A Commentary on Overly Restrictive Dieting

Bear with me while I lay out some numbers here…

Daily recommended intakes for various (macro)nutrients:

MALES – CARBS – 130 grams/day
MALES – FIBER – avg. 34 grams/day
MALES 9 to 18 years – FAT – 25 to 35 grams/day
MALES 19+ years – FAT – 20 to 35 grams/day
MALES – PROTEIN – avg. 51 grams/day
(This number varies hugely based on activity level and fitness goals.)
MALES 18 to 25 years, mod. active – CALORIES – 2800 per day
MALES 18 years, active – CALORIES – 3200 per day
MALES 19 to 25 years, active – CALORIES 3000 per day
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FEMALES – CARBS – 130 grams/day
FEMALES – FIBER – avg. 24 grams/day
FEMALES 9 to 18 years – FAT – 25 to 35 grams/day
FEMALES 18+ years – FAT – 20 to 35 grams/day
FEMALES – PROTEIN – avg. 44 grams/day
(This number varies hugely based on activity level and fitness goals.)
FEMALES 18 years, mod. active – CALORIES – 2000 per day
FEMALES 19 to 25 years, mod. active – CALORIES – 2200 per day
FEMALES 18 to 25, active – CALORIES – 2400 per day

Daily recommended intakes for various food groups:

MALES – FRUIT – avg. 2 cups per day
MALES – VEGETABLES – avg. 2 4/5 cups per day
MALES – GRAINS – avg. 7 ounces per day
MALES – PROTEIN – avg. 6 ounces per day
MALES – DAIRY – avg. 3 cups per day
MALES – OILS – avg. 5 1/3 teaspoons per day
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FEMALES – FRUIT – avg. 1 2/3 cups per day
FEMALES – VEGETABLES – avg. 2 1/3 cups per day
FEMALES – GRAINS – avg. 5 2/3 ounces per day
FEMALES – PROTEIN – avg. 5 ounces per day
FEMALES – DAIRY – avg. 3 cups per day
FEMALES – OILS – avg. 5 1/3 teaspoons per day

So what’s the point of all the numbers?

Well, they demonstrate the very simple fact that we, as humans, NEED a certain amount of various different things to maintain healthy function. Now, this doesn’t mean that we’ll just break down and die if we don’t match or exceed those numbers. It just means that in order to be a healthy individual, those are the amounts we should strive to consume, and if we are looking to eat in a deficit or a surplus, then we should base that increase or decrease on our unique daily recommendations. However, somewhere along the line I think a lot of people lost sight of the sentiment that we should be eating to FUEL our bodies. Rather than focusing on getting ENOUGH of each food group and macronutrient it became about LIMITING intakes for a lot of people. Fat, carbs, and calories became enemies rather than nutrients. Things like “zero carb,” "GMO free," "all natural," "sugar free," and "paleo" have become popular, people have started paying more attention to nutrition labels, many restaurants have started listing the calorie content of certain meals/drinks on their menus, the “100 calorie” packs of various snack foods hit the shelves, etc.

What’s the bottom line in all these practices? Don’t eat too many calories! Limit your intake of fat and carbs! Restrict, restrict, restrict! And what’s the POINT of these practices and their bottom lines? LOOSE WEIGHT. FAST. These are many of the false claims we have to watch out for on magazine covers, on fitness websites, maybe even on our facebook newsfeeds, and in fitness advertisements everywhere. These are the kind of claims that promote ridiculously low calorie, low carb, or low fat diets, or even worse - fad diets. But let me let you in on a little secret, that’s really not so secret…

It is wildly unhealthy to hugely limit any one nutrient.

Eating a low/no carb, fat, or calorie diet is actually not healthy. While you may lose weight initially on diets like this, they are incredibly hard to maintain because of their strict nature and their effects on metabolism. Rather than focusing on excessive restriction or largely eliminating one macronutrient or food group, diets should focus on balance. 

You should count your calories/carbs/fat/protein in reference to a daily recommended amount. That amount can either be generated from a calculator, or you can trust the federal recommendations I listed above. Either way, the amount of calories YOU need to lose or gain weight will be unique to YOU. Don’t trust anything that tells you to eat 500, 1000, or 1500 calories a day. I would suggest keeping track of your nutritional intakes for a few weeks just to get an idea of what you currently consume, and go from there in deciding what changes you want to make. And above everything, trust what your body tells you… Eat when you’re hungry. Eat what you want, and if it’s on the unhealthy side just remember to eat it in moderation.

Diets have to be enjoyable otherwise they will be difficult to stick to, and as a result, the weight will be hard to keep off. Moderation is key. Calorie counting is not, no-fat diets are not, low carb diets are not. A healthy balance of everything is what will get you to where to want to be, and that healthy balance will be unique to you.

I wish you the best of luck in whatever your diet/exercise/fitness goals may be, and I hope you’ll heed this simple piece of advice; eat your calories, don’t count them.

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Sources used for this entry:
Recommended caloric intakes:
Recommended carbs, fiber, fat, and protein intakes:
Additional sources for carbs, fiber, fat, and protein:
DRI fruits:
DRI veggies:
DRI grains:
DRI protein:
DRI dairy:
DRI oils: