Calorie tracking – could this be key to long term change

Nov 19, 2020 | Jenni Ashford

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Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight can be a constant struggle.  With millions spent on research every year, there are more products, pills, powders, plans, protein drinks and smoothies than you can shake your wobbly bits at.

Simply put, weight loss occurs when you burn more calories than you consume. Weight loss should not be confused with toning muscles or building strength – you can tone muscles while putting on weight. Finally, calorie control should not be confused with good nutrition either. What those calories consist of, counts massively towards your overall well-being. Nutrients, vitamins, proteins, anti-oxidants and healthy fats are all essential in building a healthy body.

Concentrating on managing calorie intake against output, Nick Rose, Assistant Fitness Manager discusses the pros and cons of calorie tracking and
explains how he has lost over two stone and 6.5% body fat since July.

 

Benefits of calorie tracking

If you are strict at calorie tracking, racking up everything you eat and drink, including cooking oils, drinks and condiments, it can give you accurate data so you can adjust your diet and exercise to be calorie deficient.

Calorie tracking will teach you about which foods are high or low in calories. Although it goes without saying that some foods will be extremely high, some will surprise you! This will help you make long term changes to maintain a healthy weight rather than rely on yo-yo dieting.

Calorie tracking can be flexible, you won’t have to follow fad diets or starve yourself of foods that you dearly love. If you have been craving a bar of chocolate or some ice cream, you can have it! This is not to say that you can eat them all the time, but you can reduce calories in other meals to make room for your treats.

You may find new combinations of food. By playing around with calories and knowing how many you have left for certain meals, you can get creative!

Calorie tracking allows you to take control of whether you lose weight, or not. When using statistics, you can clearly see what will make a difference to your success – it could be that just one chocolate bar a day is getting in the way of your dream weight.

Constantly tracking the calories will make you more conscious about what you’re eating – which is helpful if you are a grazer.  Getting into the habit of logging your actions every time you eat or drink, reminds you of what you have left for the day and helps you make the right choices. It provides you with a real and tangible focus to your weight loss.

 

Challenges of calorie tracking

For foods that you prepare from scratch, calorie tracking can be fairly simple and effective, but for bought in foods it can get quite tricky. Some fast food chains are quite good at stating their calories and macro-nutrients for each food item, but other places do not have their calorie data readily available. Where calories are not stated, you have to rely on your own guesswork – something we want to avoid as calorie tracking is only effective when it’s accurate.

Tracking your calories can take the edge off social occasions. Adhering to strict calorie tracking means you may have to duck out of takeaways, dinner parties or drinks with friends – maybe not too much of an issue during lockdown!

It’s time consuming, especially at the start when you are getting used to logging everything you eat and drink. Scanning bar codes makes it quicker, but a lot of the time you will still need to weigh everything before/after cooking it anyway!

 

Calorie tracking – a personal journey

By the end of the first lockdown, Nick had lost the motivation to train and had put on weight. The video below was filmed in July when Nick took his puppy out for its first ever walk.

Nick explains, “As you can see, back in July I was bigger than usual. I realised that during lockdown I hadn’t adjusted my diet and exercise to take into account being away from my job as a PT and Fitness Instructor. I didn’t adjust my diet according to the decrease in exercise. My diet coupled with the inconsistent and often sub-optimal training meant the weight had started to creep up.”

When Nick returned to work in July, he decided it was time to make a change.

Calorie tracking for weight loss

“On my first day back at work, someone made a joke about my weight gain during lockdown. This really brought it home to me that other people could see I had put on weight – of course, I had already noticed that my jeans felt snug, I’d reached the last punch hole of my belt and t-shirts were somewhat tighter around my mid section.”

As a PT, Nick understood that the first step to change is to set a goal. His long-term goal was set at a significant reduction in body fat percentage. To start with, he set a short-term goal of reducing his weight to 80kg.

Nick considered tracking his calories to get to grips with how many calories he was burning a day compared to his intake. Having previously used a calorie tracker in his teens, he knew it could be successful but at the expense of being time-consuming. He experimented with other techniques and diets including intermittent fasting and keto, to name a couple. For Nick, these approaches felt short-term and he couldn’t see how they would work for the long-term due to their restrictiveness.

Once back at work, Nick knew his exercise would increase, so a drastic diet wasn’t the right choice for him. Calorie tracking seemed to be the most logical approach for Nick, now that years on from his teenage experience, there are a wealth of apps to help reduce the hassle of logging food and drink.

Fitness apps for calorie tracking

Nick said, “I started to use MyFitnessPal connected to my fitness watch.  This balanced the calories I consumed against what I burnt off. Unfortunately, I found this to be inaccurate, suggesting that I should be eating more calories – one day, three weeks in, it allocated me 3,500 calories due to the amount of exercise I had done. This felt too excessive. I had lost weight by then, and could see my average calorie intake was 2,600.  I unsynced my watch but continued to use MyFitnessPal to track the calories I consumed without balancing them against my exercise level.”

This approach worked for Nick. He achieved his weight goal of 80kg on 15th September. With a set of smart scales to monitor body fat percentage, he could ensure the weight loss wasn’t down to muscle loss or water weight.

Nick continued, “I know smart scales aren’t always accurate, but you can see trends and make sure you’re heading down the right path, which is useful.  After feeling really good about hitting my first goal, I knew I had to make another, and asked myself if should I change my approach.

“My new goal/approach was each time I lost a kilogram, I would reassess my calorie limit and direction to see if I still needed to lose or maintain body fat levels, focusing on increasing muscle mass, which would in turn decrease my body fat percentage further.

Nick said, “My workouts had been very cardiovascular based to burn maximum calories, but I reached the stage where I wanted to preserve and then add lean mass. Luckily, at this time the fitness class timetable at work changed and I started doing a lot more strength classes. This helped massively.

Adapting calorie tracking for changing goals

“Weight loss isn’t my priority now however weight control will continue to be important. The resistance based workouts are helping me build strength, rather than loose weight through cardiovascular exercise. Calorie tracking is still important to ensure I continue to build lean mass, rather than body fat.”

As with everything in life, balance is key. Calorie tracking helps to maintain the right balance for each stage of your body transformation, while also educating you on the food and drink you consume – this is key in ensuring your hard work isn’t short-lived.

Nick’s results

Nick said, “I have tracked my calories for 110 days. I have lost around two stone and my body fat percentage has dropped by about 6.5%. I’m still not where I want to be but I am thinking of it as a long journey – which has been very rewarding so far.”

The results are evident…

“During this lockdown, I have been for a 3K run every morning with my dog. After a run, I then choose to either hop on my X-trainer or do a workout similar to my strength classes focusing on one or two body areas using resistance and advanced training methods to push myself further with strict rest periods in between. It’s working for me and I feel a lot happier for it.”

Nick and the Gym Team will be back in December ready to help you achieve your fitness and body shape goals. Find out more about how they can support you with personalised programs, plans, advice and motivation.

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