a day is sometimes too low.

I had a really hard time trying to eat that much in the beginning, but I found that it really did have an effect. I had to eat more nuts, add cream to my coffee, add olive oil, add butter, and other tricks; the complete opposite of how I started my weight loss journey by trying to eat less.

I've tried many different macronutrient compositions over the years. The low-fat diet never worked for me - hungry all the time, and rebounded often. A true ketogenic diet works, but not long term. On a keto diet, I don't get enough carbohydrates to refuel my muscle glycogen, and my bike rides are more difficult. At the stages where I am riding at my aerobic threshold (where I'm burning fat), my endurance rides can last seemingly forever. The problem with being ketogenic with this activity is if I'm glycogen depleted via keto, then I have no power when coming across an incline where I need to reach for glycogen. As I cross the anaerobic threshold climbing a steep hill, I run out of steam.

Keto diets have become more popular recently, but like any other diet, it should fit your lifestyle. For me, I definitely lose fat with keto, but I cannot enjoy my activities because of the glycogen depletion effect. I can also lose fat by being fat-adapted; I have to eat the right kind of carbohydrates so my muscle glycogen has fuel when I need it. In order to lose fat, I just go through regular cycles where I empty glycogen through exercise, then refill with a delicious fruit.

The fuel mix that works best for me is moderate protein/fats, and veggies/fruit for carbs. The only carbs I eat are veggies/fruit. I don't eat junk. I eat protein/fat/veggies at every meal, and the macros work out at whatever they land on; I don't change my plate so that it fits a certain ratio anymore.

I learned a few years ago that I lose fat better by not eating starches and grains. I've also had genetic testing that shows that I have an elevated risk of celiac disease, so I try to avoid it.

I do believe that calories matter, but it's not so simple. Some days if I track my calories in versus calories out, it still never matches. I just know how to feed myself for my activities to get the result that I want.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Wow, you really have this all worked out - that's amazing. I have learned that if I'm going to be working out on a consistent basis, I do need to eat more - and more of the foods that are good for me. But I don't know if I could ever work it out with so much detail. And there is the occasional junk food but it's becoming less and less. A couple years ago one of my goals was to only eat fast food once a week - now it's probably no more than once a month, if that. And that's because my DH still enjoys his taco bell or mcdonald's. The good news is that as I cook healthier meals, even he is less and less interested in what was once a fairly staple food group in our diets. It means cooking more than I would like, but I've decided that there's nothing more important for me to be taking care of than ME!
    914 days ago
  • SUE5007
    914 days ago
    Great blog. Love the way you have analyzed things and know how your body works.
    915 days ago
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    Disclaimer: Weight loss results will vary from person to person. No individual result should be seen as a typical result of following the SparkPeople program.