Monthly Archives: September 2016

4 Reasons Why Calorie Counting is Worthless.

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caloriecount

 

Beach season is done (at least in the Midwest), but it still seems that everyone and their mother is looking to drop a few pounds, or, not to leave the bros out, looking to chisel out that six-pack.

Regardless of the time of year, there’s always someone out there looking to trim up or get “shredded.”

And what do they do?

They hit the gym, or try to run themselves skinny, and then they start watching their diet, specifically their calorie intake.

What’s wrong with this?

Well, while energy balance (calories in vs. calories out) is a huge determining factor if you’re looking to gain or lose weight, for most people, focusing on calorie consumption is putting the cart before the horse.

You see, before you can concern yourself with calorie intake, you need to establish habits of eating the right types of foods, eliminate nutrient deficiencies, and improve metabolic function through improved sleep and stress management.

If you’re a weight loss client and you go to a coach or trainer with poor eating habits and nutrient deficiencies, they will only be doing you a disservice by immediately focusing on reducing your caloric intake.

Often time they will compound this with having you do the tedious work of counting your calories.

Now, in this short series of articles, I am going to cover how to properly create the correct energy balance in order to gain or lose weight.  However, before we get into that I want to tackle this topic of calorie counting.

In my sometimes not-so-humble opinion, I firmly believe that calorie-counting should be a last-resort.  Unless you are a hardcore bodybuilder or figure athletes preparing for a competition, calorie counting is simply unnecessary and can be quite unreliable.

To be blunt, it is a waste of your time.

Why is counting calories a waste of time?

 

Since I’ve opened Pandora’s box by allowing myself to write on this topic, I’m  going to try my best to keep this short.

 

  1. It sucks

 

Let’s be honest with ourselves for a minute.  Not many people like to do math.

Because clinical studies show that math absolutely sucks.

Now, I’m sure there are the select few who are giddy at the idea of dusting off their old TI-89 calculator to crunch those numbers.  However, I’m fairly confident a vast majority of you are growing nauseous at the thought.

Counting calories is tedious, time-consuming work, requiring you to measure serving sizes, look up certain food items on less than reliable apps and databases, deal with constant eye-rolling of friends and family, and then add everything up at the end of the day.

On top of that your going to either have to pay for a test to find your resting metabolic rate (how many calories you burn at rest), or use one of many equations that, more often than not, have huge margins for error.

In addition, if you choose to go the route of the test or use an equation that doesn’t factor in activity level, then you are going to need to count your energy exposure as well.

When all is said and done, this is probably just going to be more stress added to your daily routine with, what will be for most, very little return on investment where results are concerned.

 

  1. Variables for measuring “calories in”

 

In case you want me to provide a bit more information than, “it sucks,” it’s worth noting that there are many variables that skew measurements for calorie consumption.  Some would say the margin for error is even as large as 20-25%.

How?

For starters, there’s human error.

Are you truly measuring out every serving?  Are you using scales to weigh your food?  Are you leveling-off every measurement?

You get the idea.

In addition, there’s also the fact that both nutrient and caloric density of food can vary significantly based on how they are grown.  Growing methods used, soil quality, and other variables all factor in.

Finally, there’s the FDA.

If you’ve read many of my articles, you may know by now how much I love the information put out by government run and funded organizations…

In all honesty though, this is a matter of widespread unreliability of calorie totals on food labels and restaurant-provided nutrition information.

To give you an idea of what you’re dealing with, it’s well worth noting that research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association has shown that calorie totals of nearly 20% of tested menu items at chain-restaurants were underestimated by more than 100 calories.

On top of that, our good old friends at the FDA consider it acceptable for some foods, specifically frozen foods, to be under-estimated by up to 20%.

There you have it, The Food and Drug Administration: “Protecting and Promoting Your Health.”

Yeah… about that….

 

  1. Variables for measuring “calories out”

 

No government organizations to bash here.  There are just lots of variables that affect the accuracy of measuring caloric expenditure or “calorie burn.”

So, what exactly contributes to energy expenditure?

Literally everything you do.

First off, there is your resting metabolic rate, which I mentioned earlier.  However, even with an accurate estimate received through proper testing, this number can vary regularly through the influence of hormone balance, ambient temperature, and other factors.

