Terri: I am trying to lose weight and I’m really confused and hope you can give me some advice. I hear some people say that what kind of calories you eat makes a difference then others state its all about calories in versus calories out and it doesn’t matter what kind of calories. How many calories do I need to eat in a day to lose weight? I have read that you need to eat 500 less calories a day that what your BMI because 3500 calories equals 1 pound and that will help me to lose 1 pound a week…which I have done. Then there are other times that I will eat a little too much for a couple of days and will gain 2 pounds but I know that I did not eat 7000 calories more than my BMI. I am so confused and I just want to lose some weight the right way.
Prevention RD: Hi Terri! Weight loss is SO confusing, and you’re not alone in navigating the water of weight loss. You are correct that a pound = 3,500 calories. Theoretically, you cut 500 calories a day from your estimated calorie needs (to maintain), and you will lose a pound a week. If you cut 1,000 calories a day from your estimated calorie needs (to maintain), you will lose 2 pounds a week. In a perfect world, it’s that simple — it all boils down to calories. When I lost weight, my snacks were baked Cheetos and diet Crush. Every. Day. This was well before I became a dietitian and all I cared about was losing weight…not necessarily making “healthy” choices. The ideal way to lose weight is to not only reduce the calories to produce weight loss, but to also nourish the body with what it needs — the right amounts of carbohydrate, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. What I’m trying to say is both the number AND source of the calories are important. Where the calories are coming from becomes even more important when you have less calories coming in to meet the needs of the body…making calories count is important! This is where things get daunting and using some type of journaling or online food diary/nutrition analysis is so, so helpful. I love using dailyplate.com for a database with a ton of brands and I like fitday.com because you can create custom foods so that you’re logging ACTUAL nutrition facts for what you’re eating…not just something similar. Another popular site is myfitnesspal.com. I also appreciate that these resources are free! As for how many calories you need, that’s also a complicated answer as it’s based on current body weight, among other things. If you convert your weight in pounds to kilograms (2.2 pounds per kilogram), a typical range is 15-20 calories per kilogram for weight loss. That’s a huge range, but I use my best judgement — more calories for active individuals, more calories for younger individuals, etc. BMI (body mass index) is a height-to-weight ratio that is used to classify “underweight”, “normal” weight, “overweight”, “obese”, etc. I hope that helps some!
Rachel: My husband was just diagnosed with hypothyroidism and prescribed a fairly low dose of (generic) Synthroid. Are there things in his diet that he can cut back on or introduce that might impact his thyroid in a good way? He’s 35 years old and the idea of being on medication for his thyroid for the rest of his life really bums him out. It’s also not the easiest medication to work with (take on empty stomach, don’t eat for an hour, don’t consume calcium or iron for four hours).
Prevention RD: Hi Rachel! I’m sorry to hear about hubby. One of the most common meds I run across is Synthroid — a lot of people have over/underactive thyroids. And, yes, the drug is a pill to take properly. Pun intended. There isn’t any way to manage hypothyroidism effectivelythrough the diet, but “excessive” consumption of broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, mustard greens, turnips, asparagus, millet, peaches, peanuts, peas, radishes, soybeans, soy products, spinach, and strawberries can inhibit the action of the thyroid even further. While that seems like a lengthy list, most people don’t eat these foods excessively. Hopefully none of those are his favorite foods…!
