Tracking Calories to Lose Weight
Losing weight really depends on one thing: reducing the number of calories you eat, use, or absorb. And every way you tackle weight loss addresses one of these areas.
You reduce the calories you eat when you eat a more filling diet, cut out fats, calorie restrict, or fast. This means that fewer calories are entering your body, meaning there are fewer calories to save, meaning that you will burn your body fat to get the calories you need to survive.
You increase the calories you use by exercising more, increasing your metabolism, or sleeping better. This means that more calories are used than are entering, there are fewer calories to save, and eventually you have to burn your body fat to keep your body running.
And you reduce the calories you absorb when you eat high protein or high fiber diets, as these nutrients are not always digestible to us, and when you eat complex foods like dairy, which combine with fat and stop it from being absorbed. This means that even though you are eating enough calories, some calories are being lost in your stool, which can cause you to burn fat to make up for the lack of calories.
All diets operate on one of these principles. Even the diets that say you “Don't even have to count calories!” rely on satiation, unavailable calories, or burning calories through exercise to help keep you slim. Which means that when these diets fail, it is because we are eating more calories than we are burning.
This is why it is so important to understand and track our calories. Because no matter what diet we are following, we need to have a calorie deficit, to burn more calories than enter our bodies, to lose weight. So for any diet to work, we need to know:
- How many calories we need.
- How many calories we are eating.
- How many calories we are absorbing.
- How many extra calories we can burn.
- How much of a deficit are we creating?
If we do not know these things, we risk our diets failing due to ignorance about what we are doing.
To calculate the calories, you need, there is no better way than to use a simple online BMR calculator. BMR means “basal metabolic rate”, aka, the number of calories your metabolism burns on its own. This calculator will work out how many calories you need on a day where you are doing nothing at all, not even getting out of bed.
To that figure, add the calories burned by the activity you did today. Don't estimate, look up how much the different activities burned. You might be surprised by how little it is! Swimming at a good pace for one hour nonstop only burns 500 calories. 100 steps only burn 660 calories. You need to consider how many calories you are really burning before making a decision about what you need to eat.
However, it is also important to consider how many calories we are eating and absorbing. This is a crucial distinction, because calories are the minutes of energy caused by burning a certain amount of a food. And fire can burn fiber, for example, but we cannot. Which means that the calories in fiber are useless to humans. So we need to make two calorie intake calculations.
First we need to measure the number of carbs, protein, fat, and alcohol we are eating from all sources. Be honest with yourself, and it is better to overestimate than to underestimate. It can be really shocking how calorific some foods are! Some sauces have a hundred calories or more per tablespoon, and oily treats like chips or shortbreads can have three times as many calories as the simple carb without the fat. When in doubt, check online.
When you have the amounts of carbs, protein, fat, and alcohol you are eating, you need to discount the calories found in:
- oils you can't digest and absorb
- any protein above 3g per lb. of body weight
All these nutrients are not used by our bodies, and their calories are meaningless to us.
When you have measured how many calories you need and how many you are eating, you are in a position to evaluate your diet and measure your calories daily. Whatever diet you have chosen, if you are not losing weight, reduce your calories by a hundred a day for a week. If you are still not losing weight, remove another hundred and try again. And so on until you are losing weight.