Need help setting my calorie target - breastfeeding and working out

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About me: I'm 8 months postpartum and breastfeeding. My baby LOVES his solids and his milk intake has already started to decrease a touch (based on the bottles I send to daycare). I plan to stop breastfeeding fully in 4 months when he turns 1. I'm 5'2" and pretty muscular. I was steady at 155 lbs pre-pregnancy (but I'd love to see a number more like 135-140). I'm currently about 173 and weight loss has plateaued for months after the initial drop when I had the baby. I go to Crossfit about 5 days/week (burn is ~300 cal according to my Garmin). My Garmin also credits me another 200-400 cal/day based on step count. I work an office job M-F.

I set MFP to "not very active" (the lowest setting) and a goal of 1 lb/week of weight loss. MFP has given me a goal of 1290 cal. However, I'm not sure how to factor in my active calories and breastfeeding calories to get to my true goal. I mean, I know my goal "by the book" should be 1290 + Crossfit burn ~300 + step count burn ~300 + breastfeeding burn ~500 = 2390. But that seems like a LOT.

Just in the past week I've started logging my calories again and paying attention to cutting out the snacky junk food - and I'm coming out to about 1500 cal/day (which means previously with the snacks/extras I was doing closer to 2000/day and clearly not losing). Years ago, I was successful in losing weight around 1300 cal/day (no breastfeeding, but with workouts)...but I was hungry.

So I'm really stuck with what to set as my goal. Maybe 1290+active calories, and let the breastfeeding be bonus deficit? Or the opposite, 1290+breastfeeding and the active calories are bonus deficit? Do I eat all three? Does everyone typically eat their active calories and/or breastfeeding calories?

Replies

  • sijomial
    sijomial Posts: 19,811 Member
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    It's not clear to me if you are intending eating to the MyFitnessPal goal or eating to the Garmin adjusted goal?
    (Either can work, just two different tools to make estimates.)

    Think you are confusing yourself a bit by selecting the MyFitnessPal lowest activity setting when it's clear from your Garmin adjustment that's not accurate. The activity setting has to cover all your non-exercise movement and not just your job. Chances of having a full time job + child care duties being truly sedentary I would hazard a guess are slight.
    MFP only calculates based on the selections you make, make the wrong selections and you get a wrong calculation.

    In principle if you are calorie counting you should be counting (estimating) ALL significant calorie expenditure. Ignoring categories of expenditure is poor estimating as it's guaranteed to be wrong!
    I also don't get the concept of "bonus deficit". If you select a sensible rate of loss (as you have) surely you want to stick to that rather than undercut it?

    Clearly I don't have to factor in breast feeding (!!!) but I'm probably double your age, a bit lighter and regularly eat 4,000+ cals.
    I don't see 2390 as "a lot" - I just see it as a number, maths not emotion.

    In the end you have to pick a tool, trust it enough to give it a decent trial over several weeks and then you will have real world data from which you can adjust based on results over time.
    What I don't think is a good approach is to second-guess the results and deliberately skew (or ignore) the numbers as again that's not a good estimating technique.
  • AnnPT77
    AnnPT77 Posts: 32,741 Member
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    About me: I'm 8 months postpartum and breastfeeding. My baby LOVES his solids and his milk intake has already started to decrease a touch (based on the bottles I send to daycare). I plan to stop breastfeeding fully in 4 months when he turns 1. I'm 5'2" and pretty muscular. I was steady at 155 lbs pre-pregnancy (but I'd love to see a number more like 135-140). I'm currently about 173 and weight loss has plateaued for months after the initial drop when I had the baby. I go to Crossfit about 5 days/week (burn is ~300 cal according to my Garmin). My Garmin also credits me another 200-400 cal/day based on step count. I work an office job M-F.

    I set MFP to "not very active" (the lowest setting) and a goal of 1 lb/week of weight loss. MFP has given me a goal of 1290 cal. However, I'm not sure how to factor in my active calories and breastfeeding calories to get to my true goal. I mean, I know my goal "by the book" should be 1290 + Crossfit burn ~300 + step count burn ~300 + breastfeeding burn ~500 = 2390. But that seems like a LOT.
    Why does that seem like a lot? You're quite active, plus you're breastfeeding.

