Ahhh, the age old question.
Calories. What are They? Why Do They Matter? What Should I Do With Them?
What is a Calorie?
Now here is the thing with calories...they aren't a thing. They are a way to measure energy. Just the same as a Mile is a way to measure distance, and a kilogram is a way to measure weight.
Scientifically speaking a calorie is the amount of energy it takes to raise the temperature of 1-litre of water by 1 degree (Celsius).
This is why calorie dense foods have a lot of calories (fun experiment try setting fire to a crisp). So that is the thing to remember all it is, is a handy unit of measuring energy.
Why Do Calories Matter?
Calories matter, because we need energy to survive, so it is important that we are taking in enough energy to live (move around, breath, keep your body functioning etc). The amount of energy your body needs on a daily basis is called your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). This is different for everyone, and varies depending on age, how much muscle mass you have, how "quick" your metabolism is etc. If you go back to Q1 you'll remember that a kilogram is just a way of measuring weight (your mass in relation to the earths gravity) so please remember that your 'weight' does not effect your BMR!
As a very general rule, men usually have a higher BMR than women (due to different genetics) and as a very crude way of calculating your BMR you can use this formula
Men = 66.47 + (13.7 x your weight [kg]) + (5 x your height [cm]) − (6.8 your age [years])
Women = 655.1 + (9.6 x your weight [kg]) + (1.8 x your height [cm]) − (4.7 x your age [years])
This number is approximately how many calories you need to take in each day through food and drink to maintain your current body. Please remember that this uses a lot of guess work and doesn't take into account things like your hormones and it certainly doesn't include your lifestyle.
So a woman who weighs 9 1/2 stone (60kg) and is 5ft 6inches (170cm) and is 45 years old would have a BRM of approximately 1325.6 calories
We then take this number and add a multiplier to account for your lifestyle
Little/no exercise: x 1.2
Light exercise: x 1.375
Moderate exercise (3-5 days/wk): x 1.55
Very active (6-7 days/wk): x 1.725
Extra active (very active & physical job): x 1.9
So if she is exercising 3 days per week her daily calorie use is 2054 Calories to MAINTAIN her current physiology.
Now, that word maintain is in big, bold letters because most people (and I'm generalising here) don't want to maintain, they want to change. Maybe they want to be smaller and slim down, maybe they want to tone up and have more muscle.
If she takes in less than this number (but leads the exact same lifestyle) her body will start to use it's energy reserves (stored body fat) This is called a calorie deficit.
But this is good right?
Well, not necessarily - Because her body will also not work as well she will- lose concentration, irregular sleep, and she will find things much more difficult.
Your body can cope with a moderate deficit, but if you take it too far, these symptoms get worse and usually we end up 'falling off the wagon' with a huge binge on chocolate/ice cream/booze - whatever your vice may be!
The age old advice has always been that a 500 calorie deficit per day is the best way to slim down, but I'm not fully prepared to put that down on paper for whoever is reading this, because there is so many different variables to consider. And this is the big problem with Calorie-only weight loss advice, and all of the programs that follow or imitate it (I'm looking at you slimmers world, weight watchers et al.)
So what do I do?
Well let's look back at our calculations, let's just imagine instead of her being "moderately active" she is "very active".
Now, we multiply her BRM by 1.725 instead of 1.55
She now burns 2287 per day. so without changing her in take at all, she has created a deficit of 233 calories. She is also building more muscle through the exercise, and increasing her BMR exponentially. She is also getting all the other benefits of exercise - strength, stamina, speed, flexibility, and numerous other benefits too.
Now please do not read into this that I'm advising against watching what you eat - quite the opposite. I'm saying that you should. You don't need to know your exact numbers (although many people find it does help) but i'm saying that we should be aware of exactly what is going in, and what is going out too.
The good thing about calories is that most foods have it written on the packet how many calories it contains, and if it doesn't they are very easy to find (apps and websites like myfitnesspal, fitbit, and thousands of others are out there)
Calories going in are just as important as the ones going eat. So first of all, my advice is to get some idea of your BMR. At Fitness In Time, we can help you work this out so why not book a review and come in to see us. We should all have an idea of how much we should eat and drink.
Next, look at if you are hitting that number, below it or over it.
Now try and work out why. This basically falls into 2 categories: How much you eat/drink and what sort of things do you eat/drink.
Finally take some action based on your goal
You can change the things you eat by making healthier choices (we all know what I'm talking about)
You can change the amount you eat through eating less often or smaller portions (being careful to make sure you still get enough)
You can increase your activity levels (exercise more often)
you can change the type of activity you do.
My advice is to do all of these a little bit. the biggest mistake most people make is by choosing one of these and doing it far too much. And finally, remember that we are all different so you need to do what is right for you.
Don't forget to book your monthly reviews, and if you want to know more or would like some pointers, we are here to help!