If you’re interested in succeeding with your weight loss it’s incredible important that you understand how energy and calories work. All popular diets are, consciously or unconsciously, trying to reduce your calorie intake even though not all health gurus admit it. As more people have realized how difficult it can be to maintain a low calorie diet, when you don’t have all the pieces, the theory has falsely received a bad reputation.
What a lot of people seem to miss is that the theory doesn’t explain how to lose weight but rather why. The calorie theory explains that you will lose weight and roughly how much you will lose when you are on a calorie reduced diet but it doesn’t explain what you should do to avoid eating all those extra calories. This is why the calorie theory has received a bad reputation.
How the calorie theory really works
How does it work then? Well, usually most people come in contact with the simplified version with calories in (food) minus calories out (exercise). Unfortunately this isn’t 100% correct and a more realistic version look like this:
energy intake – energy we can’t use = energy out ± stored energy
It can seem difficult but I will break it down for you, beginning with the left side of the formula. First and foremost we have the energy intake which consists of the food you eat. Then we subtract the energy which the body can’t pick up. Studies have found that the body can pick up roughly 95% of your energy intake which leaves such a small amount that I recommend that you continue to see it as one variable in the form of calories in. In a worst case scenario your body won’t pick up all the energy and as a result you’ll lose more weight than expected. That’s most certainly not a bad thing.
The right side of the formula corresponds to the energy we consume and it’s a bit more advanced. Luckily you don’t need to know exactly how it works since there’s a formula at the bottom of this post but it’s a good idea to get a rough understanding of how the calorie theory and your body works.
Our body consume energy to do the following things:
Heat – Your body has an average temperature of 37 C ± 0.5 − 1.0 C. To maintain this temperature your body consume roughly 10% of your energy.
Basal metabolism – Corresponds to the energy your body needs to keep life essential body functions going such as heartbeat, brain and other important organs. Your basal metabolism drops as you lose weight and as a result a lot of people falsely believe you can enter a starvation mode if you lose weight to quickly. Studies from National Weight Control has showed that the drop in basal metabolism highly correlates with peoples fat levels. Meaning – the lower your amount of fat is the lower your basal metabolism will be.
Non-exercise activity thermogenesis – A long word abbreviated as NEAT and corresponds to the energy we consume when doing movements that doesn’t count as psychical activities. It can be simply things such as moving your leg up and down when watching TV, drumming on the table with your fingers or dangling with your legs. This isn’t something most people notice but if you consume less energy than the body needs for a long period of time you will eventually reduce these movements to save as much energy as possible. If you, on the other hand, consume more energy than the body needs you can actually get a feeling of not being able to sit still.
Psychical activity – This is what people usually referes to when speaking about calories out. It corresponds to all exercise such as bodybuilding, walks, running and other activities. Unfortunately we tend to overestimate how many calories we actually burn during exercise and a study from 2010 showed that the participants overestimated their calorie consumption with over 300%!
Stored energy – Lastly we have the energy that get stored in your body consisting of fat, carbohydrates and protein. One kilo muscles consists of roughly 700 kcal and one kilo fat consists of roughly 7000 kcal. As a result you need a calorie reduction that’s 10 times larger if you want to lose one kilo fat instead of one kilo muscles. Your scale doesn’t know if you’ve lost 0.5 kg fat (3500 kcal) or 0.5 kg muscles (350 kcal). Because of this I highly recommend that you use other measurements instead of a scale.
A more advanced calorie theory would look like this:
stored energy (your weight change) = energy in – energy we can’t use – heat – basal metabolism – NEAT – psychical activities
Fortunately you don’t need to keep track of them all since there’s a simple formula you can use to calculate your calorie needs. Subscribe to my newsletter and I’ll send you a mail as soon as I’ve published it.