Calories and weight loss

By Sam Rathmell

We have all encountered calories in our day to day lives; recommended daily calorie intake, counting calories, there are more calories in
a banana than in a gin and tonic and the list goes on. But what actually is a calorie?

A calorie is used to measure the energy content of the foods and beverages we consume, whether this is derived from protein, carbohydrates or fat. This energy provides the fuel your body needs to function. The average woman needs to consume around 2,000 calories per day whereas an average man requires around 2,500 calories per day.

By consuming the exact amount of calories your body needs to function, you will maintain your current body weight. If you consume more calories than what your body needs, you will find yourself in a calorie surplus and this un-required additional energy will be stored as fat. It is important to note that regardless to where this additional energy source has come from, even if the food source is healthy such as
protein or vegetables, your body does not require this additional energy and it will still be converted and stored as fat regardless i.e. it’s not just unhealthy foods such which can be stored as fat. On the contrary, by limiting the number of calories consumed and ensuring your intake is less than what your body expels each day, you will be in a calorie deficit.

A calorie deficit will force your body to use fat stores (also muscle tissue) for energy and weight loss will occur. It’s very easy to lose track of how many calories we consume. The large cappuccino with an extra shot on the way to the office, the biscuit you had in the team meeting this morning, the ‘small’ slice of Paulette the PA’s birthday cake, the couple of glasses of wine consumed at the client lunch yesterday or the cheeky can of gin and tonic on the train home because it’s been a stressful day. By tracking your calories throughout the day, you will soon see the numbers add up and this can often be an eye opener.

There are several factors which will determine how many daily calories a person requires and will vary from one person to the next. These factors include, but are not limited to: age, height, current weight, activity levels and metabolic health.

There are many websites and apps available to help you calculate how many calories your body requires, MyFitnessPal for example will help
you calculate your daily calorie allowance and allow you to track your food and drink. Should your goal be to lose those few extra pounds, the more calories that leave your body than what enter it, weight loss can be achieved. Conversely, if more calories enter your body than leave, you will gain weight. This is of course a very simplistic way in looking at weight loss / gain but this is the basic principle we all need to follow.

To help manage calories efficiently and in a sustainable way, we do also need to consider what type of foods our calories are coming from. Most of us find sticking to a calorie controlled eating plan difficult and often end up becoming hungry, irritable, feeling deprived and eventually end up giving up all together and reaching for that doughnut which has been staring at us all day.

To help combat this and to achieve long-term calorie deficiency without feeling starved, implementing the changes highlighted below can help.

1) Eating more protein: When it comes to losing weight protein is the king of nutrients. Protein requires more energy to metabolise than other nutrients and it can increase the calories burned by up to 80-100 per day. Protein rich foods are also the most filling types of food and therefore can help fight cravings and reduce overall appetite. Studies have shown that people who consumed 30% of calories as protein automatically ate 441 fewer calories.

2) Avoid sugary soft drinks, alcohol and fruit juices: As well as having disastrous effects on your health, these liquid calories are not registered by the brain in the same way as solid calories and therefore increase your calorie consumption without filling you up. Although a small amount of sugars from foods like fruit are absolutely fine, having large amounts of added sugar and sugary drinks is not so beneficial.

3) Drinking more water: Studies show that drinking the daily recommended amount of water (2 litres) can help raise your metabolism and help reduce hunger throughout the day. Aim to drink a large glass of water half an hour before meals to help reduce hunger and prevent overeating.

4) Exercise: To lose weight we need to be in a calorie deficit. Physical activity helps to create additional calorie deficit without having to sacrifice food. Physical exercise also comes with other health benefits including lowering the risk of disease, increasing the strength of muscle and bones and increasing cardiovascular fitness. The most beneficial form of exercise for fat loss is resistance training as this
raises your metabolism whilst preventing muscle breakdown. This can be achieved by following a structured resistance based programme, however any form of calorie burn will all help towards being in a calorie deficit. Fitting in a gym session may not always be possible for you everyday, so why not try aiming to reach the minimum number of daily steps of 10,000 recommended by the American heart foundation? Set
an alarm on your phone to remind you to get up from your desk or even offer to make your team more tea and coffee throughout the day!

5) Avoiding processed foods: Processed foods usually contain a large number of calories and generally have a lower nutrient content (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fibre). This includes all those wonderful foods your colleague has bought in the office to celebrate their
birthday; sweets, cakes, crisps and chocolate. Instead, fill your diet with foods which are low in calories but very high in nutrients, such as vegetables, lean unprocessed meats and fruits. 

So there we have it. Being aware of your caloric intake can be helpful when trying to lose weight. This coupled with changing a few
daily habits and you will be on a greater road to success. 

Sam Rathmell is a professional personal trainer. Sam holds a sports science degree from Loughborough University and can offer the employees of SPA Medical’s business clients bespoke personal training routines with regular advice and contact as part of their employee
wellbeing programs.

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