Do you know your calorie setpoint?

by Christine on March 1st, 2011

filed under Christine's Life Updates, Exercise

Good morning Revolutionists!

Yesterday I sat down and tracked all my food intake that I consumed over the weekend, and I was surprised that I was within 10 calories all three days (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday).  My average was about 910 calories. I know I have mentioned this a thousand times before on my blog, but let me say it again: if you are trying to lose weight, it’s incredibly important to track all your food consumption, every day. You can identify trends, areas of weakness, analyze your food types, pinpoint times of day that you have problems, etc. I have been journaling my food for years—at this point it comes naturally to me, and that’s probably why all three days were essentially the same calories without even trying.

Now that I have entered into “Weight Maintenance Mode (WMM),” I am trying to learn what it takes to successfully maintain my weight. It’s a very different mindset than trying to lose weight, and it’s hard because I don’t necessarily know what the secret ingredient is to ensure that I don’t put the weight back on.

For instance, I learned that for my body, I lost weight slowly but steadily when I ate approximately 800 calories per day. Previously, I know that my “Calorie Setpoint” (the calories you need to maintain your weight) was around 1000 calories. However, I’ve lost over 100 pounds, so it’s only natural to assume that my Calorie Setpoint has been lowered.

I’ve maintained my current weight for a few weeks now, and if I’m eating 910 calories a day, I think it’s fair to assume that 910 calories is my new Calorie Setpoint. This surprises me that my setpoint has gone down as low as it has. I think part of the reason for that is that I have not been exercising very much in the last two months, thereby lowering my metabolism and also requiring less food to keep my body fueled.

Why is it so important to know your body’s Calorie Setpoint? Well, if you are trying to lose weight, if you know what your Setpoint is, then all you have to do is lower your calorie intake by a mere 10%, and voila, I can almost garauntee that you’ll lose weight! Now it’s important to point out that everyone’s Calorie Setpoint is totally different. Mine—900 apparently—is very low, much lower than average, and I don’t recommend that anyone use that as a starting point for figuring out their own Setpoint. However, I think the fact that mine is so low is an interesting point. For years I had a very hard time losing weight on my own, even though I exercised regularly and watched what I ate very carefully. It turns out I was eating too much. I assumed that the doctor’s charts, that said I should eat 1200-1500 calories per day were just blatantly wrong for me. Looking back, it’s no wonder I gained weight when I was eating so much!

[Interesting sidenote: Apparently “Set Point Theory” is a real scientific theory that has been analyzed. And here I thought I made the term up myself! Read more at MIT Medical or at the Journal of Metabolic Syndrome and Disorders.]

I have also noticed that I’ve been feeling sluggish and tired the last few weeks, since starting my new job. So yesterday I decided that it was time to amp up my exercise. Now, I can’t say that I have not been doing any exercise at all: I’ve gone downhill skiing a few times, and snowshoeing, too. However, since starting this job, I rarely get any exercise in during the week. It’s time to change that and get a little bit of exercise back into my routine. Yesterday I hit the gym. It was more important that I get into the habit of going than it was to actually break a sweat and rev up my heart rate, so I just grabbed a stationary bicycle and read a book for 45 minutes. I’m proud that I went; it wasn’t easy to pry myself off the couch and go.

I also went tanning, in the hopes of boosting my energy. I have a vacation planned in April, and I wouldn’t mind being tan for that. However, tanning is really more for the energy, for me. I notice that I have far more energy after I go tanning. I think it’s one of the side effects of living in the Northeast during the wintertime. I can already tell a difference today; I woke up extra early today to take my husband to work, and I’m not sleepy at all. I think the tanning + exercise combo is good for me.

Today I am going to pre-plan my food intake to ensure that I get the right amount of calories and maximum amount of nutrition. Are you going to pre-plan your food intake, too?


