Even the best calorie counting formula can’t be counted on
Hi, Roland here.
Today over coffee, I had a short but painful conversation about diets and how they ‘don’t work.’
Every diet has pitfalls and shortcomings, whether it’s paleo, vegetarian, low carb, or just a plain ol’ diet where you count calories.
I have to tell you that it’s not usually the diet, but how you diet that’s the problem.
I want to keep this short and sweet, so today I’ll focus on a common issue counting calories, tracking foods, and logging activities.
I once had a new client who told me that no one could help her.
She’d been tracking her food, logging her meals, and using all the best calorie counting formulas for the last six months, and she hadn’t lost any weight.
She was in her words ‘broken.’
It’s a common misconception that the calorie formula you found in your book, your iPhone app, or somewhere on the internet is going to work, so you follow it. It must work, because look, it’s a formula!
Unfortunately, it’s not true, and sometimes people spin their wheels on this stuff; often for months, usually giving up in frustration.
Luckily, she didn’t give up, she asked.
Are calorie formulas science?
These formulas as just estimates based on the experience, clients, patients, and study participants of the formula’s author. Yes, someone wrote the formula.
The formula’s author does his/her best, but it’s still an estimate; it’s often science, but it is not a scientific ‘discovery’ or anything like that.
Even if the formula was accurate for your body, they all rely on your own estimate of your activity levels, which is what? A guess. It’s complicated, and never as simple as picking the kind of job you have and how many days you workout.
How tired you are, your changing body temperature, how much you fidget, how many steps you take, and how willing you are to get up and get your kid a glass of water all pour into your daily calorie burn.
Even the best formula should be a starting point only. It is possible that the formula (whichever formula you choose) will work for you, but the odds are good that you can do better if you work with it.
It doesn’t matter which formula you use to start; RMR, BMR, the $100 dollar number they gave you after sitting at the gym with that little metabolism mask, or simply weight x ten pounds. None of them are going to hit your number.
“So, I’m doomed, then?”
No, of course not.
The number is just a starting point. You’ve picked a number, and you’ve tracked and logged, but now you have to act on the data.
Calorie formula flowchart
#1 Measure yourself
Weigh yourself, take your ‘before’ pictures, use a tape to measure body parts, and identify some clothing that used to fit, but doesn’t anymore.
#2 Log your
shit food and activity
Eat according to your plan, writing it all down; food, exercise, activity.
#3 Live your life
Give it a week or two.
#4 Analyze your data
Measure again to see if you’re making the desired progress. Did it work?
Cool. Keep on plan.
Go to #2
Sad, but now we know.
Adjust calories up or down, depending on results.
Go to #2
Keep on tracking!
I don’t usually recommend calories as a starting point, but some people love it and have great results.
A common misconception about calories is that counting them doesn’t work, but it’s counting them and doing nothing with the data that doesn’t work.
The common misconception about tracking and logging is that you’re merely trying to hit a number, but hitting a wrong number gets you nowhere.
Yes, hit the numbers, but then compare them to your results and make adjustments to keep progressing.
So what happened to that client?
Well, thankfully, she had been tracking, so we had the data.
Together, we poured over her logs, and identified where she was overestimating her activity and underestimating certain favorite foods.
In the end, we also discovered that she was relying on formulas and numbers that just didn’t work for her. She had relied on them for months, never adjusting based on her data, instead dropping one formula and searching high and low for one that would match and work for her. As we can see, it simply does not exist.
Most people give up. Luckily, she didn’t. She asked for help. I only wish she’s asked sooner.
If you do choose to track your calories, log your data, analyze it, make adjustments, and you will progress!
..and if you need help, ask.