    I've been in maintenance for 6+ years now, doing the "MFP method" of eating base calories plus carefully estimated exercise calories. That puts me at 2200-ish calories or more most days (1850 plus exercise . . . plus I haven't accounted for the occasional splurge), to maintain a weight in mid-120s pounds, at 5'5", and age 66. I'm admittedly a mysteriously good li'l ol' calorie burner for my demographic, even before exercise, but I'm lighter than you are now, not much taller, waaay older, fully sedentary outside of intentional exercise, and of course not breastfeeding.
    Just in the past week I've started logging my calories again and paying attention to cutting out the snacky junk food - and I'm coming out to about 1500 cal/day (which means previously with the snacks/extras I was doing closer to 2000/day and clearly not losing). Years ago, I was successful in losing weight around 1300 cal/day (no breastfeeding, but with workouts)...but I was hungry.

    So I'm really stuck with what to set as my goal. Maybe 1290+active calories, and let the breastfeeding be bonus deficit? Or the opposite, 1290+breastfeeding and the active calories are bonus deficit? Do I eat all three? Does everyone typically eat their active calories and/or breastfeeding calories?

    I've never been a mom (though I'm female). I've seen other breastfeeding moms here suggest that if they eat at maintenance, milk production "costs" enough calories to amount to about a 500 calorie daily deficit, without risking milk supply. If your little one's milk intake is reducing, it might be a bit slower for you, but that would be one moderate strategy to try for a month or two.

    I don't have an Apple watch, I have a Garmin. Both Garmin & MFP underestimate my base calorie needs, but over the nearly 7 years I've been logging/tracking, I know how much to eat to lose at X rate, or maintain. I always eat all of my exercise calories on top of that base intake, after estimating them thoughtfully (often relying on Garmin's exercise estimates). That has worked fine.
  • KookyKrista
    KookyKrista Posts: 3 Member
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    Thanks so much for the thoughtful response! I really appreciate it.
    Why does that seem like a lot? You're quite active, plus you're breastfeeding.
    Because I'm fairly confident that I haven't been eating nearly that many calories since my baby was born 8 months ago, yet my weight has been rock steady since 6 weeks postpartum - certainly not going down.
    I'm admittedly a mysteriously good li'l ol' calorie burner for my demographic
    And I'm the opposite. I've always been higher than the recommended weight for my height. I know it's partly because I pack on muscle really easily, but I also have a decent helping of padding to go with it. And I already eat fairly healthy (not militant unless I'm specifically calorie counting, but I generally make very good food choices - to the point that others often notice and comment). Yet I'm still...thick.
    I've seen other breastfeeding moms here suggest that if they eat at maintenance, milk production "costs" enough calories to amount to about a 500 calorie daily deficit, without risking milk supply.
    What makes this hard is I don't think breastfeeding is as simple as CICO. I think there are a lot of hormonal things at play here too. With my first baby, my weight certainly didn't fall off, but I did lose at a better pace than with #2. I noticed that for me, my weight loss picked up as my baby increased solids and the demand for milk went down. I think that for some women, there's a big caloric expenditure involved in making milk. But for others, the hormones have the opposite effect - the body evolutionarily wants to store up as much energy as possible to protect against future famine (so that baby can still be fed). I think my body is the latter - breastfeeding causes me to cling to weight.
    I don't have an Apple watch, I have a Garmin. Both Garmin & MFP underestimate my base calorie needs, but over the nearly 7 years I've been logging/tracking, I know how much to eat to lose at X rate, or maintain. I always eat all of my exercise calories on top of that base intake, after estimating them thoughtfully (often relying on Garmin's exercise estimates). That has worked fine.
    Good to know that Garmin seems to be somewhat accurate for estimating calorie burn from activity!
  • KookyKrista
    KookyKrista Posts: 3 Member
    edited March 2022
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    It's not clear to me if you are intending eating to the MyFitnessPal goal or eating to the Garmin adjusted goal?
    (Either can work, just two different tools to make estimates.)