Rachel: I’m doing my best to eat a healthy and balanced diet but mornings can be a bit tough because of trying to get to work on time. My husband drinks a protein shake every morning and I’m thinking of jumping on that bandwagon. His protein shake (whey protein) is made with milk, water, spinach, and lots of fruit. I’m not sure how much protein I should be getting…I certainly don’t want to overdue it. Do you think it’s best to use half a scoop (~12g protein) with milk and maybe some peanut butter added? Or should I go with a whole scoop and skip the peanut butter? Or does it matter? The world of protein shakes is kind of a pandora’s box 🙂
Prevention RD: It sounds like a healthy start to the day! I think 12 grams is a great amount of protein at breakfast, assuming you’re eating a protein source at lunch and dinner, or snacks. If you trend towards vegetarian meals, I would go for the 24 grams. Remember, you’re going to get some protein from the milk and if you go the peanut butter route, more protein there. As for the peanut butter, if you’re looking for something lower in calories, it might be worth omitting. But… the peanut butter adds healthy fats and some staying power with the fat and protein. I guess I would do 1/2 scoop + peanut butter or 1 scoop with no peanut butter if it were me. However, I tend to nudge people towards actual food for meals because I, personally, do not find myself satisfied for long with shakes or smoothies. But…everyone’s different and I do know people who swear by their morning liquid meals! It is certainly sound, nutritionally, and not too much protein. I think whether you do 1/2 scoop vs. a full scoop should depend more on what your other meals for the day look like. Did I make that more complicated than it needed to be? 🙂
Thanks for your questions, as always! If you have a question you’d love answered, please send it to me at preventionrd (at) gmail (dot) com! I have enjoyed posting a Q&A a week, so keep the questions coming!
I LOVE MY FITNESS PAL!! Seriously, I’ve been using it to get ready for my wedding, AND I’ve been getting my clients hooked on it so I can follow them each day and see what they are eating. I really hope they never start charging. Their site is just awesome.
I think I”m doing the calculation for calories wrong!
115 lbs / 2.2 = 52 kgs
52 x 20 = 1040.
Is that the number of calories I should be consuming for weight loss?
Yeaaaah…not an exact science. The minimum recommended for adults is 1,200 calories and that’s to meet DRI’s for vitamin and minerals, in addition to calories. The 15-20 cals/kg is best applied to obese individuals. Weight maintenance would be a higher 25ish calories per kilogram. Also, these are resting energy expenditures, not taking into account lifestyle and activity factors. I hope that makes sense. Definitely not a perfect equation 🙂
Okay, that makes way more sense then! I thought I was just doing the math wrong! Using 25 cals per kg and I get a similar number to what I get when I use caloric needs calculator (assuming no regular physical activity). Thank you for the clarification!
Hey Nicole! I love the one about the thyroid. My brother had thyroid and a type of throat cancer a few years back. He’s cancer free now, but he’s completely disabled from everything ( finding both in stage 4, invasive surgeries, allergic to chemo……etc.) anyway, he doesn’t even have a thyroid now. Would he benefit from eating that list of veggies and yummy foods you rattled off to Rachel? He’s always so sleepy. He tries to get lots of exercise to keep up his metabolism, but there’s only so much he can do before the pain kicks in again.
Hey Nicole 🙂 Unfortunately, no benefit there as there’s no thryoid to impact. I remember you talking about your brother 🙂
I love the idea of shakes for breakfast. Maybe it’s just because it’s hot out here.
Great Q and A.
I will occasionally do a shake for breakfast. But like you mentioned, I find that meals fill me up more than a shake does. It definitely is nice for those times where I want a grab and go meal though. 🙂
I’ve used Fitday for years! Love to see someone else recommend it.
Yay! I find the same — Fit Day is quite comprehensive and I have SO many custom foods added it is incredibly accurate and quick to use. I need to find out if they have an app…
Great post Nicole! I agree that all calories are not created equal – I’ll forward this to my friend at work – thanks!
I always refer people to the USDA “Choose my Plate” website–there are lots of helpful tools for finding recommended calorie and exercise recommendations. I’m also currently doing a “Healthy Plate” challenge on my blog where I cook healthy recipes for every single one of the foods listed on the site! Not easy but I’m definitely finding lots of fun new things to try 🙂
Really impressed with your knowledge, I didn’t expect you to touch goitrogens in your second response.
I would argue for the first question that strictly in terms of weight loss (not feeling your best) it’s overall calories > macronutrients > micronutients, but like you said they all play a very important roll.
Love the site, I’ll be reading a lot more often!
Thanks, Rodzilla! Look forward to seeing you around!