A unit of energy-producing potential equal to this amount of heat that is contained in food and released upon oxidation by the body. Also called nutritionist’s calorie.
When you start paying attention to what you eat, you generally pay attention to what your food consists of, including calories. There are “good” calories (broccoli!) and “bad” calories (I’m thinking a Snickers bar is considered bad). However, there’s a lot of confusion around the many thoughts on how many calories you should be taking in. I know I’ve certainly been confused before. Now, don’t get me wrong with what I’m about to say. I love MyFitnessPal – I really do! However their daily calorie calculations kind of suck.
I have been working out 6 days a week from 30-90 minutes a day for the past 5 months. I hardly would call that “sedentary”, but the way MFP describes someone who is sedentary is somebody who works a desk job (e.g., secretary). Well I certainly fall under that category. So with my height and weight filled in it tells me I need to eat 1200 calories day.
There it is. Did you see it? It’s right there in front of you. The “magic” number: 1200. The number that covers the world wide web as THE number not to go below in calories because you will enter into … … … STARVATION MODE. I am not a medical professional or a nutritionist and I believe that starvation mode is a very real thing. However, what I find hard to believe is that it is tied to 1200 calories. I believe it can be tied to numbers even higher than that depending on your height, weight, and physical activity. I remember eating 1200 calories a day and being stuck on a plateau for what seemed like an entire month. So I did some research and what did I find? There are better ways to calculate what you should be eating on a daily basis that are more personalized to your own body’s setup. When I used other methods I discovered that 1200 calories was not nearly enough for my body. The second I began eating more, the lower the number on the scale got.
So short of taking a trip to a medical professional to run a specialized test on your metabolism, there are other options out there. Let me explain the one that I have found to be extremely helpful in my case and I highly recommend:
Katch-McArdle Formula: BMR = 370 + (21.6 x lean mass in Kilos)
This formula, which can be done by hand or using a nifty online calculator takes your weight and lean body mass (body fat percentage) into consideration. If you don’t have a scale that calculates body fat %, I strongly suggest getting one. You can truly measure progress by watching body fat going down versus your weight which may not tell you the whole story.
First things first – your Basal Metabolic Rate (“BMR”) is calculated which is the number of calories you burn just by existing and taking up space. If you laid in bed all day, this is how many calories you would burn. Once you figure out your starting point (BMR) you need to multiply that by your activity factor to know your Total Daily Energy Expenditure a/k/a what you burn by existing multiplied by how much physical activity you engage in on average. (BMR X Activity Factor = TDEE)
The activity factor is far more descriptive than what is given in MyFitnessPal, check it out:
Sedentary = BMR X 1.2 (little or no exercise, desk job)
Lightly Active = BMR X 1.375 (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/wk)
Moderately Active = BMR X 1.55 (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/wk)
Very Active = BMR X 1.725 (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days/wk)
Extremely Active = BMR X 1.9 (hard daily exercise/sports & physical job or 2 X day training, full time training, etc.)
The actual definitions vary from website to website, but they all pretty much fall within those parameters.
Alright, you have your TDEE. If you were to stay at the same weight and body fat you would want to eat that number of calories a day. For example: My BMR is calculated as 1262 calories/day. I use the Moderately Active activity factor (1.55). So 1262 Calories X 1.55 Activity = 1957 Calories/day if I wanted to maintain my current physique. Not everybody wants to maintain though. So do you drop down to 1200 as MyFitnessPal may suggest? I wouldn’t recommend it. Instead it is recommended that you cut your maintenance calories up to 20-25%. In my own example that would put me in a range of 1468-1565 calories per day, quite a bit more than 1200 calories that MFP would suggest to me and I would go as far as to suggest much safer than MFP’s suggestion.
So now you’re probably wondering how this all leads back to that dreaded starvation mode, huh? I don’t doubt that going below 1200 calories is not only unhealthy, unsafe, and can lead to starvation mode but I believe that you can also eat more than 1200 calories and still be starving your body of the fuel it needs. As you can see by the numbers I’ve posted above, eating 1200 calories a day would put me at a 39% deficit. That is far beyond the general recommendations for cutting your calories.
So ladies and gentlemen, be smart about not only the types of calories you’re consuming but how many of them you are taking in. You need to be aware of the needs of your body and you may be pleasantly surprised that by a combination of eating the right foods in the right amounts helps you reach your goals more safely.