    Think you are confusing yourself a bit by selecting the MyFitnessPal lowest activity setting when it's clear from your Garmin adjustment that's not accurate. The activity setting has to cover all your non-exercise movement and not just your job. Chances of having a full time job + child care duties being truly sedentary I would hazard a guess are slight.
    MFP only calculates based on the selections you make, make the wrong selections and you get a wrong calculation.
    Well, that's what I'm trying to figure out. I've seen recommendations to set MFP to sedentary and then let Garmin calculate the actual energy burn. I've also seen people say to set MFP to a real estimate of activity level and then disregard the adjustment coming in from fitness tracker. You're right, I'm certainly not actually sedentary (well, more so during work hours but I'm otherwise active working out, wrangling little kids, trying to keep my house from getting condemned, trying to keep the aforementioned kids fed, etc.
    I also don't get the concept of "bonus deficit". If you select a sensible rate of loss (as you have) surely you want to stick to that rather than undercut it?
    Well...I wouldn't mind actually losing more like 1.5-2 lbs/week. But when I set that in MFP, it defaults to setting the baseline calorie goal to 1200 (which makes sense if the app thinks I'm actually sedentary, but makes it harder to use Garmin's actual activity level estimates). And I guess it provides a little cushion for the odd french fry I eat off my kid's plate or the small dollop of half & half in my coffee.
    I don't see 2390 as "a lot" - I just see it as a number, maths not emotion.
    And I'm also a logical person like this. I'm an engineer. I love math. I love decision-making devoid of emotion - that's my jam. I also know from past experience that for me, the weight just doesn't go anywhere unless I'm at a pretty low calorie target. Years ago, I managed to lose 10-15 lbs over 6 months at a similar (or higher) exercise level but only at 1300 cal/day. That's why the idea of eating nearly double the calories seems dubious.
    In the end you have to pick a tool, trust it enough to give it a decent trial over several weeks and then you will have real world data from which you can adjust based on results over time.
    What I don't think is a good approach is to second-guess the results and deliberately skew (or ignore) the numbers as again that's not a good estimating technique.
    You're right, I should really just pick a number and see how it goes. I'm just impatient at this point. Disappointed that despite generally good habits, the weight seems stuck (slower than after my first baby, which was also definitely not speedy). And I've been reticent until now to actively reduce calories by a whole lot as I didn't want it to affect my milk supply - but as I mentioned, baby is doing well on solids and the weaning process has started, so I feel more comfortable taking that risk now. After 9 months of pregnancy and 8 months postpartum, I'm very anxious to look and feel more normal and like, fit into a blazer again. The idea of taking more time to "trial" a goal annoys me - I just want to know what number will give me results and then focus my efforts on hitting that number so that I can finally make progress.
  • sijomial
    sijomial Posts: 19,811 Member
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    " I've seen recommendations to set MFP to sedentary and then let Garmin calculate the actual energy burn. I've also seen people say to set MFP to a real estimate of activity level and then disregard the adjustment coming in from fitness tracker."

    I'd pick apart some of these recommendations!
    Picky, picky, picky me! :smiley:

    Setting to sedentary is clearly the right choice when someone is sedentary.
    Setting to sedentary when someone isn't sedentary is a choice when someone only wants to get positive adjustments. I can see the motivational side of that to move more.
    Setting to your best estimate of what your activity level results in smaller adjustments but the final number remains the same whatever base number you pick.

    Ignoring adjustments seems an odd way to use a tool to me but averaging out activity multipliers can work fine. Just like MFP averages it out, just like TDEE calculators average it out (they also average out your exercise unlike trackers and MFP).
    All different techniques to estimate the same elements of your total calorie needs.

