Sunday, 25 March 2012

Diet Report 9: Food For Thought

He Diets, She Suffers

So Mrs Monkey has joined me in using the CRON-O-Meter for two weeks now. This has lead to the first major argument with its computerised wonder.

As you know I have been more than happy with the CRON-O-Meter's help in my own diet. I have found the daily goal a challenge but never a chore. I am happily able to manage my eating to work around the calculator's limits. My daily calorie limit is currently 2076 kcal, that's the setting for losing 1lb a week for someone of normal weight. The thing is, as we know, I wasn't at anything like what would be considered "normal" weight when I started all this.

In fact if you fed my original starting weight of 348lbs (I scrape 6 feet in height in case you want to deepen the simulation otherwise just use your own favourite height mine is twelve foot seven) into a readily available online calorie calculator. You will find that the projected needs of my diet at that time were much higher than 2076 calories a day. If you're uncertain about the veracity of using a random online calculator to issue such advice why not look at another one for comparison? There are dozens of the things littering the internet. I haven't checked extensively but I'll bet you they all do their maths slightly differently just like those two do.

The point I'm trying to make there is that how many calories an individual needs on a daily basis is way different to how many the average person needs. Why the average person would need to calorie restrict if they were at ideal average weight is never discussed, but ours is not to reason why ours is just to avoid the dessert trolley.

If I look back at my week one food diary I went over my limit about four days out of seven that week, and on two other occasions only came under because I did extra exercise to burn some calories. Fast forward to week two and I didn't even need the exercise (which I did anyhow) because I found it a breeze to restrict to the 2076 recommendation. I was still north of a distictly chubby 320lbs at that time but I could survive and even be jolly on less than the recommended average restriction for 1lb a week weight loss. Curiouser and curiouser...

Obviously your own mileage may vary. I find 2076 to be a small pinch in calories but not super onerous. I can have Mc-frickin'-D's once a week as long as I budget correctly. Don't get me wrong my salt intake is too high, I don't take in the recommended amount of Hydrogen Dioxide, my vitamins are never all filled in (although this is probably contributed to by not having vitamin breakdowns on my custom foods as I chow down on a shed ton of veg, fruit and wholefoods), but I can live with the calorie restriction. To a certain extent I relish it.

According to the online calculators I should be properly starving. Probably I am but in order to keep me going my body is, oh yes, digesting my excess fat. That's called dieting folks.

So far so much a recap up to date. Now we come to the bit that I'm not so enamoured with. This article most accurately condenses the problem area towards the bottom. It states:
"To lose 1lb per week you need to reduce your usual calorie intake by approximately 500 calories per day "
Okay, well, that's what I've done. And it works for me. Actually, I've gone beyond that according to all the calorie calculators and it's worked for me. But the article also recounts the popular wisdom that men need 2500 calories a day and women 2000. I'm not sure where these numbers were first decided but they are seen almost universally as the guideline, although some sources actually set the requirements lower for men and for women. Harvard university parrots advice for women but is more generous to men. Similarly vital health zone seems to be robbing 50 calories from women and bestows it upon the men.

So, everyone's in agreement about one thing. Women need fewer calories, on average, than men to make their way in the world. Where they differ is that whereas men are seemingly allowed to go over and still be okay women's requirements only ever go down from 2000.

Far be it from me to question all of this, no doubt, sound and thoroughly tested dietary advice but...

Oh no, wait, that's exactly what I'm doing.

Apparently we're all reducing our calorie intake by 500 calories. As I said for men this seems doable. By reducing my calorie intake to around that of the average woman I am living comfortably. Of course Mrs Monkey is a woman and so taking the average she must lose 500 to come to around 1500. Now, in my case I have sliced a not insignificant 20% off the intake of an average fella on a day-to-day basis. Mrs Monkey is being asked to cut 25% of the average for a lady to lose the same amount of weight.

The mumbled reason for this is that men naturally have more muscles so burn fat faster or better or something. That's fine to a degree but I have to ask if women are already eating less, why is it presumed they also have to restrict a greater proportion of their calories to make a loss? Let's not even start on why diet calculators use these average limits instead of one of the more generous calculation algorithms detailed at the start of this post.

I'm not trying to say that all accepted dietary advice is nonsense. Clearly in my case using one of the more generous algorithms would have been a waste of time as I'm quite happy on the relatively harsh regimen I have adopted. Somewhere in all that advice I am a winner.

