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I've been using the Lose It! iPhone app for a few months now and it seems I'm pretty consistently well under my daily calorie budget, even on days when I'm very careful to get the measurements right. By several hundred calories actually.

My stats:

Age: 24
Height: 5'8"
Weight: 150 lb

The app estimates I should get 2121 Cal per day to lose 0.5 lb per week (not that I need it). Also, I haven't lost weight in the past 3 months, despite being under my calorie budget. However, I work out (weight lifting) about 2 or 3 times a week, so I may just be replacing fat with muscle.

Anyway, some days my fiancée is concerned or even annoyed by how seemingly low my calories are. I'm not starving myself at all, and I don't feel hungry at the end of the day. So I'm wondering what's going on here - am I measuring wrong, or maybe my daily budget is wrong? Am I risking my health in any way?

Here's yesterday's food log:

Orange: 52 Cal
Banana: 105 Cal
Fzn Lunch: 300 Cal
Pretzels: 167 Cal
6 oz Mahi: 185 Cal
1 Artichoke: 60 Cal
1/2 Mango: 70 Cal
1 Bag Popcorn: 99 Cal
Light Yogurt: 80 Cal
More Pretzels: 83 Cal
Few Almonds: 34 Cal
Another Yogurt: 100 Cal

Total: 1,337 - 784 under budget. And yes, I'm totally 1337.

On the surface it looks crazy. But honestly, it's mostly because we don't usually eat a starch with dinner, because we snack on carbs (like pretzels, popcorn, cereal) a lot instead. There are of course some days where it's not as bad, where I go out to a restaurant or something, but even then I'd still be like 200 under budget. So far today, I'm at 1,206 Cal eaten, and I'm about to go work out (I'll eat a bit more after). If I wanted to hit my budget most days, I think I'd have to snack way more than normal, and I feel like I'd start gaining fat if I did. So what's the deal here?

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closed as off topic by Ivo Flipse Feb 22 '12 at 18:29

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+1 for being such an elite calorie-logger! – Ivo Flipse May 12 '11 at 0:18
You might not be eating enough calories to keep your metabolism going to be able to lose weight. Your BMI is also in the Normal range, so I don't know that you really "need" to lose weight. – Chris Pietschmann May 12 '11 at 3:09
@Chris I'm not really saying I want to lose weight. I'm just saying that I'm staying constant despite the low number of calories, and I wonder if I should be increasing my intake, or if I'm fine where I am. – Tesserex May 12 '11 at 3:48
up vote 3 down vote accepted

When losing weight, there are several things that can go on to cause a stall in progress. The body is remarkably good at maintaining weight, so you have to fool it into doing what you want. I'm going to list common problems and an additional way to track your progress that will be much more telling:

  • Not eating enough calories. It sounds counter-intuitive, but when the body isn't getting enough calories it goes into "starvation mode", and holds on to what it has all the more strongly.
  • Insufficient protein. You should have at least .5g per pound of lean body weight (i.e. the weight you would be without fat). If you don't have enough protein, your body will start burning your muscle and fat together when it runs out of glucose in the blood. You need the muscle mass to continue burning fat efficiently.
  • Gaining muscle. Since a pound of muscle takes up much less room than a pound of fat, if you gain muscle while losing fat the scale might not move--but your waist size will get smaller.
  • Irregular bowel movements. Your colon can trap several pounds of feces (yuck), and if you have constipation you can't get rid of that weight.

So to properly track your diet, make sure you are having one bowel movement a day, and track the following along with your weight:

  • Waist size. Around the belly button
  • Hip size. At the widest point
  • Chest size. At the biggest point
  • Arm size. Relaxed, but bent arm measure the circumference of the bicep at it's largest point.
  • Women: thigh size/Men: neck size. Relaxed, measure the thigh/neck in the middle.

These are all places fat tends to gather, or are used in body fat estimators. So, by tracking the sizes of these say monthly (no more frequently than weekly) you should see the sizes get smaller. Add up the differences at each of the sites and that's how many inches you have lost. In my book inches lost is more important than pounds on a scale.

Now, the .5g/pound lean body weight is a minimum for someone with a sedentary lifestyle. If you have an active job, you may need to increase it proportionally (use a limit of 1g/pound lean body weight to start with). Weight lifters will probably go above this, but if you are a runner or do endurance sports it should be plenty. Just be sure to add an additional source of protein right after your workout to help the muscles rebuild themselves. This is in addition to your daily allowance. You want to at least maintain your muscle mass, if not increase it.

Just a note about the recommended calorie allowance: those are estimated based on your Basal Metabolic Rate. Without getting that properly tested they are using some math to calculate what it should be based on what they think your fat free mass (lean body weight) is. The simplest calculation to get in the ballpark is the BMI which is simply taking your weight in pounds and dividing by your height in inches. It's close enough for government work, but not when you are trying to shave off a couple pounds.

Recommendation: Feed yourself the recommended calorie allowance your app tells you. Don't arbitrarily cut a lot of calories out. If you are gaining weight, decrease the recommended calorie allowance by 200. If you are maintaining, decrease by 100. If you are losing, leave it alone. Re-evaluate yourself weekly. Your BMR changes as your muscle mass changes. If you are constipated, use something like milk of magnesia or magnesium citrate to get things moving again. Re-evaluate your fiber intake.

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