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The Secret of Weight Loss (Part 4 - Calculating Food Intake)

Yesterday we reiterated the importance of keeping a food journal. We also looked at the importance of knowing your BMR and how that is going to aid you in your weight loss efforts. Now that we know the calories out portion of the equation, we need to figure out the calories in.

If you have ever looked on a food package you have surely noticed the nutritional information printed on it. Surprisingly friends this isn't on there fro decoration. It;s there to help inform you about the nutritional content of the food so you can make informed decisions about what you put into your body. Many labels follow this type of format:

If you are unfamiliar with nutrition, much of this information may seem like gibberish. After all there is a lot to analyze, but as I said yesterday it is my goal to keep this as simple as possible for you. We are going to focus on 4 items from these nutritional labels. Our focus is going to be on calories, fat, carbohydrates, and protein. The amount of protein, carbohydrates, and fat in a food item contribute to its overall caloric content. Proteins, carbohydrates, and fats all have different roles in the functioning of the human body. Let's take a look at each of these individually.

Protein is responsible for building tissues in the body as well as repairing damaged tissues. When trying to build muscle it is essential to make sure you are consuming an adequate amount of protein. Protein can also be used as a fuel for energy within the body when your carbohydrate and fat levels are low, however it only provides and small amount of energy and ideally if our diet is properly balanced we will not have to rely on proteins for energy. Sources of protein include meats, cheeses, eggs, milk, fish, as well as protein powders sold at most supermarkets/nutrition stores. 1 gram of protein is equal to 4 calories.

Carbohydrates provide the body with energy. Our body breaks down carbohydrates and uses them to help fuel us throughout the day. It is important to note that while many food contain carbohydrates, not all are created equal. When choosing good sources of carbohydrates we want to focus on what are know as "complex" carbohydrates. Sources of these complex carbohydrates can include whole wheat breads, grains, and pastas, sweet potatoes, vegetables, and quinoa. On the opposite side of the spectrum we have "simple" carbohydrates. This form of carbohydrates should be consumed sparingly in our diets. Sources of simple carbohydrates include white breads, white potatoes, sugars, candies, chips and soft drinks. One important exception to the rule on consuming simple carbohydrates are fruits. Most fruits are technically classified as simple carbohydrates, however they are very nutrient rich and thus essential to a healthy diet. However, fruits should still not be consumed in excess. 1 gram of carbohydrates is also equal to 4 calories.

The 1980's were a bad time for fats. Many people started to become fat-phobic and as a result foods labeled as "low in fat" became synonymous with healthy. Well my friends I am here to tell you that fat is your friend. Its all just a simple matter of what type of fats you are consuming. A diet that is deficient in certain fats can be very dangerous. Fats play a vital role in maintaining healthy skin and hair, insulating body organs against shock, maintaining body temperature, and promoting healthy cell function. In addition fats are also needed to process some essential vitamins in our body. Without fat these vitamins could not be processed and that can open the door for a whole host of problems. As I said before, some people confuse fat-free foods with healthy foods, but this isn't always the case. For instance many candies and soft drinks are fat-free, however given the massive amounts of sugar in these products they can hardly be considered healthy. Get the picture? It is important, however, to know which types of fats to consume, and which types to avoid. I could write a book on the different types of fats and what they do and why they are good or bad, but as I said countless times I want to make this easy so let's just sum it up this way. You want the majority of the fat you consume to be monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. Saturated fats should be consumed sparingly, and trans fats should be avoided if possible. 1 gram of fat is equal to 9 calories.

Now that you know the basics, lets get back to the food journal. When recording your daily food values you should always include how much you ate. This is where serving size comes in. Many of my clients err with weight loss not because they do not eat healthy foods, but because they eat too much. When we are maintaining a healthy lifestyle we need to be accountable for how much we put into our bodies as well. It will be your responsibility to measure your food accordingly. I always recommend getting a food scale. You can obtain one from any Wal-Mart for around $20 (make sure it can measure in ounces and grams). When a food item has a nutrition label on it, the serving size will be included as well. You need to get use to either measuring the amount (e.g. 2/3 Cup) or weight (in oz. or g) of a serving size.

Let's put it all together now. When we record in our food journal we are going to include: the amount we ate, the calorie count, and the amount of fat, carbohydrates, and protein. It would look something like this


2 eggs (155 calories, 10 grams fat (4 saturated), 2 grams carbohydrate, 12 grams protein)

1 piece of whole wheat toast ( 70 calories, 1 gram fat, 15 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein)

1 Cup 100% grapefruit juice (100 calories, 0 grams fat, 22 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram protein)

TOTAL BREAKFAST (325 calories, 11 grams fat, 39 grams carbohydrates, 16 grams protein)

Do this for all food you eat during the day. At the end of the day you will have a total calorie count. This calorie count is what needs to be 500 calories less than our BMR (accounting for exercise) on a daily basis to see that 1 pound weight loss per week.

Here are some other things to consider:

1) When eating during the day try to split your calories according to a 30/30/40 split. 30% of your calories come from fat, 30% from carbohydrates, and 40% from protein. This will take some number crunching, but its importance will be outlined in the very near future.

2) The food diary is yours. The example I provided is just that. Feel free to log your foods in a way that makes sense to you. Some people do well just writing in list form, others need columns. As I said yesterday however, if you can get an electronic calorie counter, either on your computer or phone, your life will be so much easier.

3) While most foods that have labels on them have nutritional information, some do not. For example fruits and vegetables are not required to have this information on them as they have no packages. For a long while meats did not either, but that has recently changed. Not knowing a food's nutritional information is no excuse not to record it. Remember RULE 1! Education. Many websites offer online nutritional information for pretty much every food under the sun. I have always liked using the USDA website myself which can be found here:

At first this may all seem like a lot, and truth be told it is. If you want to see real results, true long-term change, this is the only way. If you want to try the newest ab cruncher/developer/ripoff on the late night infomercial instead then I wish you good luck. I hope you have room in your basement for it after your done with it after the first week. With repetition this will get easier until it becomes second nature to you.

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