There’s also something called the thermic effect of food (TEF), which I discussed in my article on protein.  TEF includes the energy it takes to digest, absorb, metabolize, and store the food you consume.  Or, in other words, the amount of energy it takes for your body to process the food you eat.  This number, itself, varies depending on the types and quantity of food consumed.

Of course, let’s also not forget physical activity.

This category not only includes your training session, but also your walks to the bathroom, the trips up and down the stairs, the restless leg syndrome you have sitting at your desk, and all the other small physical activities we engage in throughout the day.

Nowadays, there are many tools available to us that give us estimates of these numbers.  However, I hate to break it to you, while your heart rate monitors and FitBits are great and helpful tools, there are simply just too many variables for them to accurately calculate energy expenditure.

Considering these and other variables that go into energy expenditure, it’s hard to make an argument that calculating energy expenditure, especially on a regular basis, is going to be time well-spent for most people.

 

  1. Calories are not created equal

 

A calorie is not a calorie is not a calorie.  Not every calorie consumed by the body is as useful as the next, nor is it treated the same.

 

Q: Are 2000 calories of donuts going to be promote function and performance to same degree as 2000 calories of a balanced diet?

A: Nope.

 

As much as I loathe this expression, at the end of the day, calorie intake doesn’t matter until certain habits are established.

Over-fed or under-fed, a nutrient deficiency is still a nutrient deficiency.  Worrying about creating a caloric deficit for weight loss or caloric surplus for weight gain, for all intents and purposes, in senseless if it cannot be done properly.

So, while quantity absolutely does matter, worrying about it will only get you so far without quality.

So, keep your cart in front of the horse.  Then, keep your eyes open for my next two posts as we will discuss how to manage energy balance in order to create weight loss or weight gain.

The Sitting Epidemic

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Rear view of man in formalwear walking away from his working place

We sit a lot.

We sit down to eat our breakfast in the morning, then we sit in the car as we fight through traffic to get to a job where we sit most of the day.  We then, of course, sit in our cars as we once again fight traffic to get home, where we sit and do more work, go through the mail, binge-watch our favorite show on Netflix, or whatever else we choose to fill our time with before going to bed and repeating the process the next day.

So yeah, we definitely sit a lot.

In fact, the average American sits for over half of their waking hours.  If you work a desk job, you’re likely easily pushing 10+ hours per day.

But, how can something as simple as sitting be harmful?

Well, this tremendous amount of sitting is damaging our bodies in many ways that go far beyond simply burning fewer calories from being inactive.

In fact, long-term sitting is strongly linked to over 30 diseases and conditions.  These include obesity, several metabolic conditions, cardiovascular conditions, as well as sleep and psychological disorders.   If that laundry list doesn’t cut it, chronic sitting has also been to shown to screw up sex hormones and increase systemic inflammation.

Furthermore, studies have shown that chronic sitting increases risk for these conditions and diseases independent of obesity.  Meaning that, regardless of if you are underweight, normal weight, or obese, you face an equally increased risk for these conditions and diseases if you sit for prolonged periods of time day after day.

Think you’re safe because you work out on a regular basis?  Think again.

While regular exercisers may face lower risks than those who are purely sedentary, research has shown that regular exercise does not entirely counteract the risks associated with chronic sitting.

In addition to the increased risk for many diseases and other health conditions chronic sitting also leads to a litany of structural issues as well.

You should begin to recognize by now that our bodies are magnificent masters of adaptation.  So, if you’re sitting for 8, 10, or 12+ hours per day, your body will recognize this position as the norm, and thus adapt itself accordingly.

What does this look like?

Well, to save you a headache let’s just say, in short, it can lead to a whole heap of issues involving the hips, spine, shoulders, and other areas of the body.  This, in turn, yields dysfunctional patterns when you actually are mobile, opening you up to a greater risk of injury and/or diminished effectiveness of your workout.

 

The Standing Solution?

So what is the solution?

Many would like to jump to the conclusion of simply standing more.

After all, there is roughly a 30% increase in metabolic activity in standing versus sitting.  Not to mention it gets those abs working a little bit more, it gets other muscles out of a chronically shortened state, and it potentially puts your spine into a better position.

