We Need Personalised Numbers!

2,000 calories. 10,000 steps. These numbers float around and almost become related: subconsciously there can be a belief that if we do 10,000 steps a day we’ll be fine eating 2,000 calories a day! Will we?

2,000 calories a day is as much a myth as is the 10,000 steps a day. While there is always the caveat that the 2,000 is an average recommendation for the average person, etc etc, it is the 2,000 number that sticks in people’s minds.

Based on these rather wide, and self-reported, ranges, some pretty loose rounding happened, and the number 2,000 was settled on for a standard. In other words, not only was the calorie standard not derived based on prevalent scientific equations that estimate energy needs based on age, height, weight and physical activity levels, but the levels were not even validated to ensure that the self-reported ranges were actually accurate.

US News
From Samsung Health app

The 10,000 steps originally came from a marketing campaign.

The magic number “10,000” dates back to a marketing campaign conducted shortly before the start of the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. A company began selling a pedometer called the Manpo-kei: “man” meaning 10,000, “po” meaning steps and “kei” meaning meter. It was hugely successful and the number seems to have stuck.

BBC .
Garmin Connect app

Readers who know me on social media know I am very big on getting my movement every day. This website originated from my personal dedication to Movement IS Medicine. So am I against pedometers? Not at all, I highly recommend pedometers. Just forget about the 10,000 steps a day.

Let’s look at each of these aspects of our lives separately. First, the calorie conundrum.

2,000 Calories?

My favourite illustration is the car fuel tank versus the human body. My car’s fuel tank capacity is 60 litres. No matter how hard I try, I can’t put more than 60 litres of petrol in that tank. My body? Ohhhh, I can consume as much fuel as I like. I would just keep expanding to store it all!

I have several factors at play:

  • I’m over 65 – age reduces our basal metabolic rate
  • I’m short
  • I have a chronic condition which limits my fuel burn
  • I’m on medications – medications can affect metabolism.

It would take me an hour of weight lifting in the gym on top of my three walks a day and 7,500 total steps to burn slightly over 2,000 calories a day. My usual burn would be 1,800 on a good activity day. On that basis, if I consumed 2,000 calories a day I’d be storing 200 calories a day. A rule of thumb is one kilogram of fat on the body is 7,000 calories, so I’ll let you do the maths on that. Yes, I lift weights and I walk, but not at the intensity required to be building too much lean muscle with that extra 200 calories a day!

In the image above from my Samsung Health app 1,352 calories a day is recommended for me given my age, weight, height and gender. It doesn’t know about my medical conditions or my medications – if it did, it might recommend less! That is 648 calories less that the 2,000 number that gets thrown around with abandon.

My nutritionist recommended 1,400 a day for me, just for comparison.

Everyone is different and we need to tailor our intake for our particular circumstances and output (burn). We also need to be very careful about what we eat as we have less calories to “fit in” the needed nutrients. For example, I aim for 1.5 grams of protein per kilo of body weight per day. The extra protein chews into my calorie allowance.

Those of us with chronic conditions that have a boom/bust aspect do not have the luxury of “burning it off tomorrow” either. We can’t “do extra” or we end up with a flat battery. It is all interwoven.

10,000 Steps?

I aim for 7,500 personally, at this time. A pedometer is a good way of measuring how much we are moving. It is not the number itself that is critical, it is the consistency. Not moving leads to de-conditioning which is not what we want as it has negative impacts on our bodies.

de-conditioning

A pedometer is also useful when it comes to calculating our pacing up. It is an indication of what we have done and therefore helps us calculate what our 10% increase target is. It doesn’t matter if the number is 2,000, 3,000 or 8,000. It is the relatively and consistency that matters.

I talk about steps as part of my movement regime because it is what I and many other people use. There are, of course, also many chronic condition patients who use other movement modalities. The underlying premise remains the same.

Tracking and Recording

I track and record because let’s face it, even healthy people forget they had a muffin at morning tea. Add cognitive impairment on top of that and it is easy to forget what we ate during the day. I’d be hopeless if I didn’t keep track. With only 1,400 calories to play with, I need to make sure I don’t accidentally eat 2,000!

The same with activity/movement. It is easy to think we moved more than we have and over time we find we’ve paced down unintentionally instead of UP. Our pain levels may increase as a result of less movement and more weight. Not what we want at all.

Personalised numbers are needed. Know our BMR, know our limits, work out our personal parameters and targets based on our individual circumstances and bodies: age, gender, height, weight, medications, conditions.

Food scales

Lighten Up to Limber Up

Many people with chronic health conditions are told by their doctor to “lose weight”. Having a chronic condition can mean the weight creeps on, often prior to diagnosis when we don’t know what is wrong, just that we aren’t well. This may continue after we are diagnosed, while we wait for treatment decisions to be made or for treatment to kick in. We may be on a steroid for a while (as I was) which despite the best intentions in the world can result in patients gaining unwanted kilos. Lots of stuff going on that disrupts our normal patterns, can effect our ability to see we are gaining a kilo or two.

How many times do any of us get home from work too tired to cook a proper meal, so we have a toasted cheese sandwich? With Vegemite, of course! Or grab take-away on the way home? Maybe even Vita-wheat, Vegemite and cheese. That’s 232 calories, but not really nutritionally balanced. Doesn’t look too appealing either, to be honest.

