Ever count calories? Do you really understand why you even do it? In this post I'll try to explain the reasoning behind counting calories. I'll keep this at a very basic level. There is more that goes into weight loss than just calorie restriction, but that's for another topic which I hope to cover soon. So on with the show.
First things first, we need to know what a calorie is. Essentially, a calorie is a unit of energy. What we all refer to as a calorie is actually a kilocalorie (kcal), but typically it is just referred to as a calorie. A calorie by definition is the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1ºC. The easy way to look at it is as fuel for your body.
The bigger the person, the more fuel that is needed throughout the day. On average, this is 2000cal for a women, and 2500cal for a man. This is the amount of energy your body requires to stay at its current weight*. So, the basics of counting calories for weight loss is to monitor how many calories you take in and how many your burn and make sure it is lower than your caloric requirements. Simple right? Well it really is, but how many calories do you need in order to lose weight, but still remain healthy?
If you take in too little calories your body will actually go into starvation mode. It will start storing more fat as a protective mechanism because it believes it will not be getting enough to survive. Because of this increased fat to muscle ratio your metabolism will slow and you will actually require fewer calories to remain at the same weight you were before. Tricky little bugger the body is. The key is to know your ideal body weight for your age, activity level, and height and to aim to get to that, or as near to that as possible, then maintain. There are differing ideas on ideal body weight, but I generally say it's the weight you feel most comfortable within a BMI of 18-24. This gives you a lot of wiggle room.
Once you've set your healthy target weight, you can use calorie counting as a tool to help you reach it. Healthy weight loss is up to two pounds per week. There are approximately 3500 calories in one pound. So in order to lose two pounds you would need to eliminated 7000 calories from your diet per week, which works out to 1000 calories per day. This seems like a lot, and for many people who are already within a healthy BMI range may be unattainable. However, with the right combination of diet and exercise you can eliminate calories quite easily. For example, say you drink 3 cups of coffee a day with two teaspoons of sugar and a tablespoon cream thats 70cal per cup X 3 = 210cal per day in coffee. Just by switching to 2% milk and using half the sugar you will cut down to about 35cal per cup X 3 = 105cal. In a week that will save you 735cal. Similarly, let's say you take the elevator to go up two stories to work, and you do that 4 times a day (up for work, down for lunch, up after lunch and down to go home). Just by walking the stairs instead of taking the elevator you will use approximately 40cal extra per day, that's 200cal per week. That's a total calorie deficit of 935cal per week just by changing two small things in your daily routine.
Hopefully now you can see how calorie counting can be a useful tool in your healthy living repertoire.
If you have any questions feel free to contact me either by posting a comment below or through my email in my contact page.
*for a more accurate view of you caloric requirements use this calculator from exrx.net