Comment & Answer time

by Christine on October 20th, 2010

filed under Christine's Life Updates, Diet, Food, Nutrition, Gastric Banding Surgery

The other day I received this comment from blogger Mish. Here is her comment to me, along with my response. The only reason why I call this particular comment out is because I often receive comments about the low number of calories I eat per day. I wanted not only to address Mish’s concern, but to share the response with all of you, too.

> Mish wrote:
> I came to your blog through your Exposed link. I have to say that I am a bit saddened by your calorie counting regime. I don’t know how or if I could function on eating as little calories as your doing. I realise that you’re on a mission to lose weight and you’ve had GBS. I appreciate all that you’ve accomplished, but having a healthy relationship with food, enjoying it, and honoring your bodies caloric intake is vital. I really hope that you’re taking care of yourself, because you’ve got me incredibly worried.

My response was this:

Hi Mish!
Thank you very much for visiting my blog and for commenting on my “exposed” post! I appreciate the support!

I wanted to write and address your concern about my calorie levels. I know you are new to my blog, so you probably haven’t read all the backstory involved with my weight loss journey. As you probably read, I eat about 800 calories a day on average.  I also got the gastric banding surgery a year and a half ago.

I really started gaining weight in 2001 (through 2009). The gain was slow and steady, and I did everything that I could to prevent the weight gain. I saw numerous doctors and nutritionists and followed plan after plan. I went to the gym 2 times a day, 6 days a week; I had personal trainers, gym “buddies,” etc. Most of these medical professionals followed some kind of standardized weight loss chart; they just looked on their wall or wheel-of-numbers to magically determine that I need 1500-1700 calories per day to maintain my weight at my activity level. However, when I followed this diet plan–even meticulously eating healthy, balanced meals…NO cheating at all…but 1500-1700 calories per day–I gained weight even faster than before. Another doctor recommended that I try eating 1200 calories a day–again, another pigeon-holed number not based on ME and MY BODY, but on some standardized number that “most women” might fall within.  Again, I gained weight, albiet a little slower.

What I discovered with gastric banding surgery is that my “calorie setpoint” (my term I’ve coined) is really 1000 calories; that’s the amount of calories that my body seems to need to maintain its current weight. I believe this number is lower than most people because I am hypothyroid, overweight genetics on both sides of the family, as well as after-effects from a recent health concern (lyme disease, malaria, and mono all at once). If 1000 calories is where my body maintains its weight, then 800 calories has allowed me to lose weight very slowly but consistently, approximately 1-2 pounds per week for the last 1.5 years. So far I’ve lost 95 pounds.  800 calories per day still allows me to have energy, be healthy, and maintain an active lifestyle.

I would also like to add that my General Physician as well as my bariatric surgeon are aware of how much I eat and have approved of this number. It is safe to say that this is a medically-approved number for me.

All that being said, I don’t believe that anyone losing weight should follow my lead and eat 800 calories a day. On the contrary; I’m adamant that every person has their own unique “calorie setpoint:” that amount of calories needed to maintain their weight. Following standardized medical charts, USDA recommendations, BMR/RMR calculators….might work for some people, but none of those things take in account your metabolism, genetics, and underlying medical issues. Consequently, I believe this number is different for everyone. In order to lose weight, people need to find what their unique calorie setpoint is; then, to lose weight, drop the calories consumed by 10-15%.  I would never advocate that someone eat 800 calories; I’ve never said that on my blog or encouraged someone to eat an unhealthy amount of calories. Instead, I advocate finding your own calorie setpoint and going from there.

You said, “I don’t know how or if I could function on eating as little calories as your doing.” I agree–many people couldn’t and shouldn’t follow a diet with so few calories. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s not appropriate for me.

I hope that explains a little bit about why I eat fewer calories than most people. If you have any additional questions, please don’t hesitate to ask! I appreciate the concern and was touched that you took the time to write.

By the way, I looked at your website and I was very impressed with your own weight loss journey. Congrats on losing all your weight!!


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