It is a fact that most diet strategies boil down to either consuming less calories or burning them off. So what is really meant when we talk about calories? A calorie is a measure of energy. It is basically describing how much energy our body could get from eating or drinking. When we eat or drink more calories than we burn, our body store this excess as body fat. If this goes on overtime, we might put on weight.
It's important to recognize the role calories play in our ability to lose weight. Calorie counting can help us combat overeating by giving us a better understanding of how much we are really consuming. Calorie needs also vary from person to person, so it's hard to pinpoint a specific number of calories to cut while on a diet. The key is not to kick your body into starvation mode by making a drastic cut to calories.
According to experts, maintaining a healthy weight is often a calorie-balancing act -- making sure that the number of calories you eat balances with the energy you use in your daily activity.
- If you eat more calories for a period of time, you'll gain weight -- unless you increase your activity level to offset the imbalance
- If you eat less or increase your activity, you can expect to lose weight. If you do both, you can expect to lose even more.
- If you're using all the calories you're eating, you've achieved a balance that will allow you to keep weight off for the long term.
Fast facts on calorie intake and use:
- Recommended calorie intake depends on factors such as age, size, height, sex, lifestyle, and overall general health.
- Recommended daily calorie intakes in the US are around 2,500 for men and 2,000 for women.
- Eating a big breakfast could help with weight reduction and maintenance.
- The brain uses around 20 percent of the energy used in the human body.
- Factors affecting ideal calorific intake include age, bone density, and muscle-fat ratio.
- A 500-calorie meal consisting of fruits and vegetables has more health benefits and will keep you feeling full for longer than a 500-calorie snack of popcorn.
Tips on burning calories:
Counting calories is not just a matter of what we eat, but how much we burn, too. Here are some tips for burning energy and losing weight more effectively.
- Eat breakfast: A protein and healthy fat breakfast can keep you full for longer and help prevent snacking during the day.
- Eat regular meals: This can help you burn calories more effectively and helps prevent mindless snacking.
- Remember your “five-a-day:” Fruits and vegetables can be a tasty snack and they can bulk out your meals. They are high in nutrients and fiber and low in calories and fat.
- Eat slow-burning calories: High-fiber carbohydrates, such as legumes, and healthy fats, such as avocado, take longer to release energy, so you will not get hungry as quickly.
- Exercise: This can help burn off extra calories, and it can make you feel good. A brisk daily walk is easy for most people to do and costs nothing.
- Drink water: It is healthful, has no calories, and can fill you up. Avoid alcohol and sodas as these can easily provide far too many calories. If you crave sweet drinks, choose unsweetened fruit juices, or better still, get a juice maker.
- Eat more fiber: Fiber, found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, can help you feel full and encourage healthy digestion.
- Check the label: Some items have hidden fats or sugars. “Ten percent less fat,” might not actually mean very much less fat, and it does not necessarily mean that you can eat more of it or that it is really more healthful. If you are counting calories, the label will help you keep track.
- Use smaller plates: Research indicates that portion sizes have increased over the last 3 decades, and this may contribute to obesity. Using a smaller plate encourages smaller portions.
- Slow down: Eat slowly and rest between courses or extra servings, as it can take 20 to 30 minutes for your body to realize it feels full.
- Make a shopping list: Plan a week of healthful meals and snacks, list the ingredients you need, and when you go grocery shopping, stick to it.
- A little of what you fancy: Banning foods can lead to cravings. Spoil yourself occasionally with a favorite treat, but in smaller amounts.
- Get enough sleep: Sleep loss affects the metabolism, and it has been linked to weight gain.
- Avoid eating 2 hours before bed: Eating within 2 hours of sleeping can interfere with sleep quality and promote weight gain.
Here are some examples of activities and the calories they can help you burn in 30 minutes. The estimates are for a person weighing 125 pounds.
Walking at 4.5 miles an hour
Running at 6 miles an hour
Calories can come from a variety of sources, including fats, proteins and carbohydrates. All three of these are macronutrients, the main components of a healthy diet. Each macronutrient has a specific amount of calorie. For carbohydrates, this is equivalent to 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate. Protein also has 4 calories per gram, and fat has 9 calories per gram.
Most people who count calories consume food with less carbs. Ketosis is most often associated with ketogenic and very low carb diets. Low-carb and ketogenic diets work by reducing your carbohydrate intake so that your body burns more fat. These types of diets can be very helpful with weight loss. Ketogenic diets seem to be better for weight loss and its maintenance in the long run.
For ketosis to start, we need to eat fewer than 50 grams of carbs per day and sometimes as little as 20 grams per day. However, the exact carb intake that will cause ketosis varies between individuals. When eating a very low carb diet, levels of the hormone insulin go down and fatty acids are released from body fat stores in large amounts. Many of these fatty acids are transported to the liver, where they are oxidized and turned into ketones. These molecules can provide energy for the body. Unlike fatty acids, ketones can cross the blood-brain barrier and provide energy for the brain in the absence of glucose. Measuring these ketones can, therefore, provide a hint as to how deeply our body is (or isn’t) in ketosis.
How Do We know if our body is undergoing Ketosis?
Ketone Test Strips are a popular, easy and cheap way of measuring the level of ketones. This are steps in using the Ketone strips:
- Take a urine sample in a clean container
- Hold the end of the strip in the urine for a few seconds
- Shake the strip to remove any excess “liquid” before removing from the container
- Wait 15 seconds until the ketone strip changes color
- Comparing the color of your ketone strip to the color chart will let you know if you’re in ketosis (and how deeply).
( fig. ketone test strips color chart )
State of Ketosis
Ketone Level (mmol/L)
Ketone Level (mg/dL)
0.1 – 0.5
1 – 5
0.6 – 1.5
6 – 15
1.6 – 3.0
16 – 30
Higher levels are not really necessary when losing weight. If you’re in the ‘light’ range, then your body will be burning fat for fuel, and you’ll have ketone levels that are many multiples of the average person. In short, aiming for a random ‘optimal’ ketone number is not always the right approach.
The process of losing weight can be very challenging. In undergoing such, we must remember not to rely only on our choices of food and our efforts on exercise. Self-care also plays a big role. In doing so, we must consider our emotional, mental and spiritual health.
Taking care of ourselves, including looking after our emotional and mental state can help ensure the success in adopting healthier choices that will enable us to not only lose weight but to successfully keep it off and remain fit forever.
In the end, the ultimate goal of losing weight should be a much healthier and better YOU.