What Really Happens When You Start Counting Calories
Just a couple days spent logging your calorie intake can yield a lifetime of lessons. – By Selene Yeager
Do you have any idea how many calories you actually eat and drink? Many of us think we do, but truth is we’re pretty bad at estimating calorie intake correctly.
The average recreational female cyclist burns between 2,000 and 2,400 calories a day, while their male counterparts burn between 2,200 and 2,700; some might meticulously plan their bike snacks and recovery meals to fuel their rides and replace calories burned, but don’t necessarily think as hard about lunches on-the-go and early morning mochas.
If you’re struggling with a few extra pounds — and really even if you’re not — it’s worth taking a day or two to read labels (or use one of the many calorie counting apps) and adding them all up. “Calorie counting can be a great, objective way to monitor what you’re eating,” says Leslie Bonci, Co-author of Bike Your Butt Off. Beyond that, it can also teach you a thing or two about the content and quality of your diet and how your calorie choices affect you, such as…
Portion sizes. Oh, you think you know. But you really don’t know what a serving size of cereal looks like until you portion out a three-quarter cup and eye the small heap at the bottom of your bowl. Along these lines, go ahead and try to eat just one serving of cereal, pasta, bread, or equivalent food during your experiment. You just might be surprised that you’re satisfied with one serving, instead of two—or three. “We’re visually used to a lot of food at this point because portions are so distorted,” says Bonci. “But honestly, most people are satisfied—i.e. not hungry — with less than they’ve become accustomed to eating.” Each macronutrient packs different numbers of calories per gram, so some high-fat foods might look tiny on your plate — but don’t underestimate their power to satiate.
More calories does not always equal more satisfaction. That Bountiful Blueberry Muffin you get with your morning coffee? It delivers 350 calories, and will leave you hungry again 10 minutes after you eat it — if you’re ever satisfied at all. “When you start counting calories — and paying attention to your hunger and satisfaction along the way — you really get to understand the term ‘empty calories,’” Bonci says. “You can literally see the ones that don’t seem to do anything to fill you up, but can absolutely fill you out!”
Likewise, fewer calories can often fill you up. One cup of chopped broccoli delivers 30 — yes, just 30 — calories. That means you can make it rain broccoli crowns all over your dinner plate without putting a dent in your daily diet. And those cruciferous crowns will fill you up, because they’re rich in fiber. “If you are a volume eater, who likes to see a lot of food on their plate, look for these types of foods that you can eat big portions of for fewer calories,” Bonci says. Just remember that fiber-fueling doesn’t lead to lasting satisfaction — put portions of protein and fat on your plate to make a real meal of things.
Holy Schamoly those beers add up. Research shows that we get an average of 16 percent of our daily calories from booze. Once you actually start adding up your empties — at about 150 calories a pop for beer — it’s easy to see how. “That six-pack may go down easily on a Saturday, but it may also fill you out, without making you feel full for any extended period of time,” Bonci says.
Many of us famine — then feast. Keep track of how your calories are distributed. “Ideally, you’d like to see your calories fairly evenly distributed over the course of the day,” Bonci says. “But way too many people under-consume most of the day and then shovel them all in at the end!” Instead, look at where you tend to concentrate your calories, track your hunger and fullness, and then adjust accordingly to stay energised and satisfied from morning till night.
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