In working with women who are experiencing hormone imbalances, gut issues, and even hair loss I like to start by looking at their diet. This probably doesn’t come at a huge shock to you given my training as a nutritionist!
However, you may be a little surprised to learn that more often than not I’m coaching clients to eat MORE, not less.
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A Trend of Undereating
More times than not, I find that the clients who work with me are not eating enough total calories for their activity levels. This seems to be true regardless of body composition – meaning that undereating clients don’t necessarily equate to under-weight clients. In fact, it’s often the case the inverse is true and that the clients who are struggling with unexplained weight gain are the ones most severely undereating given their activity levels.
A strong value of mine is to support women and convey their infinite value in the work that I do. Because I feel this way, I decided early in my career that I would never offer “weight loss” as a service. We live in a culture where women are taught to be dissatisfied with their bodies and encouraged to compare themselves to arbitrary standards of beauty that were designed to sell commercial goods. It’s this internalized disapproval and dissatisfaction that keeps the money flowing to companies that tell women they are ‘less than’ if they look different than these hyper-sexualized (and often artificial) pictures of a female body.
We live in a culture where women are taught to be dissatisfied with their bodies and encouraged to compare themselves to arbitrary standards of beauty that were designed to sell commercial goods.
Calories Are Not the Be-All, End-All, But…
Calories are simply a unit of measure that are used to describe how much energy can be derived from the foods we eat. Calories do NOT take into account quality – it’s simply a quantitative measure. Calories also do NOT take into account your bio-individuality – the uniqueness that is you. We know that factors such as genetics, hormone status, environment (such as the toxins, diet, mental state), and your gut will all change how you interact with these calories making them a somewhat clumsy way to talk about diet.
Given their shortcomings you may be wondering why we’re even discussing calories. At this point, it comes down to a lack of an alternative. Calories are still a well understood and accessible way for us to talk about our diets, and they can be used to give a general understanding of energy intake. On some level, calories still matter.
How Many Calories Should I Eat?
Now that we know what calories are versus what they are not, lets dig into a calculation you can use to estimate daily calorie need.
This equation is called the Mifflin-St Jeor formula and it’s widely used to calculate something called your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR).
(10 x weight (kg)) + (6.25 x height (cm)) – (5 x age (years) -161)
Your BMR is the number of calories your body needs at rest, or when you’re 100% sedentary. This is important to stress because that means that the number the equation produces is a minimum baseline where you would need to add calories on top of this number to reflect your activity levels – even if you’re only lightly active. Other factors not represented in this formula can also increase this number, such as when your body is fighting off an infection.
(1) Your body weight: 160lb. x 0.45 = 72kg
(2) Your height (in inches): 72in. x 2.54 = 182.88 centimeters
(3) Your body weight in kg (above) x 10 = 720
(4) Your height in cm (above) x 6.25 = 1143
(5) Add together the totals from (3) + (4) above: 1863
(6) Your age in years 32 x 5 = 160
(7) Subtract the total of (6) from the total of (5): 1703
(6) Subtract 161 from the total from (7): 1,542 calories
This represents the baseline caloric needs for someone who weighs 160lb, is 6ft tall, and 32 years old and that means their intake should not drop below this number. Being physically active – whether that be walking, weight lifting, cross-fit, barre, etc. – necessitates adding more calories on top of this in order to provide the body with the energy it needs to function properly.
Best Ways to Evaluate Your Current Intake
Although most of the conversations that I have with clients about nutrition is related to the overall quality of their diet, I still often suggest that they try a meal-tracking app. For myself personally, it was very eye opening to see that I was consistently undereating when I started tracking my food intake. Unknowingly, I was eating an average of 300 calories below my BMR calorie need and it was taking a toll on my health. Read more about my story here.
Of the numerous meal-tracking software options available, I prefer apps such as Cronometer or MyFitnessPal just because of ease of use. Clients are often surprised by what these apps reveal about their typical eating patterns and this information can be very useful in creating a more balanced plan going forward.
Beyond the Calorie
As I stressed at the beginning, calories are not the only way that we should be talking about our eating habits – it’s a launching off point! If you’re ready to dial in on your nutrition and cultivate a way of eating that fits your health and lifestyle, schedule our first call today.