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Are you a slave to numbers?

nutrition Feb 27, 2020

Calorie counting has fast become a hot topic over the years, and with the rise of applications available on your phone to help you log food and water, it has become even easier to track what we put in our bodies. However, is that becoming too much of an obsession? 

I have worked with many types of clients, and I have 2 groups I worry about the most, the ones that religiously punch the numbers of every morsel into an app, and those that are obsessed with clean eating, so much so it can be classed as an eating disorder (orthorexia). As a qualified nutritional coach, the latter I would refer to a qualified nutritionist/dietitian (those with a degree in nutrition) because it is beyond my scope of practice. However, the number crunchers are definitely within my remit. 

Nutrition in the fitness industry goes from a level 3 course in nutrition (open to L3 PT's & L4 S&C coaches) who can advise on the basics within guidelines set by NICE, to specialists in nutritional coaching, and nutritionists and dietitians with a degree. The basic level 3 nutrition certificate requires PT's & S&C coaches to offer advice and guidance (not programming or writing diets) within the government guidelines. This includes working out BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) and giving the client an approximate figure of calorie intake based on their perceived activity level and estimated macronutrients (Carbohydrates, Fats & Proteins - see Government guideline chart below). Traditionally this is working to a calorie deficit to exercise, aiming for a 2lb weight loss per week (this is the standard loss we are advised).

Nutrition isn't so simple as creating a deficit in calories, and an increase in exercise, there is a little bit more involved. Especially when you consider that, the value in calories outside the body, is different to the value within the body. Yes you have to create a 'deficit' but that shouldn't mean you are cutting out your favourite foods, in fact the way I coach nutrition allows my clients to keep everything they like as long as they stick to my advice and guidance on their macro-nutrient intake. People also make the mistake of reducing the calories too much, which can, in extreme cases, lead to another growing eating disorder REDS (Relative Energy Deficit in Sport).

The thing is a calories effectiveness can be affected by lots of things:

  • Food labels are not accurate - quite often the real calorie value can be higher or lower (with 5 different methods of working out calories there is no consistency).
  • We over or under estimate our portion sizes
  • We all process calories differently - gut bacteria can affect this and also see handout in the store (link below)
  • How we absorb calories from certain macronutrients can be different - interestingly we actually absorb less calories from nuts and seeds, only 68% from almonds for example.
  • Food preparation - how we prepare foods affects the calorie amount. A jacket potato after cooking can increase its calorific value by 91%
  • Thermogenesis - Your historical weight ca play an impact on energy expenditure.
  • Fitness trackers and gym machines are not accurate - for 300 calories burned a fitbit registers between 270-330, and a Nike fuelband regsisters 261-339. 
  • Sleep - lack of sleep can reduce the effectiveness of how a calorie is burned by up to 5-20%

Punching numbers in an app can also become obsessive and can lead to a negative relationship with food, so if you find yourself not eating something because you cannot log it, then it might be time to take the pressure of of you. The only people that really need to restrict their diets are professional athletes training for an event like the Olympics, they have a lifestyle that can sustain this, as well as a whole team of people behind them to monitor and advise effectiveness. 

Restricting what you eat or avoiding certain foods, without the proper support and guidance, demonises food groups and isn't sustainable, diets after all are short term fixes, not long term solutions. Sadly, clients expect instant results they can see, so weigh ins and measurements are visual reinforcers for those wanting a fast result. It is up to us as professionals to be totally honest with our clients. When these individuals stop the nutritional plan, they usually out the pre programme weight back on and more.


There are many factors that increase or decrease the results of your nutrition (you can check out my free nutrition infographic 'Lets Talk Diets' in the CPF Store)

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