There are many different approaches to effectively lose weight. While many diet fads and magic pills claim you can “eat whatever you want” and still lose weight, this is not exactly the case. Correctly tracking and counting calories is an easy and effective way to lose weight and shed those unwanted pounds!
What is a Calorie?
To really understand “calorie counting” correctly and most effectively let’s dive into some basics that you need to know. A “calorie” is the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water through 1 °C. To break it down plainly – calories are measurements of stored energy. The amount of calories is the potential energy the foods contain. The important thing for you to know is that the calorie isn’t some abstract symbol that may or may not have something to do with weight loss–it’s the objective measurement of a very real, scientifically verifiable reality (food contains energy).
What does your body do with Calories?
Our bodies require a certain amount of energy to stay alive. Every cellular process and every cell in our body requires energy to function. That energy is supplied by the foods we eat, “calories”. The amount of energy that each person needs to function widely varies. We can figure out how much energy our body uses by figuring out your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) with a calculator like this one.
For example a male that is 5’10 and 180lb has a BMR of about 1913 kcal/day. We say about because this BMR is not an absolute number. Your metabolic rate can vary with long term dietary and exercise patterns.
When you then calculate the approximate amount of additional energy you burn through physical activity, you arrive at your “total daily energy expenditure,” or “TDEE.” This is the grand total of energy that your body burns in a 24-hour period, and it too changes from day to day. You can find a good calculator for this here.
Where does your body get the energy that it needs?
- From the food you eat.
- From the energy stored in your body in your fat and muscle.
The energy we use ultimately comes from the foods we eat. Even our energy stores in our fat and muscle, came from the food we eat and is stored when we do not need it for immediate energy use. Our bodies can stay in a fed or “energized state” for hours after we eat depending on the amount of food and composition of the meal. While we’re eating our bodies actually store some of those calories away for use later. This is due because within the few minutes we’re eating, our bodies are only burning maybe 30 calories.
What happens when the abundance of food energy have been fully absorbed and burned up? Our bodies will turn to these energy stores to continue running. It will start breaking down the fat and muscle stores to be used to fuel.
The body is constantly storing and burning fat every day. Every time you eat a meal, your body burns a bit of energy and stores some fat. Every time it finishes burning and storing the energy from the food you ate, it then switches to using fat as cellular fuel. Back and forth the body goes, 24 hours per day. If you overeat for a day, your body still goes through periods of time in which you will be burning fat, but the amount of fat stored will be greater than burned, thus leading to a net gain for the day.
How does this all apply to Calorie Counting?
We’re finally getting there! By controlling the amount of energy we supply our body with food (calorie counting), we can induce weight loss and weight gain.
We all know the best way to gain weight – eat more food. If we consistently feed our bodies with more food (calories) than it needs, we will find ourselves in a calorie surplus. When we are in a calorie surplus we are storing that extra energy away for use later as fat. The larger the surplus, the more we store away.
On the other hand, if we are supplying our bodies with less calories/energy than it needs we will find ourselves burning fat and in a calorie deficit. Likewise, the larger the deficit, the more fat we will be burning. Keep in mind that severe calorie restriction is NOT a good idea. Creating a calorie deficit via calorie counting is the key to effective weight loss.
If you keep your body in a negative energy balance over time, your body fat mass will go down. Period. The amount of fat that your body stores is less than the amount of fat that your body is burning. This is all that weight loss is: fat stored < fat burned, over time.
Calorie Counting for Effective Weight Loss
- Create a meal plan that you actually enjoy. Calculate your total calories needed per day and construct a plan that will work for you. You are FAR more likely to be successful if you’re eating things that you enjoy. Now, this doesn’t meal dieting on oreos and cake, but constructing healthy meals that are satisfying is the key to being successful and sticking with it.
- Commit to a consistent exercise schedule. Factor your exercise into your daily routine and make it consistent. Ideally training should involve some weight/resistance training and some cardiovascular exercise.
STICK TO YOUR PLAN. It is easy to get discouraged when you don’t see a 6 pack after your first week of dieting. Try to look at things realistically, but most importantly stick to the plan than you have laid out. Adjust your plan as needed! You may come to find that over time you need to adjust your calorie intake as your raise your metabolic rate, but you can’t make adjustments if you don’t have a baseline to work off of. Stick to your plan exactly. Signs you may need to adjust your diet:
- You should never feel like you’re starving. Hungry, but not starving.
- If you’re not any leaner within 7-10 days your caloric intake may be to high, or your activity level to low. Adjust accordingly.
- If you’re getting leaner but you’re feeling lethargic and weak in the gym, you’re probably eating too little or moving too much (this can happen easily if you do too much cardio while dieting).
Calorie Counting is actually much simpler than many make it out to be. If you’re not seeing results, it’s probably not that calorie counting “isn’t working,” it’s just that something is off in terms of energy intake vs. output, and it can be easily fixed. So create a plan that works for you, and start your weight loss journey now!