Monday, April 18, 2011

A Nice Healthy 200 Calorie Meal...

I am just noticing some discrepancies in nutritional math.

Much to the irony of my liberal arts education, I currently spend most of my work day doing math. Rates, percentages, some mid level algebra, spotting patterns-these were not things that I was good at growing up. But as I am required to do math at work, I have gotten better at it. And now I would say that I am a spot on pattern detector. I have a good sense for when numbers don’t add up (figuratively and literally). And I understand fully that in business, you can make numbers say anything.

If you operate by the assumption that one should eat three meals a day with maybe one small snack (or better yet no snack) You should have no more than four eating opportunities during the day. I am going to go with this number for the sake of the exercise, even though we know that things like dessert creep in. If we believe that 1800-2000 calories are the target for an average day, those calories should probably be split out fairly evenly, right?? Let’s say that 90% of calories should come from meals and 10% from that snack you eat. Of 2000 calories, that means 200 calories for snacking and 1800 calories for meals. If each meal is even, then that means 600 calories for each meal.

On one hand, this is not a lot of calories in each meal when one considers the amount of 1000 and 1200 calorie meals available at fast foods restaurants daily. With so many people eating huge portion of fat heavy foods, obesity is the natural result. But when one considers that 3.6 ounces of beef tenderloin with some fat left on the cut is only 275 calories, that a baked potato is also 275 calories and a cup of broccoli is about 85 calories-that is a good sized meal for 635 calories! I don’t think I would walk away hungry from that table. And not every one of my meals is 600 calories. Lunch might be less, making room for some butter and yogurt on my potato at night. So my conclusion is, 1800-2200 calories a day is probably sufficient for me to be satiated.

So why on earth do I see dieticians and nutritionists (and websites and morning talk shows and people in my office and other bloggers…) recommending 200 and 300 calorie meals??!!! And why do people think that eating one 150 calorie serving of breakfast cereal is enough to keep you feeling good and full?? I get it, dieters need to cut back in order to lose weight, but come on! Anyone can see that such severe calorie restriction leads to binge eating. Consuming a 200 calorie breakfast would have me panhandling snacks from my co-workers before 10am. And if you have 3 300 calorie snacks meals and a 100 calorie snack for your whole day, you have eaten a whopping 1000 calories in a day. How long do you think you could last on that diet? Do people who need to lose some weight think that a normal person is supposed to eat that little? How disconnected are we?

When I see people thinking that healthy eating means severe calorie restriction, my heart bleeds for them. We have become so far removed from what real food is that people are AFRAID to eat. And what a shame because food is wonderful. But we all know, all calories are not created equal. And calories in do not equal calories out. But real (simple) food is naturally lower in calories than fried tater tots and hot dogs, and of course higher in nutrients, vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, etc. It keeps you fuller longer. So you can eat a greater volume of food and weigh less. While I love the political and nutritional aspects of food, and I love examining the ethics of sustainability and family farming, the truth is, I just want to eat more while being healthy and looking good

This post is Part of Simple Lives Thursday at GNOWFLINS and Sustainable Eats

and Fresh Bites Friday at Real Food Whole Health


  1. I agree. Even as someone who is in the category of "needs to lose weight" I was flabberghasted(sp?) when I saw a commercial for soup boasting that it only had 100 calories and sneering at the other options that had like 200 or 300 calories, acting like that was SO MUCH. I couldn't believe. I know that the minute I start reducing calories, I feel less satieted emotionally even if it's a reasonable amount of calories. But when I over-do it and cut way back then I just get dizzy and crazy and do indeed follow my period of too little with a period of way too much. It's best to cut back slowly by small amounts and let your body adjust bit by bit. But I also have come to believe that quality matters more than quanity. Lean Cuisines are small and empty (nutritionally speaking) A salad with avocado and veggies or a piece of grilled beef amd a small baked potato for dinner might be more calories, but it would hold me till breakfast and mean less need or desire for ice cream and cookies after.


  2. Intersting that you posted this today. I have recently come to the conclusion that I'm sick and tired of counting calories, counting points, and just basically thinking constantly about what I'm eating (and constantly feeling guilty about what I'm eating...cause heaven forbid I eat a high fat avocado!). I've come to the conclusion that I just need to eat good food and enjoy it. It will make me happier in the end. If I lose weight, that will be a bonus.

  3. I was thinking something similar this weekend as I was reading my new issue of Cooking Light. The article was focused on women who didn't eat breakfast, for whatever reason, and included suggestions for "quick, easy and satisfying breakfasts". The suggestions that got me really jazzed were frozen yogurt, oatmeal with Coffeemate (do they not realize that fat free Coffeemate is just oil and sugar??? Who are the scientists/critical thinkers who decided this was a good thing...) stirred in it, and muffins. Friggin' muffins! It drives me nuts when people tout muffins at this super health food, but most of the time it's a glorified cupcake. These recipes were no different- 150-200 calories per muffin, with tons of sugar and white flour. The highest fiber recipe they provided was...drumroll..2 grams! And that's with 20g added sugar. Puh-leeze, that damn cupcake-muffin would keep me full for about the time it takes to respond to 2 emails at work in the AM. No thanks- I think I'll stick with my 400 calorie staple of sprouted english muffin with almond butter, and a serving of fruit.

  4. @ Shuree, doing this blog and asking the questions I have has DEFINITELY helped me to stop counting points and calories and start enjoying my food more. I totally hear you! Sometimes we don't realize that to lose weight you actually have to start eating MORE. And never avoid avacado. It is a travesty that avacado has gotten such a bad rap.

    @ Liz, LOL! I love you! You hit the nail on the head! I share your disdain. There are sooooo many bad recipes out there and so much bad advice for dieters. If people just eliminated foods with added sugar/ HFCS and deep fried items everyone could probably eat more and lose weight. My heart really goes out to folks struggling to lose weight.

  5. Will you be posting about your delicious home made tortillas? Yum! -DH

    Great post, btw...

  6. Interesting information. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Good to post on calories, Mrs. O'Brien.

    It's time for the world to understand that the ability to shed bodyfat is a product of Health. 'Health = homeostasis = all of the body's systems are functioning like a finely-tuned orchestra and regulating the body (all directed by the master regulator, the Autonomic Nervous System).

    Put another way, optimal hormone balance and regulation will support an environment that burns body fat 'effortlessly' and rapidly.

    Focus on building health -- as opposed to focusing on calories -- and the body will go exactly where it wants to go relevant to fat loss.