Vita-Wheat Vegemite Cheese

In addition, because we don’t feel well, we aren’t exercising enough to compensate for our often less than optimal food choices. We are defeating ourselves from both aspects: too much in, not enough out. We are NOT necessarily able to just ramp up our weights or cardio and burn that cheese sandwich right off. In fact, walking from the car to the lift at work may be as much as we can manage some days. Adjusting to our new activity levels means adjusting to new fuel levels as well.

I can see some readers rolling their eyes already: “I knew she’d get to the weight loss eventually, but I want a coach who isn’t all about the scales“.  Hear me out. Let me assure you I am not all about the scales (actually, I am all about food scales), but I mostly certainly AM about helping my clients attain and maintain a weight that supports their efforts to manage their condition – or conditions. Take a good honest look at my picture below – do I really look like Vogue are going to invite me to appear on their cover next month? Of course not – I am no Australian size 6 – nor do I aspire to be. That photo is 12 months old – taken shortly after my medication change but before I was able to ramp up my own weights, but I have used it deliberately to illustrate the challenge we face.limberation-small-15

What I aspire to is being pain free and in control of my conditions. I’ve achieved that as far as my autoimmune conditions are concerned, but I can still improve my back support (detail later in this article). I am not going to complain if I lose a few more kilograms, but neither am I going to obsess about it. While the lighter I am the less stress there is on my joints, where I am right now I’m more interested in building strength (to support my joints and increase my metabolism (in turn encouraging those kilos to drop off as a nice side benefit).

Make no mistake, when it comes to your health, the risk of developing a range of conditions is dramatically increased if you are overweight or obese (comorbidities associated with obesity are conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer to name just three) . The risk of negative long term health outcomes are higher if you remain overweight or obese. The medical and scientific evidence is overwhelming.

Being overweight increases the load on joints for conditions such as the arthritis family. The heart has to work harder to pump blood around. If you find doing stuff an effort, imagine how hard your internal organs are working. My lumbar spine is not a lumbar spine I would recommend either – as we get older, lots of bits and pieces tend to show wear and tear, irrespective of any conditions we may have. In my case my lumbar spine is a bit unhappy. So core and glute strength is important for me.

At L3/L4 I have “marked facet joint hypertrophy” and a disc bulge. At L4/L5 I have a broad-based disc herniation and facet joint arthropathy. The complete findings run a full page, that’s just a sample. I don’t need or want to place any more stress on my back by making it carry around extra kilograms or not supporting it with good muscle tone. I still have some intermittent pain we suspect may be the result of this wear and tear, but it is improving.

To give your body the best chance of serving you well for the next 20, 30 or 40 years, you need to take care of it. Especially now a medical condition/(s) is making a darn fine effort at undermining your plans. Reduce the strain on the joints, give your heart and lungs a lighter workload, give your body the right fuel in the right amounts.

Speaking of fuel, when you take your car to fill up the tank with petrol or diesel, the fuel tank has a finite capacity. My car has a 60 litre tank. I can’t put 70 litres in the car. Our bodies are a little more flexible. My body will use an estimated 1,388 calories a day to stay alive: breath, pump blood around, blink (refer BMR Calculator below this article). I’m 62, so my metabolism is already slowed just by the fact I’m not longer 20. If I eat more than 1,388 plus whatever my activity calorie burn is but don’t use it, I’ll just expand. Unlike the car’s fuel tank, my body has no capacity limitations. Nor does yours.

Example: 1,388 + 100 for steps for day + 380 for a strength workout = Total 1,868

If I eat 2,200 calories, guess where the excess over 1,868 is going? Fat stores. That puts more stress on my joints, internal organs have to work harder.

Many of the learned articles on overweight/obesity talk in financial terms of the costs to the community and the country. I’m concerned about the personal non-financial costs to YOU, the individual.

I won’t lie to you. Getting into the groove of eating less calories BECAUSE you are burning less calories is a bit tough initially. As I mentioned in my opening paragraph, it may be a while before you even realise your activity levels have dropped or your metabolism may have slowed as a result of your new friend, your condition. We have to adjust to not burning as much as we used to: it requires us to develop new habits, change behaviours: that is hard. But only for the first few weeks. What bothers you more? A difficult few weeks –  or a tough (possibly shortened) rest of your life? The sooner you take positive action, the shorter the road will be.

Am I saying I never have a Murray River Salted Caramel with Macadamia ice cream (my nemesis)?

Connoisseur Murray River Salted Caramel

No, I’m not saying that. I like to have the things I really enjoy every now and then. I am also well aware that “little” indulgence is worth 339 calories. In other words, worth a whole meal (for my calorie levels, you may be able to have more). If I’ve burnt off 400 calories through activity that day, I can indulge and still hit my calorie deficit target. If I’m having a day where for whatever reason I’ve done very little activity, I make sure I am strict with myself. Keep on top of it, because we no longer have the luxury of going for a 40 kilometre bike ride to pull back a couple of naughty days.

All that discussion was without even looking at ensuring we are getting balanced nutrition. Our body is fighting an internal battle for us now – we need to give it the right nutrients (micro and macro) to put up the best fight it can. That’s a whole different topic for another day!

This article should be read as an introduction and conversation starter only. The concepts discussed are general and not tailored for any individual circumstances. Limberation can provide healthy eating support and guidance.

Additional resources:

PwC report, Weighing the Cost of Obesity

BMR Calculator mydr.com.au

BMI Calculator mydr.com.au

Australian Guide to Healthy Eating

Also check the references on the Science Stuff page.