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You’re Not Eating What You Think You Are

You’re Not Eating What You Think You Are
January 9, 2019 Dan Raimondi

On January 4th I shared an image from a friend of mine about a study that showed just how much a group of people had underestimated their food intake. 

It shouldn’t be surprising, but when we think back on what we eat in a day, we underestimate. By a lot. Not only do we underestimate how much we eat, we overestimate how much physical activity we get. This image, from a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, shows how much energy expenditure can vary based on what we believe we’re doing, and what we actually are doing.

Here are some steps you can take to better understand what’s going in your body.

  1. Food diary. A recent recommendation I heard from Robert Santana, head nutrition coach for StartingStrengthOnlineCoaching, was for clients to take pictures of their food for 2 days during the week and 2 days during the weekend to establish a rough idea of where they need to improve.
  2. Use a macronutrient app to help count your caloric intake. MyfitnessPal is free and easy to use. Commit to tracking for 3-4 days, preferably without changing your habits too much. Once you have a baseline, you can begin to look for small areas to improve.
  3. Use a step counter. As people diet and lose weight they often move less. As they move less, something called Non-exercise activity thermogenesis goes down (all the movement you do in the course of the day that isn’t directly “exercise”). Fitbits can help here by giving you an objective gauge of steps taken.

Honesty helps here. The handful of M & M’s you ate on your desk? Yeah, they count. It also helps to keep your eating habits normal during this time. It defeats the purpose to artificially limit yourself on days you know coach will see.

If you don’t want to do the stuff above, you can also start by using a basic multiplier to figure out what your calories should be. I like this equation from Physiqonomics. From the article:

“Take your bodyweight (in pounds) and multiply by 9-14. Credit to Lyle McDonald. Why the range? Simple: depending on a few factors your calorie needs will vary.

  • If you’re a sedentary female (think office job) who trains anywhere from 3-5x per week: go with the lower end (9-10).
  • If you’re a female who works a fairly active job or any job that has you on your feet quite a bit and you’re training 3-5x per week: go with the mid-range (10-12).
  •  If you’re a sedentary male (office job) who trains 3-5x per week: go with the low to mid-range (10-12).
  • If you’re a male who works a fairly active job, like I dunno, maybe you’re Batman or something and you’re training 3-5x per week: go with the higher end (12-14).”

Weigh yourself 2-3 times per week under the same conditions. Record the data somewhere and look for the trends. It’ll go up and down, but overall it should be trending down (if your goal is weight loss). After a couple of weeks, if the trend hasn’t changed, look to reduce your calorie intake by 5-10{e18ed2371f09e71a3757b9c079724507f9c8fbf367ae51cfed9a8a84db31045b} of the initial calorie starting point.

If you’re trying to lose weight try one of these options. Try to be more objective with what’s going into your body, make small adjustments, and keep at it. This is a long term process.