Counting calories is something that most of us do without really thinking about WHY we do it. It’s simply a habit that we’ve developed over time. It’s instinct for us to look at the labels on the food we eat and mentally add that number of calories to our daily tally.
But WHY count calories to lose weight? What do calories have to do with weight loss or gain in the first place? Well, the answer is actually surprisingly simple: it’s all about math!
Your body needs a certain amount of energy to function every day. Your brain uses a few hundred calories per day, as does your heart, your digestive tract, your reproductive system, and so on. Then there’s all the energy your muscles need in order to function. Calories are the unit used to represent the energy your body burns. 1 calorie = 1 unit of energy. Your body needs a certain number of calories to function properly.
How many calories per person per day? That depends on your size, your body fat percentage, your weight, your activity level, and many other factors. The average man burns around 2,000 calories per day, while the average woman burns around 1,800.
To gain weight, you simply need to consume more calories than you burn every day. If a woman consumed 2,000 calories per day, she would gain weight slowly. If that consumption went up to 2,500, the weight gain would be faster. It’s the same with weight loss, just in reverse. To lose weight, you need to burn more than you consume. So for a woman to lose weight, she would have to consume FEWER than 1,800 calories per day.
Counting calories helps us to be aware of what we’re eating, and how many calories we’re consuming every day. It’s only thanks to our habit of counting calories that we can know whether we’re eating too many or too few calories.
Do calories have to be exact?
In order to lose weight, everyone now understands that we really need to ingest less energy than the body requires, and that calorie reduction should be a gradual process over the course of weeks. In an attempt to cut calories from the diet, many people get caught up with the exact number of calories in each and every item of food or drink, but is it really that important to be so accurate with calorie counting?
The answer is no, not really!
Think about it, there are so many variables involved in the amount of energy we expend each day that any inaccuracy in dietary intake can be balanced out on expenditures from the daily workload and activity. As long as we keep generally active each day then there should be no problems. For example, one day you may burn equivalent to over 2000 calories but, ifenergy intake were anything between 1500-1800 calories then you’ll still be on track to lose weight. In this example, there would be no need for the individual to count exactly 1500 calories or whatever the calorie target may be.
One drawback may be on occasional days there is a reverse in energy balance, where we don’t burn off as much energy as needed, for example, due to tiredness after a long day at work, maybe a workout was below optimum, less enthusiasm for a day’s exercise program. We cannot really do much about our off days but, we could compensate for these days with a slight adaptation within the diet.
When I have a workout that has been below average I make sure I adapt my dietary intake accordingly for the following day, maybe cut out the butter on a sandwich or have only half portion of rice or potatoes. The point is I don’t have to count out exact calories on these days either. Just try to keep in mind possible fluctuations and adapt accordingly. Doing this should help you keep in a constant negative energy balance to lose weight consistently
Note: DO NOT consume too few calories! Anything less than 1,200 calories per day is considered a Very Low Calorie Diet (VLCD), and will cause your body to go into “starvation mode”. This leads to your body storing as much fat as possible and burning muscle tissue for energy–the exact opposite of what you want for proper weight loss. Cut calories, but not so many that your body suffers as a result.