Calories, How Much?

I’m rethinking my whole lifestyle and, of course, there is this question begging for a scientific  answer: “How much should I eat not to get fat anymore?”
And the next question would be “How much from carbs, protein and fat?”

First of all, I’ll get rid of what did not work in the past:

  • Eating less. Nope, didn’t work for me. I have been eating 200 – 400 less than what was recommended for me, plus exercising, and still couldn’t get rid of surplus pounds.
    It seems sometimes my body has a mind of its own “Aha, this poor lady is in danger of starving, let’s make some more fat deposits“.
    My question is “How many calories should I eat to stay healthy?” and not “How many calories should I eat to lose weight?”
  • Eating more than 50% of calories from carbs. Nope, this is not going to happen to me anymore. Some carbs are spiking my blood sugar, I’ve done some simple tests with the aid of a glucometer. And, my journal tells me more than 4 portions of bread or other starches a day,  do fatten me. So does sugar. If you don’t eat lots of starches, only 2-3 portions a fruit a day and almost no sugar, having more than 50% of calories from carbs is quite difficult.
  • Eating low carb, low fat dairy, low fat, low anything. I’ve been there, tried that.
    Full fat dairy doesn’t fatten me, it’s proved. Low carb make me feel so miserable, no energy, feeling like an old dirty bag, I won’t even think of trying it once again.
    Low fat? Nope, limited yes, but not low. I like too much my whole fat dairy, my sofrito sauce, my avocado and my olive oil salad dressing and it seems science is on my side this time.
    I’m not saying that these diets won’t work. I’m saying that they didn’t work for me on a long term. And let’s be honest, we don’t know their effects on a long term, if somehow one manages to follow them a long, long way.
  • Any restriction that will make me hungry won’t work. But fasting, the Romanian traditional way, deserves a second look. I’ll deal with this later, not now.

Next, I need some serious advice or, maybe, a trusted tool to calculate how much I need to eat to survive, do my daily chores, exercise
I’ll cross-check  the number of calories obtained with the figures recommended by a trusted  health organisation or site.

The best method of assessing the basic energy needs, those necessary for my body to function when resting,  is in a metabolic lab through the doubly-labelled water technique. Maybe one day I’ll have access to this method but for the moment all I have are some formulas, supposed to be quite good.
Like the The Cunningham Formula (Resting Metabolic Rate RMR):

RMR = 500 + (22 x LBM) where LBM = lean body mass in Kg

All you need is a good scale to tell you how much fat you have in your body.
Some refer to this formula as the Basic Metabolic Rate or BMR.
I’m not so sure how accurate is this formula, as far as I know,  fat cells do need also some energy for daily chemical reactions.

To this BMR I have to add the calories for my daily activities and here comes trouble.

How much calories do I spend in my daily activities? Almost impossible to tell, I’m not a robot, I’m not either a fitness freak. Some days I do exercise more, or do heavy housework, other days I spend mostly in front of a computer with just half an hour walk.

Here’s another nice formula I’ve found on the net and I wonder what can I make of it:

Daily energy requirement = BMR + thermic effect of food + NEAT

The thermic effect of food is the  energy we spend for digestion, absorption, and disposal of the food we eat. A commonly used estimate of the thermic effect of food is about 10% of one’s caloric intake, though it varies substantially for different foods or nutrients. For example, dietary fat is very easy to process and has very little thermic effect (may be as low as 5%), while protein is hard to process and has a much larger thermic effect, up to 35%. You’d better read more in Wikipedia, quite an interesting subject
For the moment, I’ll stick to the 10% figure. This means that if I eat 2000 kcal a day, 200 Kcal will be burned by the body just processing my food.

NEAT stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis.  This is the energy we need each day for non-exercise daily activities.

Move a Little, Lose a Lot: New N.E.A.T. Science Reveals How to Be Thinner, Happier, and Smarter by [Levine Md, James, Selene Yeager]
See this book on Amazon
According to Dr. James Levine, the Mayo Clinic researcher who is currently studying this phenomenon, NEAT can vary between two people of similar size by up to 2,000 calories a day. One study that measured NEAT in lean and obese people, all of whom were sedentary and had similar jobs, found that lean people stood or walked more than two hours longer each day than obese people.

If I take this very seriously, it means that maybe not only my slow metabolism might be a cause for my weight problems, but also my “slow” NEAT.


I’ve attempted to calculate my daily energy requirement with the aid of this book “Move a little, Lose a lot” by James A Levine and the site

Somehow I’ve obtained a total of 2300 kCal, exercises not included, of course, nor the “hard working” house chores (see on how many calories these might burn)
I’m amazed because up till now I’ve been striving to stay between 1800  – 2000 kcal, recommended by other sites and diets. This has been the calories number for me, for losing weight. It hasn’t work so far but I haven’t get fatter either. I’m stuck on a plateau.