Mrs Monkey, on the other hand, is starving hungry after a week on the equivalent recommended restriction for a woman and I'm not at all surprised. Out of curiosity when I started CRON-O-Meter I looked at the male's 2lbs a week settings and quickly forgot them as they put a restriction of just under 1750kcals a day on me which I felt was excessive for me. I was later proven to be right because I'm dropping weight above expectation with the normal restriction.

Even so, I am starting to think that between 1700 and 2200 is a sort of golden area of ideal consumption for an average man. Some days I am happier eating around 1700 calories others I feel the need to stuff a bit more down my gob hole. All the while I am happy and not missing the real gluttonous excesses of my former life.

I find it very suspicious that the dietary advice doled out to the more diet obsessed gender (I am bucking the trend being obsessed with mine, I understand most men just diet they don't think about it as well) seems to be of the more hair shirt and birch twigs variety. The world of dietary advice seems to tell men that if they fancy a bag of nuts or the odd cream bun it won't kill them but if a woman looks the wrong way at 40g of cheddar she'll burn in the fires of diet hell.

There could be all sorts of reasons for this and none of them seem particularly scientific. Even on the Horizon about exercise the other week scientists are more keen on testing rates of glucose exchange in muscle mass than wondering if the accepted daily intake recommendations pass the lab coat and slide rule thumbs up award for strict empirical veracity. Maybe the average recommendations haven't been made up but the way that we repeat them definitely seems to indicate that we like to tell the boys they're okay and the girls they're evil. It's like the financials of playing poker, apparently it doesn't work properly unless it hurts a bit when a woman diets.

I also can't imagine that there are all that many scientists who rock up to work in the morning and say "I'd like to perform a very dull study questioning something that most people seem quite happy to just accept and which seems to at least be in the ball park region of being correct." Especially when the next sentence out of their mouths would have to be: "Further I'd like it to be a study concerning a topic that will not dramatically affect the scientific community even if the results turn out to be a bit different to my expectations."

Basically, there would be no scientific kudos in establishing the theory that either women's average daily intake need should be raised (I don't believe this) or that the restriction on calories should be proportional not fixed i.e. restrict 20% of your calorie intake to lose a lb a week so men go from 2500ish to 2000ish and women go from 2000ish to 1600ish. That extra 100 calories makes all the difference in establishing a "comfort zone". I happen to believe, having weighed up all the conflicting advice, that a lot of it has more to do with undermining women in a moral way than actually helping them to feel comfortable dieting.

I guess that Weight Watchers actually agreed with me. Their whole system is designed togive dieters an alternative to calorie restriction by the book with their simple points based system. It allows a dieter to eat to live without having to turn into an ascetic diet monk. Weight Watchers wanted to sell dieting, and they have succeeded by, you know, selling dieting, as opposed to selling self-imposed suffering in the name of some vague dietary moral authority.

I know it's not the CRON-O-Meter's fault, the default settings are just taken from the various sources available to the makers. However, I am firmly of the opinion at the moment that's what is good for this gander-monkey is not necessarily so good for the goose-monkey.

Tightening Our Belts

My trousers have definitely started to become ill-fitting in the right direction at this time. I have reached the last hole in the two belts I bought five months ago. As my friend pointed out to me, at least things are becoming ill-fitting in the direction where a belt is helpful. I am forced to agree.

Progress has been good, as regular followers of this journal will know. To engage "sense of perspective mode" for a moment though we may have one the battle of the first two and a half stone but the war on ten stones continues. Now is not a time for complacence.

Now, is however, nearly time for the Monkey to step from the friendly world of the mid-thirties into the choppier waters of the late thirties. Overall that doesn't concern me. What concerns me is that I am about to have a birthday and everyone knows what goes with birthday. That's right. Cake.

I feel that I would be doing myself a disservice not to have a piece of cake on my birthday, but it is just one of a myriad of ill-disciplined dining decisions that are to accompany the event. Let's not forget that I am having not one but two birthday meals, one with my friends in Notts and then at home in Wales week after next.

I am accompanying my birthday week with my first time "off the reservation" as far as dieting goes. At some point the training wheels will have to come off and the great experiment will be over. What better place to practice than 25% through? In short, although I will continue to diarise my food consumption week after next I will not feed the foods into CRON-O-Meter till I return from Wales. Essentially, for a week, I will be calorie blind.

We'll see how I get on.

Following shortly, this week's weight milestone. In fact, if you've read all of this it's probably up by now.

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