So, standing has to be better than sitting, right?

I would say, to some degree, yes.

However, I would argue the problem rests (pun intended) not merely in sitting, but instead in the absence of movement.

Our bodies are designed for movement.  And, while there is definitely reason to believe that standing is a better than sitting, the difference seems to not be all that significant.

Yes, metabolic activity is a fair amount higher in a standing individual, however it is far from optimal.  Plus, in all likelihood, becoming a chronic stander will do anything but make your body immune to mechanical dysfunction.  As with sitting, idle standing will also reinforce poor postures and thus decrease quality of movement and performance.

 

Movement Intervention

So what is the real solution?

Move!

A profound conclusion, yeah?

As if you hadn’t gotten there on your own.

Honestly though, breaking up sitting time throughout the day can go a long way.

After just 30 minutes of sitting your metabolism slows down about 90%.  Simply getting up and moving essentially gets things going again.

Getting out of your chair for merely 5 minutes can do profound things like activate mechanisms within molecules in your muscles that improve your body’s handling of insulin, or increase blood flow, and thus oxygen delivery, to the brain, trigging release of mood-enhancing chemicals that will also increase your productivity.

Being in a better mood.  Getting more work done.

That all sounds good, right?

So, how do we get you off your ass?

Here are 5 simple suggestions to help increase your non-exercise daily activity.

Employing one or several of them will have you well on the way to drastically-improved health.

 

  1. Traditional methods

You know the ones I’m talking about.   These are the tips you see in one of those slideshows you scroll through after curiously clicking on the link at the bottom of that article you were reading on your favorite website.

As generic as it sounds, doing simple things like taking the stairs, parking in the back of the parking lot, and going for a brief walk after a meal all add up over the course of the day.

 

  1. Get an activity tracker

This a great way to encourage you to actually use some of these methods we are discussing.

Get a heart rate monitor, FitBit, or whatever.  Wear it for a day or two while maintaining your normal activity level, then set goals to gradually become more and more active.

This may also sound a little simple and stupid, but honestly there’s something about watching your steps accumulate throughout the day that makes you want to take that slightly longer route to the break-room.

 

  1. Walking meetings

Have an afternoon meeting with a colleague?  Go for a walk while you discuss how to improve on your numbers from last quarter.

Taking a phone call?  Get up and go for a walk while you talk or simply pace around the room.

 

  1. Stand instead of sit

Yes, moving is the ultimate goal.  However, again, there are some small benefits to standing versus sitting, and every little bit makes a difference.

Now, you don’t necessarily have to get a standing desk, but try working from a standing position for short bouts periodically throughout the day.  But, don’t use this as an excuse not to move!

 

  1. Get up for five minutes every hour

 If you make this a habit, then a big thumbs-up to you!

While moving more overall is the general goal, moving more frequently is ideal.  Remember that after just 30 minutes of sitting, metabolic activity decreases by roughly 90%, hormones can begin to fluctuate, there is a decline in insulin response, the list goes on.

If you get an activity monitor, several of them are programmed to remind you to every-so-often.  If you choose not to go that route, you can simply download one of several apps on your phone that will give you reminders, set reminders to pop up on your computer, or simply set an alarm.

If you want to challenge yourself further, once you’ve managed to get up every hour, try to take frequent breaks to move every 30 minutes or so.

Regardless, getting up and moving frequently will do amazing things to help improve your health, mood, and productivity.

 

Try This:

Try to employ one or more of the aforementioned methods to increase your daily activity levels.

How much?

Shoot for a minimum of 30 minutes of non-exercise activity every single day.

Yes.

Every. Single. Day.

If you’re on a training program currently, that includes your “off-days.”

To reiterate, this is NON-EXERCISE activity.  This can include running around with you kids, helping a friend move, walking around the office on your break, or anything when your moving.  Just make sure your bouts of movement collectively reach a minimum of 30 minutes.

 

So there you have it, my ground-breaking, revolutionary lesson of the week.

Moving is good for you.

So do what I’m about to do, after sitting way too long working on this remarkable piece of writing, and get up off your ass.