    Even pinning down an accurate number can of course be derailed in terms of results by inaccurate logging with your food logging being far more significant due to the size of the numbers concerned.
  • AnnPT77
    AnnPT77 Posts: 32,741 Member
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    Thanks so much for the thoughtful response! I really appreciate it.
    Why does that seem like a lot? You're quite active, plus you're breastfeeding.
    Because I'm fairly confident that I haven't been eating nearly that many calories since my baby was born 8 months ago, yet my weight has been rock steady since 6 weeks postpartum - certainly not going down.
    I'm admittedly a mysteriously good li'l ol' calorie burner for my demographic
    And I'm the opposite. I've always been higher than the recommended weight for my height. I know it's partly because I pack on muscle really easily, but I also have a decent helping of padding to go with it. And I already eat fairly healthy (not militant unless I'm specifically calorie counting, but I generally make very good food choices - to the point that others often notice and comment). Yet I'm still...thick.
    I've seen other breastfeeding moms here suggest that if they eat at maintenance, milk production "costs" enough calories to amount to about a 500 calorie daily deficit, without risking milk supply.
    What makes this hard is I don't think breastfeeding is as simple as CICO. I think there are a lot of hormonal things at play here too. With my first baby, my weight certainly didn't fall off, but I did lose at a better pace than with #2. I noticed that for me, my weight loss picked up as my baby increased solids and the demand for milk went down. I think that for some women, there's a big caloric expenditure involved in making milk. But for others, the hormones have the opposite effect - the body evolutionarily wants to store up as much energy as possible to protect against future famine (so that baby can still be fed). I think my body is the latter - breastfeeding causes me to cling to weight.
    CICO, the calorie burn equation, is just a specific instantiation of the basic laws of physics. It's not possible to make energy from nothing. A given level of bodily activity requires a certain level of energy in order to happen. "Bodily activity" is a loaded term, though.

    I agree that human bodies are complicated and dynamic, which makes it difficult - especially in certain cases - to set a calorie goal and count calorie intake, estimate activity calories, and arrive at a hoped-for weight management result. Hormonal influences are surely one aspect of that, and that post-partum period certainly has some special twists and turns hormonally. It's very possible, even, that those hormonal details will differ from one new mom to the next.

    Given that, I'm entirely willing to believe that for you, your weight stays stubbornly stable at relatively low calorie levels, and could behave differently post-partum than previously. Where I'm skeptical is that "body wants to store up energy" hypothesis. I'm not saying it wouldn't try to do that, I'm saying it's (one way or another) going to comply with the calorie balance equation, because that's just physics.

    Hormonal effects on weight (like side effects of medications) tend to operate through one more more of the following mechanisms:

    * Fatigue, so calories out are decreased. This can be quite subtle. Even habitual fidgeting vs. not fidgeting can account for low hundreds of calories daily difference between two otherwise similar people, according to research. I'd put adaptive thermogenesis somewhat more generally in this category, the effect where the body conserves calorie expenditure by down-regulating less vital-to-life bodily processes like hair and nail growth, body temperature (by a little, so one might feel cold more often), etc. Reducing spontaneous movement (such as fidgeting) is a specific and not health-risking instance of that effect. (At severe calorie deficits, the body will do some pretty dysfunctional things in a desperate attempt to stay alive, but I don't think you're anywhere near that. Minor changes are possible, though.)

    * Appetite. This is a tough one. From experience, I know that when not calorie counting, my portions (or size/frequency of graze-y snacks) tend to creep, even without a noticeable hunger trigger. Small differences, especially in calorie-dense items that might be craved under hormonal pressures to seek energy, can add up fast. Obviously, responding in small, perhaps unnoticed ways, to hormone-triggered appetite cues - that increases average calorie intake. People who are calorie counting tightly can usually see these effects, maybe counter them. Loose-counting, such as estimating portions, it can be harder. I'm not saying anyone absolutely needs to calorie-count rigidly. All I'm saying is that portion/snack creep can fly under the radar.

