I dunno. How many do you wanna eat?
Okay, so that was a joke, but eventually, it'll be the right answer. When all your hormones fire right and you're filling yourself with healthy, whole foods, your body will tell you the right amount to eat. Unfortunately, our culture has become particularly skilled at overriding our natural indicators, which is why 30% of us are obese. So, on your road back to your ideal weight, you'll probably want to apply a little math in the form of counting calories.
(I've divided this answer into two parts. If you want to geek out about calories, read the whole thing. If you don't care what a calorie is and just want to know how many to consume, skip down to the second part.)
The part where I tell you what a calorie is and how it applies to you.
A calorie (or kilocalorie, as it's officially called) is a unit of measurement given to the amount of energy your body generates from the food you eat. Think of it in terms of kilowatts or horsepower. When you put an 80-calorie apple under a microscope, you won't see a bunch of little calories floating around in there. However, if you put your apple in a fancy piece of lab equipment called a bomb calorimeter, you could burn it up and the calorimeter would tell you how much energy was discharged—in the form of calories.
Nerdy aside: Calories can also be used to measure other expenditures of energy, including explosions. A modern nuclear bomb releases 1,000,000,000,000 calories—only slightly more than your average meal at Olive Garden®.
In the human body, this energy is used for all your daily functions, including breathing, talking, digesting, walking, heart-beating and, of course, working out. However, we're an efficient race (at least, on the inside), so if you consume more calories than you burn, it doesn't shoot out of your ears as steam or anything like that. Instead, the body turns it into adipose tissues (body fat) to be converted to energy at some future date. In other words, when you eat more calories than you burn, you put on fat. This is the case whether you're eating carbs, fat, or protein.
Conversely, when you eat fewer calories than you expend, your body taps into those reserves and you burn fat, most of the time. This is called having a calorie deficit. However, you don't want that calorie deficit to be too large, or a number of undesirable things might happen. In addition to tapping your fat stores, your body might start breaking down lean body mass (muscle) for fuel. Or your body might simply slow down your metabolism so that you burn fewer calories in general, much like you might dim lights in your home to conserve energy. So, with the exception of short-term practices, like jump-start diets, fasts, or cleanses, it's generally a good idea not to let your calorie deficit drop below 500 calories a day.
The part where I (finally) tell you how many calories are right for you.
Most Beachbody® programs come with a calculator that you can use to figure out how many calories you should be eating. We also offer this handy online calculator. But for you instant gratification types, here's a super basic calculator to figure out how many calories you need to maintain your current weight.
Sedentary lifestyle (desk job):
Current weight in pounds x 12 = Maintenance Caloric Needs.
Moderately active lifestyle (server in a restaurant and/or doing one of our entry level programs, like Power 90® or Hip Hop Abs®):
Current weight in pounds x 13 = Maintenance Caloric Needs.
Highly active lifestyle (construction worker and/or doing one of our elite programs, like P90X® or INSANITY®):
Current weight in pounds x 14 = Maintenance Caloric Needs.
From there, subtract 500 calories and that's probably a good deficit for weight loss. (But make sure that number stays about 1,200. Anything lower can be dangerous in the long term.) Conversely, if you're trying to gain muscle mass, add 300 calories or so—but make sure you're also doing a solid weight lifting program like Body Beast® so those calories have a place to go.
Sometimes, people micromanage these numbers by increasing or decreasing daily calorie intake based on the activities for the day. Don't do this. Unless you're hooked up to millions of dollars worth of monitoring equipment, you'll probably get those numbers wrong anyway. Your best bet is to account for exercise in broad strokes, like the calculations above.
With that in mind, whichever calculation you follow, don't get married to the numbers. I know it feels official, with all those digits and equations and such, but even the most complex calorie equation will miss countless factors. Ethnicity. Air temperature. Illness. How hard you exercise that day. Stress. Unexplained shifts in your metabolism. Hormone imbalances, etc.
So use that number, which will probably fall somewhere between 1,800 and 3,000 calories, as a starting point. If it works, swell. Hold steady until it stops working. If it doesn't work, don't panic; you just need to experiment a little to find your sweet spot. Try dropping another 300 calories for 7 to 10 days. If that doesn't work, increase your calories (beyond your original number) by 300 for 7 to 10 days. If you're still not getting any love, come on over to the Team Beachbody® Message Boards, where our friendly advice staff and coaching community will be able to throw your diet up on the racks to find the issue.
On a final note, keep in mind that not all calories are created equal. You generally need to do a little more than just hit your calorie deficit to lose weight in a healthy fashion. If your low-calorie diet is packed with refined sugars and flours, it might be wreaking havoc on your insulin, which can inhibit results. If you're lowballing protein, you might not be giving your body the amino acids it needs to repair muscle. Again, results will be hindered. If you're eating a really fatty diet, fat is more caloric by volume than protein and carbs, so you might be badly miscalculating, which (say it with me) can also hinder results. So an important key to weight management is to eat a healthy, balanced diet. More on that in the next issue.
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And if you'd like to know more about Beachbody Director of Results Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope, named one of the Top 50 blogs covering the sports industry by the Masters in Sports Administration. You can also read a more scientific (not to mention snarky) take on many of the topics we discuss here at The Real Fitness Nerd blog.
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Want to lose weight? Get a promotion? Take over the world? Here's how to make sure your New Year's resolution becomes a reality.
First, the bad news: The odds are stacked against you. A few years ago, psychologist Richard Wiseman conducted a study of 3,000 people who had set New Year's resolutions for themselves. At the end of the year, a measly 12% had actually achieved their goals.1 But don't let those bleak stats kill your mojo—there are a few easy ways to make your goals more attainable, so you'll be toasting your success next December.
It's 11:59 PM on December 31st—do you know what your resolution is? For the best chance of success, set your goals long before you want to start them. Wiseman says that reflecting on your goals a few days before the New Year will make you more likely to choose a meaningful resolution2—which, of course, will make you more motivated to work for it. Still haven't set a goal? That's okay. Make one now and set yourself a start date a few days from now.
Shout it from the rooftops . . .
. . . or at least share it online. According to Wiseman's research, women were more likely to succeed if they told their friends and family about their goals.3 After all, you wouldn't want to fail in front of a few hundred of your closest friends, colleagues, and high school exes—would you? Make your resolution Facebook® official, tweet about it, or post a "before" photo on Instagram®. Accountability is your friend.
Once you've decided on your Big Important Goal, come up with a few smaller objectives that can help you get there. If you resolve to lose weight, commit to doing your INSANITY® workout every day. Or hire a personal trainer and buy sessions in bulk. Or take a two-mile hike every weekend. "Intention is very different than action," says Daniel C. Stettner, Ph.D., director of Psychology at UnaSource Health Center in Troy, MI, and an adjunct professor at Wayne State University in Detroit. "People have to come up with tactics and strategies. Otherwise, it's like driving to a destination without directions—you're not going to be successful."
Think positive . . . but not too positive.
If you paid attention in English class, you might remember "doublethink" from Orwell's 1984—the ability to accept two opposing beliefs as truth. In this case, you need to accept that you can succeed and that you can fail. In his book, 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot, Wiseman points to research by psychologist Gabriele Oettingen, who found that imagining success kept people motivated, while imagining failure helped them form "avoidance goals."4 In other words, it's okay to fantasize about firing your annoying cube mate when you become manager—but also devise a Plan B in case you get passed over for this round of promotions.
Know thy enemy.
Willpower is overrated. According to a recent study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, people were more likely to be successful if they avoided temptation altogether rather than expecting superhuman self-control to kick in.5 So figure out what changes you can make to sidestep your biggest roadblocks—can you take a different route to work that doesn't pass a bagel shop? Can you block Facebook on your computer to free up more time for new projects? Can you switch from your usual hangout to a non-smoking bar? A few small lifestyle changes can prevent big pitfalls.
We all love instant gratification. So when you're pursuing a long-term goal like weight loss or digging out of debt, short-term rewards will help you power through. Just make sure the rewards jibe with the ultimate goal—don't reward a week of workouts by eating an entire chocolate cake. If you're trying to slim down, for example, Dr. Stettner suggests buying a new outfit you can't squeeze into (yet!) or working out with a friend so the reward is built-in.
Don't let setbacks derail you.
Spoiler alert: You're human, so you're going to screw up. Don't let it discourage you, and don't use it as an excuse to let the rest of the day (or weekend, or month) go down the tubes. "There are going to be lapses, but a lapse doesn't have to be a collapse or a relapse," Dr. Stettner says. "Seek persistence rather than the dirty P-word, perfection. Don't think, 'I went off the plan today, so I'll start over tomorrow.' Salvage it. Save the day."
What are your New Year's resolutions this year? Let us know at email@example.com.
