By: Malika Comfort | nutraMetrix Global Operations Manager
A target for weight loss has touched almost everyone at some point in time. Here’s a scenario some of us may be familiar with – it’s been a few months, and you grab your favorite jeans and attempt to put them on. You notice instantly that you’re going to have to change the outfit you had in mind because those jeans aren’t budging and they’re at war with your hips. Even if the infamous kangaroo jump-slide with a few karate kicks into them works, you may still feel uncomfortable or “pinched” in areas you’d rather not. With busy, over-worked schedules, weight gain happens to many of us; men, women, children, young or old, and the first thing that comes to mind is to exercise and/or go on a diet.
Keeping an ideal weight for your height and age is important for longevity and good health, but this doesn’t mean that you should be aiming to be as skinny as you were at a much younger age. In fact, a huge myth forced upon society is that being skinny indicates a healthier person. The truth is that a skinnier frame doesn’t always mean healthier. Instead, eating a healthy balanced diet and exercising regularly should be a part of your lifestyle no matter your weight, and not just a goal to fit into those jeans.
Let’s learn the fundamental principles of shedding pounds and keeping weight off.
Understanding Calories in Weight Loss
Calories are a measure of energy. In the context of nutrition, a calorie is a unit used to quantify the amount of energy provided by food and beverages. The body needs calories to function, and it obtains these calories through the consumption of food.
Here’s a breakdown of the terminology:
- Calorie (cal): The amount of energy required to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius. In nutrition, the term “calorie” is often used to refer to kilocalories (kcal), which are equal to 1,000 calories. So, when you see “calories” on a food label, it typically means kilocalories.
- Kilocalorie (kcal): The unit commonly used to express the energy content of food. It is the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius. When people refer to the caloric content of food, they are usually talking about kilocalories.
The energy obtained from food and beverages is used by the body for various physiological functions, including maintaining body temperature, supporting organ function, and fueling physical activity. The balance between the calories consumed through food and the calories expended through basal metabolic rate and physical activity influences body weight.
Different macronutrients contribute different amounts of energy, for instance:
- Carbohydrates: 1 gram provides approximately 4 calories.
- Proteins: 1 gram provides approximately 4 calories.
- Fats: 1 gram provides approximately 9 calories.
- Alcohol: 1 gram provides approximately 7 calories.
Understanding the caloric content of food is essential for managing weight and maintaining a healthy diet since balancing calorie intake with energy expenditure is a fundamental principle in nutrition and weight management.
General Guidelines for Calorie Consumption
The recommended daily calorie intake varies based on factors such as age, gender, weight, height, activity level, and overall health. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, but certain general guidelines can provide a starting point.
The average daily calorie intake for adults is often expressed in ranges based on activity level. These ranges are typically provided by health organizations and the U.S. government. Keep in mind that individual calorie needs can vary, and it’s advisable to adjust intake based on personal goals and lifestyle.
Here are some general guidelines:
- Sedentary Lifestyle (Little to no exercise):
- Women: 1,800 to 2,200 calories per day
- Men: 2,200 to 2,600 calories per day
- Moderately Active (Moderate exercise or sports 3-5 days a week):
- Women: 2,000 to 2,400 calories per day
- Men: 2,400 to 2,800 calories per day
- Active Lifestyle (Hard exercise or sports 6-7 days a week):
- Women: 2,200 to 2,400 calories per day
- Men: 2,600 to 3,000 calories per day
It’s important to focus not only on the quantity but also on the quality of calories consumed. A balanced diet that includes a variety of nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats is crucial for overall health.
Are Calories You Consume the Same as Calories You Burn?
The concept that “calories in” (calories consumed through food and drink) should roughly equal “calories out” (calories expended through basal metabolic rate and physical activity) is a fundamental principle in weight management. This idea is often expressed as “calories in, calories out” or CICO.
If you consume more calories than your body needs (caloric surplus), the excess calories are typically stored as fat, leading to weight gain. Conversely, if you consume fewer calories than your body needs (caloric deficit), your body will start using stored fat for energy, resulting in weight loss.
However, it’s important to note that while the basic principle of CICO holds true, the body’s metabolism is a complex system, and various factors can influence how calories are processed and stored. Not all calories are equal in terms of their impact on weight, as the composition of your diet (proteins, fats, carbohydrates) can affect your metabolism and how satisfied you feel after eating.
