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Weight Loss is all About Counting Calories…err What’s a Calorie?

May 27, 2021

If you are overweight, un-fattening yourself is the single biggest thing you can do to improve your health.

Sustaining a caloric deficit (burning more calories than you consume) over time is the only thing that will cause that to happen. But what is a calorie?

A calorie is defined as ‘the energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water through 1 °C (now usually defined as 4.1868 joules).’ Err OK so what does that mean for me if I’m trying to lose weight?

Well probably not much! All we really need to know is that a calorie essentially represents the energy value of food. If we consume more calories than we expend then we will be in a calorie surplus which the body converts to fat and our weight will increase and vice versa if we enter a calorie deficit.

In order to ensure that we are consuming the correct amount of calories depending on our specifics goals, it is first helpful to determine our basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is the number of calories required to keep your body functioning at rest and can be calculated by multiplying your weight in kilograms by 22 for Females and 24 for Males.

Following which we can determine our Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) which is made up of a number of variables which differ between individuals and includes:

EAT – Exercise Activity Thermogenesis
TEF –Thermic Effect of Food – Protein = more / Processed food = less
NEAT - Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis
BMR – Basal Metabolic Rate – breathing, thinking, processing energy, sweating – basic body functions
NREE – Non-Resting Energy Expenditure
REE - Resting Energy Expenditure

So as you can see TDEE is made up of much more than merely exercise…which is encouraging! In fact exercise may make up only a small part of your daily energy expenditure. This means that if we can optimise the other elements that make up our TDEE we can burn more energy without even putting on our trainers, let alone entering the gym!

Top tips to maximise your non-exercise calorie burn:

  • Optimise your NEAT – Make time for movement. Hit your 10,000 daily steps, walk the dog, play with the kids, cycle to work
  • Boost you BMR – Build muscle by undertaking a strength training program. Muscle burns twice as much energy as fat so you’ll be burning more fat even sat at your desk or when you’re asleep.
  • Top up your TEF – Protein requires more calories to process compared with fat or carbohydrates. You can burn up to 35% of the calories in protein versus 5-15% for carbohydrates and only 0-5% of calories for fat (plus it helps buld that muscle in conjunction with your strength training program, plus it fills you up for longer making you less likely to snack).

Defeat the Cheat
So why can’t we lose weight, when we eat so well during the week and only have that well earned cheat day on the weekend? The issue comes with how much of a cheat day you have, and if that cheat day infact ends up being 2 cheat days! If we choose someone that requires 2500 calories to maintain their existing weight, the impact of a weekend blowout returns the deficit, achieved during their well behaved week, back up to an average of 2500 calories for the whole week, hence no weight loss.       

Beware the booze
We also often forget to consider the cheeky ‘glass’ of booze in the evening. Bear in mind that alcohol contains nearly twice the calories of carbs or protein but lacks the thermic effect of food, hence is literally empty calories. Add to that the fact that the body priotises alcohol for metabolism over other macros and your dinner digestion is put on hold and potentially left for the body to store as fat.

Lets assume our hand-poured measure of booze at home is likely to be a lot more than a standard drink at a restaurant or pub (approx 225 calories). And you have one per night, plus an extra glass on Friday and Saturday. That adds up to 2025 calories extra per week, or an extra day’s worth of calories!

So, in summary counting calories can be useful, but more importantly make sure you are aware of what is potentially hampering your weight loss.

10 Effective Ways to Reduce your Calories

  1. Cut Down the Alcohol
    See above!
  2. Don’t Drink Calories
    Swap sugary drinks for water, easy on the sugars, syrups & chocolate in your coffee. Swap fruit juice for smoothies or whole fruit.
  3. Eat More Vegetables
    Veggies fill you up and are low in calories 😊
  4. Stop Snacking
    Eat proper meals with plenty of protein and vegetables to fill you up.
  5. Manage Your Food Environment
    Delete your Uber Eats App, write a shopping list and shop weekly, don’t go shopping when hungry, make better food choices.
  6. Chew Your Food Slowly
    It takes your brain around 20 minutes to send out satiety signals. Eat until you feel 80% full. Drink a glass of water before your meal.
  7. ‘All you Can Eat’ Doesn’t Mean you Should
    Make better choices at restaurants (protein), don’t feel obliged to eat everything on your plate, ditch the desert, avoid buffets!
  8. Eat at Home More Often
    Take control of your calories, mind your portion control, ensure optimal macro proportions.
  9. Don’t Beat Yourself Up
    An ‘accidental’ extra slice or 2 or pizza or biscuit at work doesn’t mean you should ignore your calorie intake for the rest of the day / weekend. Get back on track and get into good habits over the long term.
  10. Cut the C.R.A.P!
    Use this acronym to try and limit your intake of:
    non- Complex carbs – these are typically starchy carbs such as white rice, pasta, potatoes and
    Refined sugars – foods that have added sugars not naturally found in them (look for words ending in ‘ose’ in the list of ingredients – sucrose, fructose, glucose etc).
    Alcohol – again!!!
    Processed food – anything in a packet, tin, with a long list of ingredients not found naturally.

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