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Let’s Talk About Calories
So we all know that Be Strong is based around calories and more importantly a calorie deficit. However, understanding the theories around calories, will give you the knowledge and understanding to potentially switch your thinking around when it comes to food and super charge your progress towards your goals!
What Is A Calorie?
A calorie is simply a measurement of energy. It’s proper name is a kilocalorie, or you might see kcal on food labels. Anything that contains or uses energy can measure that energy in calories.
Calories And Us
Understanding your bodies requirements is an invaluable tool for changing your lifestyle. Everyday our bodies need a specific number of calories to maintain the status quo – even if we didn’t move all day our bodies would still be burning calories, just breathing.
The ‘average woman’ needs around 2000 calories per day to fulfill her body requirements. This calorie requirement rises to 2500 for ‘average men’. However, these figures are based on ‘averages’ and let’s face it, none of us are average, so in reality our calorie requirements are completely different for every individual.
Calorie requirements will vary from person to person and from day to day, depending on what activity we are doing, whether we are in good health and even the environment that we are in.
We get calories from the macronutrients (often called macros) that we consume: protein, carbohydrate, fat, alcohol and fibre. You can find out more about macronutrients, in our article Understanding Macros.
How Many Calories Do I need?
When calculating how many calories are needed by our bodies, we have to take into account a number of factors.
A calculation is used to come up with a figure, using some scientific theory and interpretation. We use the Harris-Benedict formula, which takes your gender, age, height and weight and using some other numbers, gives a figure called our Basal Metabolic Rate or BMR. This calculation is the same calculation used by dieticians and doctors in the NHS. Your BMR is the number of calories our body would need to stay exactly as it is, if we just led still all day and didn’t move, or eat or drink or anything.
Next a factor is applied based upon your activity levels. Those who have active jobs and exercise intensely will need more calories than someone who is mainly sedentary throughout the day and does little exercise. This then gives us a figure that we give to you, as your calorie allowance, to maintain your weight as it is. We then subtract at least 500 calories from you, to give you a deficit, in order to lose at least 1lb a week.
This is because 1lb of fat (because that is what we are trying to lose) is equal to 3500 calories. 500 calories deficit a day multiplied by 7 days, equals 3500 calories.
It’s Not An Exact Science
What is important to realise is that whilst this most definitely is scientific, it’s a very generalised scientific calculation, based upon mass population data and theories.
Things that aren’t taken into consideration when calculating calorie requirements are things such as your body composition – i.e how much lean muscle and fatty tissue you have; your health status, how well you are aging and your hormones. All these things can also affect our bodies daily calorie needs but they are so varied it would be impossible to put an exact figure on it in our calculations. So it’s important to bear this in mind when we step on the scales each week.
You may find in some cases that the calories we give you, don’t elicit the weight loss that you expect. If you have a lot of muscle mass you will have a faster weight loss than someone at the same height, weight, gender and age as someone with poor muscle tone and more body fat.
Your health status may also impact your calories needs, in that if you are unwell you may burn more or perhaps less calories. Your hormone status can impact the way we process different macronutrients, which in turn will impact on how we burn energy. These are all factors running in the backgrounds of the amazing machines that are our bodies, and we don’t have a huge amount of control over it.
Our weight also effects how many calories we burn. The heavier we are the more calories we burn as we use our bodies, moving more when you are bigger will help to increase your energy expenditure, just don’t focus on this as the sole strategy to lose weight – it’s to be seen as more of a supporting role, to getting your calorie deficit through food.
Further, as we age, our bodies reproduce cells slower, and our metabolism slows down, so this affects how we burn energy. Some of us age better than us, and our metabolic age may well be different to our chronological age, so this is something that whilst we do try to take account of in our calculations, again it isn’t an exact science.
As you can see it is a very complex situation, that it is difficult to put a specific number on it, that will fit for every day.
What If It’s Not Working?
First of all, you need to be honest with yourself, and check that you are tracking absolutely everything accurately, you’re on point with your portion sizes and you are hitting those calorie targets, every single day.
Check that you’re weight tracker settings are correct by clicking the link, then the preferences tab. Have you got the right date of birth, gender, height, weight and activity levels (be really honest about that bit). Only when you know that all of this is right, and it still isn’t working should you look to start tweaking things.
Next check that you are getting enough protein in. We give you a protein target in your protein tracker, and you could aim to hit that or as near to it as you can, whilst still remaining within your calorie deficit. A good protein intake is fundamental to weight loss.
Finally if all that doesn’t work, you may need to tweak your daily calorie allowance. Start by lowering your allowance by an extra 100 a day, and see where that takes you. If that doesn’t work maybe take off another 50, and so on and so on, until you get the balance right for you.
Not All Calories Are Created Equal
It’s also worth considering the source of calories that you eat. There is a phrase that ‘Not all calories are created equal‘. When deciding what to eat for your calorie budget, it is worth considering that complex machine that is the human body and the way it processes the food we fuel it with.
Our bodies process food in many different ways. The different macro nutrients are dealt with by different parts of the digestive system, and when broken down into their component parts can be used or stored by different parts of the body, in different ways.
Some things can be stored more easily as fat and cause insulin resistance (sugars), some things take longer to be processed thus using more calories just to digest them (proteins and high fibre foods).
Without going into great scientific detail, it is better to feed our body with whole foods, as close to nature intended them to be, rather than being over processed and stuffed full of chemicals. Our article on ultra-processed foods explores this further. This is because food gives us more than just calories, we also need fibre, vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients to keep our bodies functioning properly, which can be found in the lesser processed foods. The more processing that takes place in producing a food, the less nutritious it generally is.
Some foods will also elicit a greater feeling of satiety than others – i.e some will make you feel fuller and more satisfied than others. There is actually an ‘index of satiety’ for foods, where scientists have studied which are the best foods are for making us feel full and not wanting to eat for up to 2 hours after. You can view this at this link, but we’ve reported the top 10 foods for making us feel full below:
- Boiled potatoes
- Ling fish
- Wholemeal Pasta
- Baked Beans
- Wholemeal bread
There is lots of consider when we talk about calories – it is more than just that number we give you to aim for when planning your meals.
To give ourselves the best chances at achieving our weight loss goals we need to be honest with ourselves about our current status, on point with tracking, eating the foods that are going to keep our bodies in tip top condition, whilst still being tasty and keeping our tummies full.
If we get the magic combination, we won’t feel like we are ‘dieting’ yet still hit those targets that we are aiming for.
This week we want you to review your calorie sources and whether you are on point with hitting your calorie targets. Are there any easy tweaks you can make to help you to maximise your weight loss potential?
Next week, we are going to focus more on nutrition, and look in more detail at macro- and micronutrients.