Why Am I Eating Like a Girl?
March 14, 2010 10:51 AM   Subscribe

I'm trying to lose weight inside the normal BMI range. Am I eating too little?

I'm a twenty-something male who has recently started paying more attention to eating. My goal: to lose the potbelly. My problem: I'm confused about the number of calories I'm supposed to be consuming daily.

I weigh 75 kg (165 pounds) and I'm 180 cm (6 ft.) tall, so my Body Mass Index is comfortably in the range of normal. However, over the course of a few academically stressful years I have gained almost ten kilos worth of extra fat and a noticeble belly, courtesy of my family genes. I look exactly like these guys; pretty skinny apart from the mass in the middle. Although it's not realistic to aim for the weight I had held steadily since puberty, some of this gut must go.

Estimated Basal Metabolic Rate for a guy of my size is about 1800 kcal not including calories needed for regular everyday activities. The online food diary service I'm using (and using religiously, I might add) recommends me to eat at least 2230 kcal per day. This would put me at an energy deficit of roughly 500 kcal which is pretty much the standard for sustainable weight loss, I understand.

The problem is that these figures seem pretty big to me. I have only been keeping the food diary for a few weeks but I don't think I've ever gotten as high as 2200 kcal a day. Some days I've felt completely satisfied at 1500 kcal, and I'm quite sure I'm doing my numbers right. I use a kitchen scale for my own cooking and when I have to guesstimate the amounts (such as when eating at an university cafeteria) I try to mentally round up rather than down.

So my questions are: Is it normal to feel content at 1600 to 1800 Calories per day? Should I expect uncontrollable hunger pangs to kick in eventually? Am I in starvation mode (if such a thing even exists)? Am I harming or benefiting my weight loss in the long term by having this large a deficit? Could the recommendations simply be off in my case?

Scientific and anecdotal answers are both welcome, although the former might put my mind at ease more quickly. This mismatch between how much I feel comfortable eating and how much I'm told to eat is making me quite anxious. I don't want eating to become a stress factor for me.

Possibly relevant background info: I am a full-time university student with a pretty sedentary lifestyle, although I'm definitely picking up running again now that the spring is coming. Apart from not minding too much about saturated fat, I'm pretty much following the South Beach Diet guidelines. (Kalyn's Kitchen is among my favourite food blogs). I'm not feeling like I'm any diet, though, but eating sensibly, watching my carb intake and preferring low GI foods.

I must note that although I have always eaten small portions, I am also susceptible to sugary cravings. My extra pounds are more likely from mindless snacking and comfort eating that portion control issues, although my memories from those awful years are hazy at best. Cutting down on carbs has helped with the sugar habit somewhat but could eating too little have an impact, too?
posted by Orchestra to Health & Fitness (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
In my experience, if you're on a sensible, long-term, calorie-controlled diet you shouldn't feel particularly hungry. It's pretty easy to get enough bulk to keep you feeling full and still maintain a calorie deficit. People who are hungry all the time on their diets are generally doing silly fad diets with far too big a calorie deficit.

But everybody's metabolism and lifestyle is different. So, there's no real substitute for weighing yourself. (Not too often: once a week for a month will do, and it may fluctuate randomly by a couple of pounds each time).
posted by TheophileEscargot at 11:40 AM on March 14, 2010

Forestalling: actually body fat measurements and such might be a substitute for weighing yourself. But you do need some way to objectively monitor what's happening to your body.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 11:44 AM on March 14, 2010

It is absolutely normal to feel satiated at 1600 calories and I dont think your starving yourself. However, a better way to look at your diet might be to focus on eating whole and nutritious foods - mostly plants. Try to eat more fresh fruit, vegetables, and filling foods - you'll almost never hit the high calorie numbers but you will be sustaining your body. Eat when you feel hungry and follow your body's natural hunger cues. I think the calorie thing has its pluses and minuses. It's more helpful when someone is significantly over their goal weight with over 50 lbs to lose.

