What is a Calorie?
A calorie is simply a measure of heat energy. When your body burns food, it releases a certain amount of heat, depending on the type of food. The higher the caloric content of a food, the more energy – or heat – that will be released while it burns.
The expression, “Burn fat” is common just about anywhere there is any kind of discussion on weight loss. What this basically means is to release calories from our “fat storage” and use – or burn – them for energy to fuel activity. No activity, no fat burn.
The “Calories Don’t Count” Theory
According to the “calories-don’t-count” theory, if you eat certain foods, or certain combination’s of foods, you can “eat as much as you want and you’ll still lose weight!” In our physically idle and pleasure-seeking society today, this idea sounds wonderful, but physiologically this is impossible. The bottom line on this type of approach is that you’re eating more fat and fat makes you feel fuller, longer and reduces food cravings.
The bottom line: The claim, “Eat all you want and still lose weight” is one of the biggest and most common lies told in the weight loss industry.
Law of Energy Balance
According to the Law of Energy Balance, if you burn more calories than you consume, your body taps into stored fat for energy to make up for the calorie deficit and you will lose weight. The reverse is also true: If you consume more calories than you burn each day, you will store the surplus and gain weight.
Putting it simply, if you wish to lose weight, you must burn more calories than you consume every day. For gaining weight, the reverse is applied. Eat more than you burn, gain more.
Two factors are applied to the Law of Energy Balance:
- If you eat too much of ANY food (even so-called “healthful” foods), the excess will be stored as body fat.
- If you eat fewer calories than you burn every day – including junk food – you won’t store it as body fat. This factor tells us occasional indulgences are NOT the “end of the world”.
Daily Caloric Needs
The first step in determining your daily calorie needs for fat loss is to calculate the total number of calories you burn up every day. This is known as your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). TDEE is the total number of calories your body burns in 24 hours. Once you know your maintenance level, you will have a reference point from which to start your program.
You can determine an accurate estimate of your calorie expenditure just from body weight alone. The fastest and easiest method to determine how many calories you need is to use your total current weight times a multiplier for TDEE.
- Fat loss = 12 – 13 calories per pound of body weight
- Maintenance (TDEE) = 15-16 calories per pound of body weight
- Weight gain = 18 to 20+ calories per pound of body weight
This quick formula is a good way to get a quick estimate, as long as your body fat is average or less. Once you know your maintenance level, the next step is to adjust your calories according to your primary goal. To lose weight, create a calorie deficit by reducing your calories slightly below your maintenance level or keep your calories the same and increase your activity.
As you have probably surmised by now, the answer to whether “to count or not to count” is – COUNT. You really do need to understand caloric intake and get an idea of what yours is, how much it should be to lose or maintain (or gain if that’s your need), and how much you should cut back if looking to lose weight, slowly and methodically so as not to go into starvation mode. See: Just Say “NO” To Starvation.
Determining Caloric Intake
You can’t apply the above formula if you don’t know your current daily calorie intake, can you? Well, you’ll need to do so. Eat the way you have been if you haven’t started cutting back. Keep track of every single morsel of food you put into your mouth for 1 day. Don’t cheat – this is to help you – JUST YOU! No one has to see this list.
And remember, when making your notes, include EVERY THING i.e., if you ate a cheeseburger with ketchup, pickles and onions, add those 3 items to the list. Don’t just write, “Cheeseburger”.
Now get a good calorie content book, or look up the foods online and tally up that caloric intake to use in creating your “formula”. IMPORTANT: If your current caloric intake has been substantially higher than your new target amount, adjust gradually. Cutting too many calories too quickly often causes diet relapses because the change is too dramatic for some people to handle.
During the initial stages, keep a Food Diary. We happen to have some free one’s all ready for you! Grab a free printable food diary!. Using this approach, you will gain a new perspective and a good understanding of caloric intake that will stay with you for the rest of your life.
At first this is a bit of work, but don’t be put off by that. In fact, you should be enthusiastic about it! After a short time, you’ll begin to know by rote how much is too much, or how many calories are in the foods you commonly eat. Eventually you won’t need to keep any kind of diary, or even notes, for that matter. It will all become a great, new and wonderful, ingrained habit.
*If you have above average amounts of body fat, then your first goal should be to focus on losing fat. Once the fat is off, work on gaining muscle while maintaining your lowered body fat level.
- Body fat is nothing more than stored energy.
- To release stored energy, you must be in a calorie deficient state.
- A large calorie deficit maintained for too long, will invoke the starvation response and slow your metabolism.
- You can never override the laws of energy balance.
- Reduce your calories by 15-20% below maintenance for optimal, safe fat loss.
“Discipline is doing what is hard and necessary rather than what is fun and easy and doing it when it’s necessary, whether you feel like doing it or not.” – Achievement Expert Brian Tracy