Calories In, Calories Out: is it a Myth? ~ Debra Scheufler

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Why are so many of us constantly counting calories?

Relying on cardio equipment or heart rate monitors to tell us that we have burned enough calories to make up for that chocolate cake we had for dessert? Consider how much time, energy and brain power is used when we are consumed with these thoughts, which for some can rise to the level of obsession!

I learned years ago when training for my final win at the Natural America bodybuilding championship, that calories in/calories out is a myth. My coach, Mike Ashley, who was a natural world champion and who now owns Say Fitness in Deerfield Beach, Florida, taught me this valuable lesson about nutrition. He taught me how to maintain muscle mass while losing body fat to reach my leanness goal for the contest.

We calculated how many calories I was consuming before the three-month contest prep period and then we re-distributed nutrients while maintaining the same calorie intake. We substituted lean protein such as fish, chicken, turkey or egg whites, fibrous vegetables (the non-starchy ones like broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, carrots, celery, onions, mushrooms, anything without that starchy center like peas, corn and potatoes), and complex carbohydrates with a low glycemic index like yams, brown rice and peas.

We eliminated wheat, simple sugars, dairy products, processed foods and fruit for the training period. The result was what you see in the photo above. I moved from 18% body fat to 10%, which is about as low as a woman should go, while maintaining significant muscle mass.

The point here is not that everyone should eat like a bodybuilder in training but that my BMI (body mass index, or the ratio of fat to muscle) changed significantly with no calorie reduction. Did I train every day? Yes, and I increased cardio slightly, but it was really the nutrient content that made the difference. I was more lean and carried more solid muscle than ever before and I used this formula on many clients whom I later trained to successfully compete.

So how can this apply to all of our health goals? Each of us can make significant changes in our BMI without depriving ourselves, starving ourselves or going on strict or weird diets, but by just gradually making some subtle substitutions in our daily food intake.

I always advocate adding instead of taking away to avoid that deprivation/binge cycle with which so many are familiar. The first thing to add is water, water, water. Often we eat when we are really thirsty and we don’t know the difference. I try to drink three liters a day; I do not always make it and—News Flash—I don’t beat myself up for it!

The second thing to add is more fibrous vegetables. A helpful guideline is to have half of your plate filled with these nutrient packed vegetables and to eat them first. Again, fibrous vegetables are the non-starchy ones. The ones without that oh-so-yummy starchy center like corn, peas, beans, potatoes, etc. They are leaves and flowers of plants like broccoli. lettuce, cauliflower, kale, mushrooms; and they are some roots like onions, carrots and beets. If you are unsure, there are plenty of great resources online!

In upcoming blog posts, I will explain in more detail the significance of the glycemic index, glycemic load, micro-nutrients, glyco-nutrients and other gems of information that have helped me free myself from that hamster wheel of food/body/exercise obsession.

In the meantime, these two additions alone can make a huge impact on your energy, overall health and BMI.

 

 

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Editor: Travis May

Photo: Author’s own

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Debra Scheufler

Debra Scheufler has followed her passion for fitness and nutrition since the age of 8 when she began cooking healthy meals for her family. She has studied yoga since the age of 13, was a professional dancer, a competitive bodybuilder, and now spends he time surfing the Pacific, skiing the Rockies, growing organic edibles ad lounging with her menagerie of four furries. Professionally she has founded TrainSANE, a fitness studio geared to the needs of baby boomers.

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anonymous Sep 18, 2014 7:04pm

Words of wisdom! FANTASTIC article! I totally agree that “Calories In, Calories Out” is definitely a limited concept. I'm looking forward to your next article.

anonymous Sep 18, 2014 8:26am

How about the yams, brown rice and peas? Yes or no?

    anonymous Sep 18, 2014 12:29pm

    Yes, Orest; brown rice, peas and yams are higher fiber complex carbs. They can be substituted for potatoes, white rice and pasta to provide a more "time released" energy source. They provide energy for a longer period of time with a more reduced insulin response. The reason is that they digest more slowly due to the fiber content.

anonymous Sep 18, 2014 8:25am

Great article! One question:
When you say that you substituted lean protein, you mean that's what you started having?

    anonymous Sep 18, 2014 12:26pm

    Right! We substituted leaner protein sources like chicken and fish for fattier proteins like beef and lamb.

anonymous Sep 16, 2014 6:18pm

Great article! I will try to make some of the changes you are talking about into this article! Need to loose some body fat myself! Looking forward to your next article!

    anonymous Sep 16, 2014 8:59pm

    Thanks Cecilia! Please keep me posted as to how it is going for you.

anonymous Sep 15, 2014 4:13pm

Someone asked me on Facebook what the calorie intake was that I started at in the precontest phase I describe in this article. Although the point of the article is to get away from counting calories, this is a valid question if someone is a competitive bodybuilder. As I recall that number was 2000 although it was many years ago as you can tell by the '80s hairdo in the picture!