It seems like today you can’t get around calorie counting. It is almost everywhere, be it in the form of using an app, like my fitness pal, or using a program like Weight Watchers or Slimming World.
Many people insist that counting calories is useful because they believe losing weight basically breaks down to one simple rule: Calories in versus calories out. However, some others believe that calorie counting is outdated and doesn't work. They believe it often leaves people heavier than when they started.
*Please Note* At the end of the day, it is really all about what works for you, but hopefully in this blog we can take a bit of a closer look at it.
Most people don’t know exactly how many calories they should be consuming on a daily basis. I see questions like:
“How many calories a day do you eat? I am trying to lose weight?”
"How many calories a day should I eat if I want to lose 50 lbs in 3 months" "How many calories a day are OK to eat?"
posted on social media all too often. These posts get responses but 9 out of 10 times, the response they are getting aren't coming from a doctor or a nutritionist or even a personal trainer, but from someone random who may or may not know what they are talking about.
Let’s take a closer look. What decides how many calories you should be consuming each day? That information varies from person to person as much as our personalities vary. You have to take into consideration so many factors including the persons: age, weight, height, gender, activity level, medication, background, genetics, hormones, health, daily lifestyle, job, and so so so much more.
Our body needs calories to survive! Each day we have a Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) this is the number of calories we burn just living life. What your body burns JUST keeps you alive, your heart pumping, blood flowing, brain working and lungs breathing! As I mentioned before, this base number depends on your age, gender, weight, height, genetics, hormones, etc.
Next we need calories just to digest our food that we consume and store it….This is our Thermic Effect of Food (TEF) and is separate from our BMR. Often we hear about Negative Cal foods like raw celery, this is what people are referring to, they mean it takes more KCAL to digest and store the food then the KCAL in the food.
NOW we get to the fun stuff! The calories you burn during exercise, Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (EAT), and the Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT). EAT is pretty simple, the longer you workout and the more intense it is the more calories you burn. NEAT however can vary massively from person to person because it deals with the number of calories you burn outside of exercise depending on things like your jobs and daily habits. If you have a desk job compared to a construction worker, you are going to burn a different amount of calories. If you drive to work and your co-worker bikes, again, you are both buring different amounts of calories.
We have seem to forgotten that calories are actually a good thing and are slowly becoming a culture consumed with counting and restricting them. However, when you start obsessing over calories and knowing exactly how many calories you are eating...that means you are probably consuming a lot of processed foods because they have nutrition labels on them. But let's get real, at the end of the day, if you are eating fresh foods, you are only going to get a rough estimate of the calories. Calories in natural foods can vary slightly depending on how and where they are grown, so right off the bat...you are never going to get an EXACT number if you are eating natural and fresh food.
When you become preoccupied with the calories, you also risk counting calories rather than nutrients and our bodies are amazing things...and they need more than just calories to keep being awesome for us. Protein, Fat, Carbs, Vitamins, Iron, Calcium and more, our body needs and uses these things.
Sometimes when people chose to have a strict calorie intake, it can have the opposite effects.
As we commonly acknowledge, we need to burn more calories than we consume in order to lose weight….however, there is a little bit of a catch to this perfect weight loss solution.
If we cut our calories too drastically, over time our bodies go into what is known as survival mode. Now this is not when you have skipped a meal or three or gone a few hours without eating. This is when you are DRASTICALLY cutting calories to below 1000 a day* for an EXTENDED period of time. When we do this to our bodies, our bodies react. It thinks: “Awww Snap!!! I need to store as MUCH energy (aka KCAL) as possible when I can so I can keep my host alive”.
This means your metabolism slows down and your body stores more energy, which means more fat. The main issue comes if you start eating normally again, which I hope is the goal and often inevitable on many of some of the drastic and restrictive weight loss programs. This is a problem, because you have slowed your metabolism down so when it starts to get extra calories - it doesn’t just store it for energy during your next workout, it saves it for another survival experience….which often leads to quickly putting the weight on (or back on).
If you want to lose weight, however, the formula is simple: Eat a healthy and well balanced diet and burn more calories than you consume.
*Under 1000 calorie a day diets are usually not recommended and if you chose to do this, please speak to a nutritionist and/or get medical clearance from your doctor first)