Eating for your ideal weight

Getting your calorie count right makes all the difference

By Melissa Petrichko, WAC Nutrition & Health Coach

Nutrition & Health Coach 2

Have you ever been on a diet to lose weight and felt like you weren’t getting anywhere? Maybe after months—or even years—of trying without much progress, you’ve become so confused you don’t know if you are eating too much or not enough! That all can be tough to understand.

Why how much you eat matters

There is a delicate balance between eating too much and not eating enough. You need to eat in a caloric deficit to lose weight. If you eat below your body’s needs for essential functions, however, you will struggle not only to lose weight but also to maintain optimal health and wellness. If you want your body to function well, you need to give it what it needs to operate effectively!

Our body needs fuel from calories to create energy for essential functions and to perform daily living activities. Calories are burned for energy and derived from the food we eat. The efficiency of calories burned is determined by the quality of nutrients we consume and our own individual metabolic rate. The main factor contributing to our metabolic rate is the percentage of fat free mass (FFM)—better known as muscle—that we carry on our body because muscle “burns hotter” than fat.

Muscle mass is predominately determined by genetics and lifestyle choices, and it will be lost and gained throughout our lifetime and due to various events. Factors contributing to gains in muscle mass include strength-training and consuming enough protein in our daily diet. Factors resulting in a loss of muscle mass include low-intensity cardio-only exercise programs, the absence of strength-training, constant dieting, and aging.

If you eat below your physical needs, your body will burn fat and muscle for energy, leaving you with less muscle and slowing down your metabolism. The loss of muscle is a losing situation because the loss of muscle mass makes it much harder to maintain a healthy weight, or even lose weight. The basic formula for managing a healthy weight includes regular strength-training exercises and meeting your body’s energy demands to function and perform.

Our bodies need energy for necessary functions—such as breathing, digestion, blood flow, regulating body temperature, growth of skin and hair, and maintaining chemical levels—to name a few. These vital functions make up 70 percent of calories burned in 24 hours, and the number needed to maintain these functions is called the Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR).

The main factors that determine one’s BMR are genetics, gender, age, height, and current weight. The most significant factor is each person’s percentage of lean muscle mass because muscle burns at a higher metabolic rate.

Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) differs slightly from BMR because it accounts for spontaneous activity, which includes low-intensity acts of daily living, such as eating, moving from one place to another, consuming caffeine, and sweating from heat or shivering from cold. RMR does not include the energy needed for intentional exercise.

The more fit you are and the more muscle mass you have, the more calories your body needs for these vital physical functions.

If you deliberately include regular exercise into your healthy lifestyle habit, you will need to account for the additional energy needs required. Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) is the total calories your body needs while at rest, during exercise, and digesting. TDEE is calculated by taking your BMR and adding an activity-level modifier that considers exercise frequency and intensity.

Determining your energy needs

There are two great ways the WAC can help you determine your energy needs:

Once you know your body’s energy needs by the numbers, you can decide what you want to do next. To put these numbers into practice, you will want to track what you are eating and drinking daily; estimate how much you are moving throughout the day; and assess the type, frequency, and intensity of exercise you do each week. There are many ways to track all these variables, and working with a certified nutrition and health coach is a great way to analyze the results.

View WAC Wellness services online and contact the Wellness Center at

—Posted April 13, 2022; JC.


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