As we say hello to 2018, some of us attempt the age-old tradition of making New Year’s resolutions. You sit down with pen and paper and try to think of all the things you swore you’d do last year. More often than not our goals are vague, overwhelming and sometimes downright unreasonable. There is also usually a terrible lack of planning- how do you plan to achieve your goals?
Take, for example, the classic weight loss goal. If you don’t know how to effectively manage what you’re eating, how are you going to reach your goal? Well, we’re here to help. We’re going to delve into how to finally take control of your health and reach your goals.
The first and most important concept to master is mindful eating. The practice of mindful eating has soared in popularity, with people realising that a big part of health and/or weight loss is psychological. When you practice mindful eating, you are giving your full attention to what you’re putting into your body and how it will serve and benefit you. Are you eating empty calories or are you eating nutrient dense foods that will fuel your body? Are you eating because you’re bored or sad, or are you replenishing your body’s energy stores when it’s needed? Are you eating because there is food on your plate (even though you’re satiated), or are you listening to your body’s signals? Paying attention to these aspects can greatly improve the quality of food that you consume, and it can certainly help with weight loss.
To practice mindful eating, follow the following guidelines:
- Determine whether you are actually hungry, or if you are eating for an emotional reason (or boredom).
- Eat slowly. Savour your food, put your fork down between bites, chew 25 times before taking another bite…it may sound like all the advice your granny gave you at the dinner table, but it has merit!
- Break your eating habits. Stop eating randomly, raiding your snack cupboard throughout the day, etc. Make an occasion of your meals and create a healthy eating environment.
- Focus on your health. Is the food you’re eating going to benefit your body?
- Think about the process your food has gone through. Often we are very disconnected from where our food comes from and what has been done to it between then and consumption. Generally, when you put some thought into it, you will find yourself less inclined to eat very processed foods.
- Focus on your meal. Don’t multitask when you’re eating. This includes TV and work!
- Consider keeping a food diary
Now that you’re schooled in the art of mindful eating, how can you use it to lose weight?
At the risk of oversimplifying things, weight gain and loss comes down to energy in versus energy out. This means that if you’re eating more calories than you are expending you will gain weight, and vice versa.
Keeping track of how much you’re eating helps in two ways: you hold yourself accountable by seeing in black and white what you’re putting into your body; and you can do some math regarding your calorie consumption.
A food diary is a great way to do this. You can either keep a physical log on paper, or you can download one of the many apps available (my personal favourite is myfitnesspal). The apps have most foods and their nutritional information available, and do all the legwork for you. You can also track your exercise. It is advisable to break your food diary up into meals, and it may also be beneficial to add the time of each. This will enable you to see when you are hungrier and where you may be making mistakes such as stress eating.
How many calories do I need to be eating?
This depends on many things: age, height, gender, activity level, muscle mass, etc…
To get a completely accurate indication of your basal metabolic rate (how many calories you burn at rest), you will need to go for specialist tests. However, you can work out a ballpark figure using the following calculation:
655.1 + (9.6 x weight in kg) + (1.8 x height in cm) – (4.7 x age)
For example, a 25 year old female, 176cm tall and weighing 64kg will need the following:
655.1 + (9.6 x 64kg) + (1.8 x 176cm) – (4.7 x 25)
= 655.1 + 614.4 + 316.8 – 117.5
= 1468.8 calories per day
Now, bear in mind, this is how many calories she would be burning if she did nothing all day. You will then need to take into account your activity levels:
Little/ no exercise: BMR x 1.2
Light exercise: BMR x 1.375
Moderate exercise (3-5 days/week): BMR x 1.55
Very active (6-7 days/week): 1.725
Extra active (very active and physical job): BMR x 1.9
So if we are to assume that our 25 year old female is very active, her total calorie requirement per day will be 1468.8 x 1.725 = 2533.68
How to adjust your caloric intake for weight gain and weight loss
A half a kilogram is equal to 3500 calories. This means that to lose 0,5 kg a week, you would need to create a weekly calorie deficit of 3500, or a daily deficit of 500 calories. You can achieve this in 2 ways: limiting what you eat and increasing your exercise. Trust us on this one: it is much more effective to control your eating and exercise simultaneously!
Taking again our example from above:
If she wants to lose 0.5kg per week, she will need to consume roughly 1983.68 calories per day (2533.68 – 550).
To give you an idea, here are the substances and their caloric values:
Fat: 9 calories per gram
Carbohydrates: 4 calories per gram
Protein: 4 calories per gram
Alcohol: 7 calories per gram (before taking into account any added sugar, of which there is generally a lot
The take away
After all that math, it’s important to remember not to obsess. Yes, it is good to keep track of your calories, but it is also important to enjoy your food and focus more on health. When you pay attention to what you’re eating and learn a bit more about the effects different foods have on your body, you will naturally start to develop habits that are beneficial to your health. There is an abundance of information available, so use it! Keep an eye out for our next blog post: What’s Hiding in my Food?
by Chanel Serfontein