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When time gets tight and your grumbling belly calls for dinner, you're probably tempted to order take-out. Instead, stock your pantry with these healthy, waistline-friendly staples to back up the fresh fruits, veggies, and protein that make up most of your diet. You'll be able to make many good-for-you meals and snacks in no time—just call it healthy fast food.
Canned beans. Whatever your pleasure—kidney, black, garbanzo, navy—canned beans are a quick way to sneak more fiber and protein and up the satisfaction factor of any meal. Look for BPA-free cans and choose no- or low-sodium brands when possible. (Or at least rinse well before eating.)
Raw almonds. Packed with good-for-you, satiating fats, new research from the USDA shows that these nuts contain 32% fewer calories than originally thought.1 One ounce supplies just 129 calories.
Dried fruit. Toss dried plums, apricots, cranberries, and raisins into oatmeal, rice pilafs, and atop salads for a dose of filling fiber and antioxidants. Cup for cup, though, dried varieties can boast four times the calories as fresh, so stick to a 1/4-cup serving. Make sure to avoid dried fruits with added sugar.
Easy-to-cook grains. Precooked brown rice needs only a minute in the microwave; quinoa cooks in 15; bulgur and whole wheat couscous takes five, and whole-grain pastas are ready in eight minutes. New research in the Journal of Nutrition suggests that swapping traditional refined grains for these whole grains can lead to a slimmer middle.2
Nut butter. For the most wholesome option, look for almond, cashew, or peanut butter made with only nuts and maybe salt (added sugar and oil isn't necessary for taste or texture). Stick to a one- or two-tablespoon serving to mind calories. Blend into smoothies, oatmeal, and sauces.
Spaghetti sauce. Bursting with disease-fighting lycopene and fat-fighting vitamin C, use tomato sauce in a pinch to simmer with chicken, top on pizza, and, of course, pour over whole-grain pasta. Look for no-sugar-added varieties.
Salsa. Spooned over fish, chicken, eggs, or steamed veggies, salsa is a less processed alternative to jarred pasta sauce that supplies a savory, south-of-the-border taste for few calories. It's also a great way to increase your uptake of healthy veggies like onions and peppers.
Coconut oil. Not only adds a subtle warm, nutty flavor, coconut oil can stand up to the heat of cooking and baking without breaking down and forming unhealthy compounds like other oils. It's rich in lauric acid, a medium-chain fatty acid that may have a favorable effect on cholesterol.3 Look for cold-pressed coconut oil.
Extra-virgin olive oil. Drizzle monounsaturated fatty acids–packed extra virgin olive oil on salad or veggies after they're cooked to help your body absorb even more healthful antioxidants, advises a new study from Purdue University.
Reduced-sodium broth. Whether chicken, vegetable, or beef, broth adds loads of flavor for few calories. One tip: cut nearly 120 calories by sautéing veggies in two tablespoons of broth versus one tablespoon of oil.
Spices. Zest up dishes for zero calories—and add a weight loss boost, too. Among others, black pepper, turmeric (an ingredient in curry powder), and cinnamon all have fat-blocking potential, recent research finds.4
Lentils. With fiber and protein, legumes digest slowly—so you'll stay fuller, longer and won't fall victim to blood sugar spikes and dips that drive hunger. Short on time? Buy precooked lentils to toss with salads, rice pilafs, and soups.
Hot sauce. A low-calorie way to add a hit of spice to dishes. Hot peppers contain a compound called capsaicin that not only provides that characteristic burn but also can temporarily raise your metabolism so you can torch a few extra calories at dinner.
Sea salt. With minimal processing, sea salt packs trace minerals and a crunchier texture. Though both sea salt and table salt contain about the same amount of sodium, when used in moderation (a sprinkle is all you really need) sea salt can punch up the flavor of foods.
Cupboard-friendly vegetables. Onions, garlic, and potatoes keep best in a cool, dark place like your pantry. With a long shelf life5 (whole garlic bulbs and onions can last three months if stored properly; potatoes up to a month), you can use them up before they go bad.
What are your favorite healthy foods? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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(Makes 1 serving)
Total Time: 5 min.
Prep Time: 5 min.
Cook Time: 0 min.
Preparation Difficulty: Easy
Nutritional Information: (per serving)
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†Results may vary. Exercise and proper diet are necessary to achieve and maintain weight loss and muscle definition.
Please consult with a physician before beginning any exercise program.
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