If I were you, I would focus on cleaning up your diet more than counting calories. You already portion control but you mentioned mindless snacking - try to focus on adding more wholesome snacks to your diet that leave you feeling fuller/satiated. And then add cardio and strength training to lose the excess fat and put on muscle.
posted by icy at 12:02 PM on March 14, 2010

I absolutely agree with both of you. Many of my newfound staples are low caloric density foods such as veggies, beans, lentils, lean chicken and various soups. I can pack a huge amount of delicious, nutritious food in the 1600 to 1700 calories I'm consuming daily.

When I talk about my situation on a weight loss forum I get a lot of OMGYOUARESTARVING attitudes and the stock answer to any of my concerns seems to be that what I'm doing is not sustainable for a man and sooner or later I'm going to revert back to eating crap to fill the deficit. I'd like to think I'm right and they are wrong but I'm also scared of messing up my metabolism by eating like an Okinawan midget.

In the few weeks I've been paying extra attention to my eating and weight I've noticed that I've lost little under a kilogram but it's oviously still way too early to tell if this pace will keep up. Concentrating on the quality of food, regular meal times and ample exercise surely won't hurt.

How much do folks' metabolisms vary, anyway? The tittle of this thread is only half joking. If I were a woman with the same height and weight, my recommended energy intake would be much closer to what I'm eating right now. And my arms are certainly girly...
posted by Orchestra at 12:45 PM on March 14, 2010

I was just talking with my sister, who is a nutritionist and personal trainer. I have several tips that helped me.

Drink lowfat (1%) milk to keep hunger pangs at bay. She has read several studies that show lowfat milk helps cut down on body fat, especially in the belly region for some reason.

I personally like muscle milk LIGHT (yes i know it is not milk and doesn't contain any dairy). I just like it for a great source of protein and very little calories. It's basically like slimfast but has more protein and fiber but doesn't have any sugar. Check amazon, they usually have any flavor you can think of and are reasonably priced.

Try the 100 push-ups and 200 sit-ups in 6 weeks challenge to help with the potbelly.

Cinnamon has proven to keep your blood sugar from spiking so I've added it to a lot of my recipes. It's especially great on chicken.

To get to your original question 1800 isn't too low for someone your size. I'm 6'2" 210 and she recommended I keep my intake between 2000-2200 and stay physically active. 1600 is getting a little low and your body might start to try and conserve some of that energy and store it in the form of fat. You don't want to slow your metabolism too much.
posted by no bueno at 1:37 PM on March 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's hard to judge exactly how many calories an individual burns. It depends on how much exercise you do, how tall and broad you are, how much muscle you have, even how much you fidget.

It might be worth joining a gym or buying some dumb-bells and doing some weight training. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn.

Also a pot belly doesn't look as bad if you have some muscle mass to go with it. It gets harder and harder to look skinny as you get older: you may find yourself finding a losing battle if you keep trying to maintain your old look indefinitely. But you're at a good time to start building more muscle.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 1:38 PM on March 14, 2010

The number of calories you require to maintain your current weight depends not only on your weight and height but also on your body fat percentage. Muscle weight requires more calories on a daily basis than the same weight of fat does. If you know your body fat percentage, search online for the "mcardle BMR calculator" which will give you a better indication of how many calories you need daily - and hence can help you calculate how many calories you need to lose weight. (NB: the BMR gives you the amount of calories you need before doing anything in a day - you need to scale it up depending on your activity levels)

If your body fat level is high, you may want to try and build more muscle, as this could help reduce your pot belly (less fat + more muscle = better body shape), while also allowing you to eat more without putting on weight.

As to why you're not feeling hungry, it sounds like that could be because you're eating a lot more fruit and veg. As long as they're not cooked in fat, they tend to be high fibre (filling) but have few calories. Ditto for soup.

So, IANAD, but I wouldn't worry too much as long as you aren't feeling tired or fatigued - if you are, you may need to try eating more!
posted by finding.perdita at 2:46 PM on March 14, 2010

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