How can I know if I am eating enough?

I have started a new diet that lowers my calorie intake. Based on several weight loss calculators, my base calorie intake is 3,300, and lowering it to 2,804 will allow me to lose a pound a week. so far I have been hitting the mark but have found myself to be very restless and alert at night with this new diet. Could I actually be eating too little or do I just need to wait for my body to adjust?

  Topic Health Subtopic Nutrition Tags eating dieting dieting and sleep
13 Days 1 Answer 58 views

Jordan Pugh

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Answers ( 1 )

  1. For better or for worse, your body probably will decide for you whether you're eating enough or not. Unfortunately, that means that diets and manipulation generally don't work very well. While you can be as mathematical as you like in calculating your caloric intake and energy needs, it's important to remember that these numbers, while seemingly very specific, are just wild guesstimates. And when you use a number like 2,804 calories in your calculations, it seems likely that you're misunderstanding what those numbers mean and how they're derived*. Say your daily intake includes a few fruits and vegetables. (If you're eating well, it should.) The apple you eat on Monday is not going to have the same exact number of calories at the one you eat on Wednesday, so calculating the numbers down to that degree of specificity is just going to mislead yourself. It's not based on any reality. 


    Every weight loss calculator is a guess. It's a semi-educated guess, but still basically a fairly wild one*. There isn't any great way to refine that guess on paper that will end up being as accurate as your body's own decision about what it needs. That's because there are simply too many factors that go into your caloric consumption and intake to properly manage it manually in small detail like that. On any given day, you burn a totally different number of calories. Tiny things low how fast you walk up the stairs in your apartment building are different every day. Larger things like going on a hike, or moving your couch are different every day. What you eat is different every day (or at least should be). More importantly, how much of what you eat gets absorbed can be VERY different every day. 


    So there really is no way to know, with a high degree of accuracy, how much you're taking in and how much you're burning on a daily basis. The numbers just aren't available. But more importantly, there's another huge factor at play that isn't being considered: your own body. Not only do your intakes and utilizations change every day, but your body is constantly changing to compensate for them. So it's probably not a great idea to expect those numbers to hold true, even if they were at the start. Nor is it a good plan to depend on changing to a very different diet all at once for weight loss anyway. Because your body will adjust and changed based on what you're doing. there are just too many moving parts to accurately calculate simply. 


    Imagine driving down the highway in your car. As you go, there are a lot of things going on under the hood, including fuel injection, valves opening and closing, temperatures being managed, and so on. Now imagine that you wanted to install a button that let you manually control just the fuel injector. Whenever you wanted to, you could squirt in some amount of gas to the engine. Because it's such a complex machine, and makes very complex computerized calculations constantly as its going, it's highly unlikely that your questionably-timed injections would make things better rather than worse. Your body is also a machine that works on a very sophisticated level, and its main goal is to keep you alive and safe. So if you suddenly get to the point where it thinks  you're giving it fewer calories on a regular basis, there's a fair chance it will preserve some of them for important tasks at the expense of other types of performance. It's just trying to keep you from starving or damaging yourself. 


    So while you may think that very specific caloric calculation is accurate and useful, it's really not as helpful as you think. Do that for a month, and you'll find that it adjusts to this "new normal". And if your inputs shift so that it's losing a significant amount of weight every day, there's a good chance that your body will adjust at some point rather than continue to let you waste away. Having the wherewithal to consume fewer calories than you burn takes a lot of willpower, because your body will eventually try to fight that and achieve stasis. That's why diets don't work in the long term. Almost everyone gains back the weight at some point. Only sustainable lifestyle changes really work to affect your weight long term. And they usually can't depend on a 500-calorie deficit.  


    Another thing to avoid is calculating how much weight you'll lose per week. Even if you manage to accurately calculate how many calories you're burning and how many you're taking in (you can't), there is no way to know whether you lost a pound that week or not. That's because the human body's weight sometimes varies more in a day than you're talking about losing in a week. It's very common for a person's weight to vary as much as 3-5 pounds in a single day. So if you're weighing yourself every day, you really won't be getting useful information, and you may even be misleading yourself. Sure, after several months, you may get an accurate picture of a pattern, but obsessing over a scale is a bad idea, and can lead to bad habits. 


    So where does this leave you? While it may be helpful to do a quick back of the napkin calculation to figure out if you're grossly over or under consuming calories on a daily basis, once you've done that, it's probably wiser to put down the calculator and scratch pad, and think about adjustments you can make that will help you establish a better pattern of eating. Think about things you eat that aren't optimal in large quantities and reduce those. Don't deprive yourself completely of anything you really like, but think about maximizing nutrition while still allowing for enjoyment. Think about making good choices overall, not about counting specific calories. It's much better to lose 5 pounds in a year than to lose that in about a month. Because in two years, it will still be gone, rather than packed back on, along with a few other pounds. 




    *An important note about calorie counts. Most people have no idea where the idea of calorie counts for food came from, and how food calories are counted. In fact, we really shouldn't refer to to them as "counted" at all. At best they're estimated, and even that, as you'll soon see, is generous. So why do use the term "calorie" in relation to food? A calorie is a unit of energy measurement (as some may remember from their school physics classes), and they wanted to get an idea of how much energy food creates or how much is consumed when it's used. Unfortunately, because of the complexities mentioned in my answer above, this is almost impossible to do on a real level. So what did they do instead? They burned it. Literally. After some cursory research, they found that the amount of energy stored in food was roughly equivalent to how much energy was created if you lit it on fire and burned it. So they put food items into a device called a bomb calorimeter, which is capable of completely burning the items inside it and measuring the amount of energy involved. To this day, the calorie counts you see on food labels or nutrition websites are based not only some sophisticated metabolic calculation or real world observation in human metabolisms. They come from calculations done mostly decades ago by putting various foods into a bomb calorimeter, and burning them until they are totally gone. And most food companies use these original numbers when calculating their nutritional labels. Some of the large ones invest in sending samples of their items to be burned in calorimeters for reference, but many simply add up the old reference numbers from years ago for each ingredient they use, and do a very rough approximation. So the numbers used to calculate calories are very old, very non-specific to particular foods, and have little to do with how a human body actually utilizes the food. It's highly unlikely that anyone's body burns up their food as completely as a high intensity bomb calorimeter, our that their bodies take in every potential calorie that they eat. But just as importantly, it's definitely not true that everyone's body handles those things in the same way. Some people will assimilate much more of their food, while others will, to put it bluntly, poop a lot of it out without using it. So you'll probably want to beware of relying too closely on calorie counts, or the idea of calories in food at all when making practical calculations. 

    UTC 2022-01-14 05:27 PM 0 Comments

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