We’re not answering that until we make sure you understand what calories are. Strap in. It’s learning time.
Calories are units of energy.
Calories refer to the measurement of energy that a food or drink provides. Most food and beverage items will have the calorie counts listed on the packaging. Most fitness trackers (FitBits & Garmins) will monitor how many calories you burn through different activities.
It shouldn’t surprise you that fatty, fried and processed foods have far more calories than healthy fruits and vegetables, which are typically low in calories but can be high in calories depending on the item (Lewsley, J. 2022).
Why do we use calories?
Without energy, we crash. We don’t function. And we won’t accept that.
Our bodies need the energy to stay alive and functioning, which is why what you put into your body is so important. From the food and drink that you consume, you are putting energy into your body, which is used through every action, from running to breathing (NHS. 2019).
It is essential to keep track of how many calories you consume each day. Not to the exact digit, but be sure to monitor the general range of how many calories you intake per day to how many you should be consuming each day. If you’re consuming considerably above or below what you should, it may affect your performance and results.
The recommended intake of calories will depend on several different factors, including general health, physical activity, gender, weight, height, and body shape. According to the NHS, the average for men should be around 2,500, while for women, it should be closer to 2,000 (NHS. 2019).
Keep in mind it’s not just the calories that are important. It’s the substance that the calories come from that also matters. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that 1,000 calories of greens will nourish your health better than 1,000 calories of greasy fast food. Calorie-wise, the three main components of food will generally contain:
- 1g of carbohydrates contains 4kcal
- 1g of protein contains 4kcal
- 1g of fat contains 9kcal
Keep an eye on-empty calories as well. Empty calories can provide energy but very little nutritional value. That means virtually no dietary fibre, amino acids, antioxidants, dietary minerals, or vitamins. Sources of empty calories include ice cream, cookies, hot dogs, cheese, pizza, fruit drinks, sports drinks and soft drinks (Brazier, Y. 2017).
What is a calorie deficit?
Now down to business.
A calorie deficit occurs when you consume fewer calories than you burn. The calories that your burn (known as calorie expenditure) each day follow three components:
- Resting energy expenditure
REE is the calories your body burns during rest for vital functions like breathing and blood circulation
- Thermic effect of food
Referring to the calories your body expends digesting, absorbing, and metabolising food
- Activity energy expenditure
Referring to the calories expended during sports, exercise and non-exercise activities, including general movement and actions like cleaning.
If you don’t provide your body with enough calories to support these levels of calorie expenditure, then you put yourself in a calorie deficit, which can help you lose weight when done consistently for long periods. In contrast, consistently putting your body at a calorie surplus (consuming more calories than needed) can eventually lead to weight gain (Van De Walle, G. 2019).
How calories can help you lose weight
There is no cheat code for losing weight, and simply dropping the number of calories you consume won’t magically slim you down.
A calorie deficit can help you lose weight, but it needs to be paired in consideration with diet and training.
If you cut about 500 calories a day from your regular diet, you may lose up to half a kilogram of weight per week, but that still depends on a number of things: your body, gender, diet and activity level (MayoClinic Staff. 2023).
There are several efficient ways to lower your caloric intake:
- Substitute high-calorie, low-nutrition items for something better
- Substitute high-calorie foods with lower-calorie alternatives
- Lower the portion size
Cutting or substituting calories can be as simple as skipping your morning cappuccino or swapping it for a black coffee or tea, swapping sugary snacks for fruit, or trading a soft drink with sparkling water.
How to create a calorie deficit
There are a number of ways to lower your caloric intake while still enjoying a sustainable and filling meal. However, don’t take what you’ve read so far as a suggestion that you should cut anything high-calorie out of your diet. A healthy and balanced diet should still contain calorie-dense foods.
For instance, foods that are high in healthy fats, including eggs, nuts and avocados, will contain more calories than fruits and vegetables, but they are still valuable and nutritious. If you’re looking for some easy, healthy alternatives for snacks, meals and drinks, we’ve done the work for you (Streit, L et al. 2021).
Try swapping your donuts, chocolate bars and muffins with:
- Greek yoghurt and berries
Take a break from McDonald’s, cut down on the sausages and ease up on the deep-fried food with:
- Chicken breast
- Lean meat
Trade the Coke, OJ and Gatorade with:
- Sparkling water
- Herbal tea
- Black coffee
- Iced tea
By combining exercise and dietary changes, you can burn calories during exercise while consuming fewer calories through meal and snack substitutions. This can make it easier to lower your calorie intake each day, and over time, with consistency, you can lose weight. Just cutting out syrup-drowned coffees, fruit juices (which contain more sugar than you may expect), and soft drinks can help you cut hundreds of calories from your diet daily. Basically, don’t drink your calories (Van De Walle, G. 2019).
Additionally, the sugar, fat, and salt in highly processed foods - fast foods, desserts, cereals and deep-fried foods can skyrocket your calorie intake without offering much nutritional value. An easy alternative is to start cooking your own meals. It might be hard to find time, but doing so just a few days per week will allow you to manage your portion sizes and ingredients, helping you better track how many calories you are consuming (Van De Walle, G. 2019).
The Bottom Line
If you’re considering adopting a regular calorie-deficit diet, it is important to check with a doctor or dietician to ensure that this diet is right for you. Depending on factors like your age, weight, and health conditions, it may be healthier to stick to the recommended caloric intake each day. Instead, consume cleaner, more nutritious alternatives and incorporate more frequent exercise.
Also, be wary that results won’t show overnight. Depending on the aforementioned factors, results may take weeks or months to start being noticeable. It will take discipline and frequency, across diet and exercise, for you to experience results.
It’s time to level up, break old habits, and make a positive change in your life.
If you need any help or are looking for the right supplements to provide extra support (they won’t do the hard work for you), reach out online, and our knowledgeable team can offer advice and help you find the right supplements to support your transformation.
Lewley, J. 2022, ‘What are calories?’ LiveScience, accessed 27 January 2023, https://www.livescience.com/52802-what-is-a-calorie.html
NHS. 2019, ‘Understanding calories’, NHS, accessed 27 January 2023, https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-weight/managing-your-weight/understanding-calories/#:~:text=Our%20bodies%20need%20energy%20to,everything%20from%20breathing%20to%20running.
NHS. 2019, ‘What should my daily intake of calories be?’, NHS, accessed 27 January 2023, https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/food-and-diet/what-should-my-daily-intake-of-calories-be/#:~:text=Generally%2C%20the%20recommended%20daily%20calorie,women%20and%202%2C500%20for%20men.
Brazier, Y. 2017, ‘How many calories do you need?’ Medical News Today, accessed 27 January 2023, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/263028
Van De Walle, G. 2019, ‘What Is a Calorie Deficit, and How Much of One Is Healthy?’ Healthline, accessed 27 January 2023, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/calorie-deficit
MayoClinic Staff. 2023, ‘Counting calories: Get back to weight-loss basics’, MayoClinic, accessed 27 January 2023, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/in-depth/calories/art-20048065
Streit, L et al. 2017, ‘33 Foods That Are Very Low in Calorie’, Healthline, accessed 27 January 2023, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/zero-calorie-foods