Moreover, individual factors such as genetics, age, hormonal balance, and overall health can also influence weight loss. For some people, achieving a caloric deficit may be more challenging due to these factors.
How Does the Body Burn Calories?
The body burns calories through various processes and activities to meet its energy demands. Here are several ways in which calories are typically burned:
- Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR): BMR represents the number of calories your body needs to maintain basic physiological functions, such as breathing, circulation, and cell production, while at rest. It accounts for the majority of daily calorie expenditure (typically 60-75%).
- Physical Activity: Engaging in physical activities, including exercise and daily movements, is a significant contributor to calorie expenditure. The more intense and prolonged the activity, the more calories are burned. Activities such as walking, running, cycling, and strength training can all contribute to calorie burning.
- Thermic Effect of Food (TEF): The body expends energy to digest, absorb, and process the nutrients in the food you eat. The thermic effect of food contributes to calorie burning and varies based on the type of nutrients consumed.
- Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT): NEAT encompasses the calories burned through non-exercise activities, such as walking, fidgeting, and other daily movements. The level of NEAT can vary widely between individuals based on factors like occupation and lifestyle.
- EPOC (Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption): After engaging in intense exercise, the body may continue to burn additional calories during the recovery period. This phenomenon is known as the afterburn effect or EPOC. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) and strength training are often associated with increased EPOC.
- Maintaining Body Temperature: The body expends energy to regulate its temperature, especially in extreme heat or cold. This process helps maintain a stable internal environment.
But keep in mind, individual factors such as age, gender, genetics, muscle mass, and overall health can influence how efficiently the body burns calories. Also, the type and intensity of exercise, as well as the composition of the diet, play roles in calorie expenditure.
To support overall health and weight management, it’s beneficial to adopt a balanced approach and avoid a sedentary lifestyle when possible. The goal should be to move daily and integrate physical activity as often as you can.
General Principle in Weight Loss – Burn More Calories than You Consume
When you think about weight loss, first consider how you gained an excess of fat. In most cases, you didn’t gain it by going to the gym and eating healthily. More than likely, it’s the exact opposite, so just as you gained weight by indulging and potato-ing on the couch, you must reverse your actions by eating clean and adding considerable exercise. While exercise is an important component of a healthy weight loss plan, it’s crucial to note that diet plays a significant role as well since the general principle is that weight loss occurs when you burn more calories than you consume.
The American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week, along with muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week.
To target weight loss specifically, you may need to increase the duration or intensity of your exercise routine. Here are some general recommendations for weight loss:
- Cardiovascular Exercise: Aim for at least 150-300 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (such as brisk walking, jogging, or cycling) or 75-150 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise (such as running or high-intensity interval training).
- Strength Training: Include strength training exercises at least 2 days per week. Building muscle can support your metabolism, helping you burn more calories at rest.
- Consistency: Consistency is key. Spread your exercise throughout the week rather than trying to cram it all into a few days.
- Variety: Include a variety of exercises to keep things interesting and to engage different muscle groups. This can also help prevent overuse injuries.
- Combine with a Healthy Diet: Remember that weight loss is not just about exercise. A healthy, balanced diet is crucial. Consider consulting with a nutritionist or dietitian to develop a personalized eating plan.
Why Maintaining Weight Loss is Crucial to Wellbeing
Attempting to lose weight fast is a common trend since we are bombarded with many societal ads that promise huge instant weight loss. Like an exercise machine that burns thousands of calories in just 5 minutes, or that magic diet pill that melts all excess fat off without exercise in a matter of days. But just as gaining weight is gradual so should be losing it in a healthy way. And while hitting the gym hard is helpful, it is not the only action that triggers calorie burning – the old saying “abs are made in the kitchen” rings very true, and sustaining your weight loss correctly makes all the difference in the world.
By maintaining a healthy weight, you can positively impact factors such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels, blood sugar control, joint and muscle support, sleep hygiene, brain function and overall cognitive health, leading a much more comfortable life as you get older. Also keep in mind that physical health and mental well-being are interconnected, so you have everything to gain by losing pounds and maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle.
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.