Taking Control of Your Energy Balance Part 3

The first step in taking control of your energy balance is determining the amount you need to ingest each day to maintain your current body fat stores. This value, called the caloric maintenance level, depends upon your resting metabolic rate (the energy you need to maintain vital body functions at rest) and the cost of the physical activities you perform throughout your day. Armed with this knowledge, you can set up the energetic deficit required to reduce fat stores in a number of ways. For example, you can increase your caloric maintenance level by becoming more active and/or adding muscle to your body so that your present caloric intake is no longer sufficient to cover your requirements. Another option is to decrease your intake so that it is lower than your maintenance level. This will work so long as you don’t drop intake to excessively low levels.

Regardless of whether you set up an energy deficit by increasing the calories you require or decreasing the amount you ingest, it is important to make sure that every calorie you take in is accounted for. Ideally, our instincts would guide us in this direction, but recent research suggests this is not the case. Professor Katarina Borer of the University of Michigan has shown that human appetite and meal-to-meal eating do not respond to short-term variations in the energy provided by the meals we consume. In other words, our bodies are not proficient at providing feedback regarding how many calories we should eat. This is the case because eating represents more than survival behavior for modern man. The solution is that we must be aware of the caloric content of the different foods we choose and plan our diets accordingly.   

It is safe to say that few people would accept a new job without knowledge of the pay rate. Unfortunately, a similar statement cannot be made about the caloric content of foods. Generally speaking, people have a good/bad mentality about the foods they eat based on whether the food is considered healthy or junk. But this distinction does not account for energy content, which is something few people have adequate knowledge of. Consequently, it is possible to ingest more energy than you require even if you are conscious of eating in a healthy manner. The following hypothetical scenarios exemplify this distinction: Consider a 20-year-old man who is in tip-top condition and wants to stay that way. For want of a better name, we’ll call him Max. After two decades of life, Max’ body-fat stores are exactly what they should be and he carries an appreciable amount of muscle because he trains with weights. But Max knows that each of these positive health characteristics could change as the years pass, so he makes a vow: Max decides to undergo testing to determine his current caloric maintenance level and then take in that exact amount of calories each day for the next 20 years. What is more, he swears he will only eat foods that are completely healthy and also promises to continue to train with weights. The latter is important because as long as he keeps his activity level constant, it ensures that his caloric maintenance level will not drop. Oh, and one more thing: Max heard that an apple a day keeps the doctor away, so he decides to eat one each night. Importantly, he doesn’t figure the energy content of the apple into his energy-balance ledger because, after all, it is a prophylactic.

Max follows through on all of his resolutions and, indeed, does not lose an ounce of muscle or decrease his caloric maintenance level one calorie as 20 years pass. And the apple a day does keep the doctor away, but it does something more. A medium-sized apple contains 95 calories and for Max, these are in excess of his caloric maintenance level. The end result? At 40, Max will have gained 198 pounds of excess fat because of adding an apple to his already-balanced diet.

The lesson is that a calorie is a calorie regardless of from where it comes. And any energy ingested above your caloric maintenance level will result in an excess that is stored as fat. Max’ son learns this lesson and, at 20, makes all of the same vows, while also recognizing the need to account for the energy in everything he eats. So, Max’ son ingests his caloric maintenance level for 10 years and successfully maintains status quo. However, at 30, he finds that his joints hurt, so he decides to increase his consumption of healthy fats. To do so, he replaces the tomato he eats with his salad every day with an avocado, which he learned is a very healthy fruit. This one-for-one exchange appears to make sense because a tomato and avocado are both fruits that are approximately the same size and weight. What is more, the exchange results in the meal taking the same amount of time to eat and Max’ son also feels the same degree of satiation when he is done. Consequently, he makes the exchange without considering any energy difference that might exist between the two healthy alternatives. The end result? At 40, Max’ joints feel better, but he has his father beat: He will have gained 300 pounds of excess fat due to the switch!

This article was originally published in New Living Magazine, which can be accessed on-line at www.newliving.com.





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