I’m not sure what to do with my new calorie total. I can do it easily but… isn’t it too much? I don’t know what science is behind this number and most probably it is not accurate.
I won’t lose more time on this, I’ll start with a bit less, 2200, because webmd is recommending this number of calories for my sex and age (I’ve had a lot of good advice from them). However, I won’t eat all of the 2200 kCal  unless hungry. If after increasing my daily calories, the scale will start to show more, I’ll simply adjust this number.
While it’s so hard to get rid of surplus pounds, one can very quickly put on so it’ll be easy to spot if I’m eating too much.

I’d better focus  on improving gradually my NEAT. I’ll start with finding activities that burn more calories than just sitting and watching TV or using the computer.
And I’ll keep in mind what I’ve already discovered, that what I eat is more important than how much I eat.


  • Get rid of what did not work in the past. Like, eating less, eating low fat, eating low carb a.s.o.
  • Find your basic energy needs. You need a performant scale for this or access to a metabolic lab.
  • If you’ve chosen to calculate yourself your BMR (Basic Metabolic Rate), you can use the Cunningham formula:
    BMR = 500 + (22 x LBM) where LBM = lean body mass in Kg
  • The thermic effect of food is the  energy we spend for digestion, absorption, and disposal of the food we eat. A commonly used estimate of the thermic effect of food is about 10% of one’s caloric intake
  • Calculate NEAT, The Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. This is the energy we need each day for non-exercise daily activities. You’ll find the calories needed for various daily activities on this site
  • Calculate your Daily energy requirement, using this formula
    Daily energy requirement = BMR + thermic effect of food + NEAT
  • On the days you exercise, add the calories needed for each type of exercise. You can find them here
  • Review the calorie number obtained by cross-checking with the figures provided by health organisations or trusted sites.
  • You might consider keeping  a journal and reviewing this calorie limit weekly. Adjust if necessary.
  • More important, improve your NEAT. Find more daily activities to keep you moving.
    Also, keep in mind that what you eat is more important than how much you eat.

The Science Behind

The Science of Why Caloric Restriction Fails

Dr. Jason Fung – Nephrologist, 2017, Better Humans Coach

Our body acts much more like a thermostat. That is, the body seems to have a certain Body Set Weight (BSW). Any attempts to increase above this BSW will result in our body trying to return to its original weight by increasing TEE (increasing metabolism to burn off the excess calories).
Any attempts to decrease below this BSW will result in our body trying to return to its original weight by decreasing TEE (decreasing metabolism to regain lost calories). No wonder it is so hard to keep the weight off! As we slow our metabolism, we must further and further reduce our caloric intake to maintain weight loss.

The truth about low-fat foods

By Kerry Torrens – Nutritional therapist, 2016, BBC Good Food

Certain fats, like those in nuts, seeds and oily varieties of fish provide essential fatty acids (including the omega-3 variety). These essential fats are important for maintaining healthy blood vessels, making hormones and for the correct functioning of our nervous system. The fat in our diet also helps us absorb certain vitamins, the fat-soluble ones, which include A, D, E and K. Following a very low-fat diet makes you more likely to be low in these vitamins and that can impact your immunity, limit the body’s ability to heal itself and have an influence on bone health.

Ketogenic diet: Is the ultimate low-carb diet good for you?

By Marcelo Campos, MD, 2017, Health Harvard

A ketogenic diet could be an interesting alternative to treat certain conditions, and may accelerate weight loss. But it is hard to follow and it can be heavy on red meat and other fatty, processed, and salty foods that are notoriously unhealthy. We also do not know much about its long-term effects, probably because it’s so hard to stick with that people can’t eat this way for a long time. It is also important to remember that “yo-yo diets” that lead to rapid weight loss fluctuation are associated with increased mortality. Instead of engaging in the next popular diet that would last only a few weeks to months (for most people that includes a ketogenic diet), try to embrace change that is sustainable over the long term. A balanced, unprocessed diet, rich in very colorful fruits and vegetables, lean meats, fish, whole grains, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and lots of water seems to have the best evidence for a long, healthier, vibrant life.

Is Sitting a Lethal Activity?

By James Vlahos, 2011, New York Times Magazine

Sitting, it would seem, is an independent pathology. Being sedentary for nine hours a day at the office is bad for your health whether you go home and watch television afterward or hit the gym. It is bad whether you are morbidly obese or marathon-runner thin. “Excessive sitting,” Dr. Levine says, “is a lethal activity.”
Working late one night at 3 a.m., Dr. Levine coined a name for the concept of reaping major benefits through thousands of minor movements each day: NEAT, which stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. In the world of NEAT, even the littlest stuff matters.

Eating less not the best way to lose weight, study shows

By Ana Sandoiu, 1918, Medical News Today

“The results show that choosing healthy, lower-calorie-dense foods was more effective and more sustainable than just trying to resist large portions of higher calorie options. If you choose high-calorie-dense foods but restrict the amount that you’re eating, portions will be too small, and you’re likely to get hungry,” Zuraikat goes on.

Barbara Rolls, a professor of Nutritional Sciences at Penn State and a co-author on the study, also  chimes in.
“The study supports the idea that eating less of the higher-calorie-dense foods and more of the nutritious, lower-calorie-dense foods can help to manage hunger while consuming fewer calories. You still have a full plate,” she adds, “but you’re changing the proportions of the different types of foods.”


Photo Emilia Dragne


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