    * Water retention. This is kind of obvious: It's not fat, but it affects body weight. I don't know much about post-partum hormones, but on the same style of reasoning you cite, it would seem like in breast-feeding women, holding a bit more water than usual, rather than urinating it out, would be a support to milk supply. (It's also a thing that happens during healing/recovery, but at 8 months PP, you're probably fairly fully healed?) Water retention makes scale weight a misleading guide for fat loss, which is what most of us really want from "weight loss", I think. From experience (not with childbirth), I know that water retention can increase, increasing scale weight, hang around for months at a time. (That happens to me when I resume strength training after a long break: I add a few pounds of water weight, hang onto them until I stop strength training routinely.) From reading, I gather there can also be forms of water retention that creep on, even hide fat loss, for surprisingly long time periods. I've read about that as a potential physical/psychological stress response, not as a post-partum issue, just to be clear; but it is believed to be hormonal.)

    So, that was a long-winded way to say it could be worth thinking through what you believe the mechanisms for "the body storing up energy" might be, that could be at work here, because that can bear on what you might try as you go forward. The calorie balance equation - physics - has to apply, but the ways that it applies are far from simple.

    In one sense, it's an engineering-like question, but you're sort of black-box testing a dynamic system, one where intake affects output (among many other complexities) not a fixed input/output device; and the standard output measure (scale weight) may be a distorted proxy measure (for fat weight).

    I don't have an Apple watch, I have a Garmin. Both Garmin & MFP underestimate my base calorie needs, but over the nearly 7 years I've been logging/tracking, I know how much to eat to lose at X rate, or maintain. I always eat all of my exercise calories on top of that base intake, after estimating them thoughtfully (often relying on Garmin's exercise estimates). That has worked fine.
    Good to know that Garmin seems to be somewhat accurate for estimating calorie burn from activity![/quote]

    I'd endorse what sijomial wrote above: The choice of activity level, when synching a tracker, is about how a specific person prefers to get adjustments. Setting MFP at best-estimate activity levels will tend to result in some positive/some negative adjustments; setting at sedentary (if more active than that in reality) will result in bigger mostly positive adjustments. I'd always encourage a person synching a tracker to enable negative adjustments, so that the adjustments will tend to correct in either direction - whether more active or less active than the activity level estimate in MFP.

    For most people with a good brand/model tracker, that's a really good place to start, to estimate calorie needs. It relies on the same types of formulas as do MFP, TDEE calculators, etc., but applies them in a much more nuanced, personalized way.

    Most people are close to average, in the ways that are relevant to this type of estimating. A few will be less average, somewhere out toward the tails of the bell curve, either high or low. A very rare few will be quite far from average, so the device won't be close. (I'm sure, as an engineer, you're aware of how the statistics around normal distributions apply. Base calorie expenditure - BMR/RMR - tend to a relatively small standard deviation, i.e., tall narrow bell curve. Activity levels can be a bit more complicated, but "averageness" is still what the trackers are estimating at.)

    IMO, the big question mark for you, when it comes to your Garmin's all-day estimate, is the breast-feeding, which the average person absolutely isn't doing. (You could be non-average in other ways, too, of course.) Apart from that, I'd certainly encourage you to use Garmin as your starting point.

    For any calorie estimate, experienced folks around here usually recommend that a person adopt a specific regimen - way of estimating exercise/activity, way of estimating/measuring food intake - and follow it consistently for 4-6 weeks (whole menstrual cycles, for those to whom that applies, because - obviously - hormone-mediated water weight shifts can mislead more, when comparing bodyweight at different relative points in the cycle). With several weeks of that n=1 experiment, it will usually become pretty obvious whether the estimates are reasonably close for that person, or need to be adjusted, as well as what a sensible adjustment might be.

    Personally, I like this "personal science fair experiment" aspect of it. For you, it might be a bit of a busman's holiday, but I'm sure as an engineer you have the math, measurement, and statistical skills to make that kind of approach more straightforward than it is for many people.

    I don't synch my Garmin tracker because its all-day estimates are far off for me, but I think that's more about me being non-average than the tracker estimating poorly in a generic sense. From "talking" with others here, the same brand/model is quite close for them. I still use it for exercise estimates in some cases because . . . what other option is there? (I do use other methods of estimating exercise calories for things for which I think there's a better source, usually a METS-based or watts-based one in those specific cases).