It’s a New Year and many people are in full swing of their resolutions. Many are not. I’ve noticed that for most people there is a negative opinion of resolutions. I’m not sure where I stand on the topic but I do like the idea of a fresh start in January. I believe that January is a good time to get back to healthy habits. I’m trying to go to bed a little earlier, exercise a little more and eat a bit better. Perhaps that’s a resolution…whatever. For the next few blogs, I’m going to focus on some of the ways that one can get a “fresh start” on their health. Contrary to what we usually post on our blog, much of this will not be taken from peer reviewed, published journals with objective scientific data. Most of what I’ll be discussing is taken from personal experience and observations. Perhaps most of the content is taken from the many conversations I have during the day about health and fitness!
If anyone had a holiday like I did, they are probably a few pounds heavier to start the year. Diet and exercise are the best way to achieve a healthy body weight. If I’m listening to my own experience and the patients that I speak with, diet is perhaps a better area to focus on at the beginning if you’re looking to lean down a little. I often hear the phrase “you can’t out-train your diet”. I would have to agree. Obviously, there are huge benefits to regular exercise, so I don’t want anyone to misunderstand…everyone should be doing some measure of regular exercise! If you’re uncertain what to do, consult with a knowledgeable professional who can guide you. (But today’s topic is going to focus on diet).
On a regular basis, I hear different opinions on dieting. Some trends that seem to come and go (like the Zone diet and Atkins diet) and there are other ideas that tend to stick around and stand the test of time. Right now, I seem to be hearing a lot from my patients about intermittent fasting and the ketogenic diet. I’m not sure where I stand on these topics, but I wouldn’t consider myself an expert on the subject anyways. Although I have taken several University level nutrition courses, a registered dietician would be an example of an expert on the topic. What I plan on outlining here is a plan that combines my knowledge, experience and those conversations from people who have tried many different things. Consult with your doctor to see what makes sense for you, but I think my suggestion is sound and should stand up to scientific scrutiny and the test of time.
The first step is to establish your caloric requirement. How many calories do you need to consume in a day to keep your system running? This is also known as your basal metabolic rate. Once you have this, you would have to multiply it by an activity factor. In other words, you would need to add some extra calories to cover the fuel required for extra activity such as exercise. Once you have this number, you know what your caloric requirement is. This means you know how much food you should eat in a day. Obviously, if you eat too much, you’re likely to gain weight. If you don’t eat enough, you may lose muscle mass and feel tired (among other things). So how do I get this basal metabolic rate? My recommendation for this is to have a Bod-Pod measurement. The Bod Pod is a body fat measurement technique where the person sits in a “pod” and through a series of calculations it figures out your body fat percentage. Think underwater weighing without the water. Not only will the Bod-Pod give you your basal metabolic rate (and therefore your individual caloric requirement) it will also tell you your body-fat percentage.
Once you know how many calories you require, you will need to track your calories consumed. I recommend using an app like MyFitness Pal. It’s free. Although it’s a little tedious to search on the app and enter all the foods you eat, once you’re up and running its very user friendly. The “multi-add” function allows you to tick off all the foods that you ate in a day and if you’re like me, I usually eat from a very small menu during the weekdays. To track your calories properly, remember that you must have some measuring cups and a kitchen scale for your food. If you accurately input your food, you’ll be able to accurately stay at or under your daily caloric requirement. Whether your goals are to lose weight or gain weight, this app will allow you to accurately track where you’re at. This will take some of the mystery out of why you may be struggling to achieve your goals. Are you eating too much? Are you not eating enough?
On the app (MyFitnessPal) there is a nutrients tab. Perhaps this is one of the more important areas of the app. At the end of the day, you can get a summary of your fat, salt, vitamin, cholesterol and other nutrient intakes. Obviously, this is an excellent way to make sure you’re not overindulging or under indulging, depending on what nutrient we’re talking about. In addition to monitoring your nutrient intake, there is a tab that allows you to monitor your intake balance of fat, carbohydrate and protein. Maintaining a healthy balance of these three macronutrients is very important for a proper diet. Although the ratios of what is a healthy ratio are much debated, I personally don’t think the recommendations on the app are that far off for what most people need.
- Establish your caloric requirement
- Track your calories using an app like MyFitnessPal and stay at or under your caloric requirement
- Maintain a healthy nutrient intake using the app
- Maintain a healthy balance of carbohydrate, fat and protein using the app
In my opinion, everyone should do something like this for a few months to learn about what they are eating and what is in it. After a while, you’ll be able to identify (without a scale or a measuring cup) how many calories and “good things” are in that sandwich or pizza you’re eating. You’ll also be able to understand why a steady diet of restaurant food prevents you from maintaining a healthy body weight no matter how hard you exercise.
Again, I’m not an expert. In my opinion, though this is a nice blend of common sense and sound principles of nutrition. Consult with your knowledgeable health professional before starting any new diet or eating plan. What works for some people may not work for you!
Kevin McIntyre DC
Dr. Kevin McIntyre is a founding member and a clinic director of Burlington Sports Therapy. Since 2005, we have been treating people in Burlington, Oakville and Hamilton with an evidence based approach to care, staying up to date with medical and chiropractic research so that our advice and treatments are firmly grounded in good science.