One of the last things that I discuss with my clients after they understand the basics of the nutrition label is I have them count calories for a week or two. Yes, they carry a little notebook around with them and count their entire calorie intake for the day; this includes snacks, drinks, and secondary snacks (gum, candy). I prefer that they do it the ‘manual way’ first (writing it down on paper), as opposed to using a pedometer or any phone app, for the same reason you learn basic math on a sheet of paper before you’d use a calculator.
Now, during this week or two-week period, I ask my clients to eat the foods that they would normally eat. If this is pizza in the morning, fried chicken at lunch and lasagna at dinner, then so be it. I want to get an average intake of calories with no outside influences or guilt, otherwise the tweaking process will be counterproductive. Once we have ‘that special number,’ we then have something to work towards. This process is similar to how a mechanic runs diagnostics on your car – he’s expecting that machine to return with some ‘special codes’ and until it does, he can’t properly diagnose your car. Same principle with counting calories; you’ll need to know your numbers.
Let’s say we get an average daily calorie count of 5,000 – a nice round number. My client’s first reaction is OMG that’s too much, so I calm them down and say, “too much compared to whom?” Don’t worry about what the food guide pyramid says you need to eat or what the internet says or even your personal trainer. The average daily caloric intake for people is between two and three thousand calories – that statistic alone will discourage many of my clients and they will give up before they even try. There really is no universal rule for calorie consumption as I see it, because everyone’s caloric intake will be different. This will be contingent on your height, weight, body fat and muscle composition, gender, metabolism, genes, and many other things. So with this many variables, you can’t possibly try to keep up with the next person, as you are your own unique individual.
If you have more muscle or are larger in general, guess what – your body requires more calories to function. Same with a car; (there goes that car analogy again), the larger the engine, and the more gas it will consume, even at idle speeds. The faster you go in that car, the more gas it will burn. Compared to a person, the more you exert yourself and the more muscle you have (whether it is a formal exercise or casual walking around the yard), guess what – you will burn more calories.