To lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories than your body needs. It sounds simple, right? For many counting calories ensures you're on top of what's going into your body and how much and what type of foods you should be consuming. You're in control. We give the low-down on why too many calories leads to weight gain and how you can kick off controlling your intake to help with your fitness goals.
What Are Calories?
Calories are a measure of energy, normally used to measure the energy content of foods and drinks. For the boring science of it, a dietary calorie is the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of 1kg of water by 1 degree Celsius. You use the calories that you eat and drink for your body to function and for you to stay alive. It's our fuel.
Any excess calories you eat will be stored as fat, and consistently eating more than you burn will cause weight gain over time. It's an evolutionary trait. Back when we were living in caves and hunting with sharpened rocks food was sparse. Our body adapted over thousands of years to store any unused energy in the body as fat so it could be used when food was hard to come by. Hence why burning calories will eventually burn fat within the body. Your body is thinking 'Okay, I have no food energy, time to use fat to keep us going'. However if you've just consumed a King Size Snickers the body will jump to that for energy first, forgetting about the fat stores until they're needed.
Why Calories Count
It's quite common to hear that calories don't matter and calorie counting is a waste of time. However, when it comes to your weight, calories do count.
This is a fact that has been proven time and time again in scientific experiments where people are literally asked to overeat. Unsurprisingly all these studies have found that, when people eat more calories than they burn off, they gain weight. Shocker. This simple fact means that counting calories and limiting your intake can be effective to prevent weight gain or lose weight, as long as you manage to stick to it.
How Many Calories Should You Eat?
How many calories you need depends on any number of factors such as gender, age, weight and activity level. For example, a 25-year-old male athlete who plays rugby 4 times a week will need more calories than a 80-year-old woman who sits at home watching Countdown all day.
Here's the trick: If you are trying to lose weight, you will need to create a calorie deficit by eating less than your body burns off.
Use this calculator to determine how many calories you should eat per day.
The Best Apps to Help You Count Calories
Thanks for technology counting calories has never been easier. Lots of apps and websites are available to simplify the process by providing quick and easy ways to log the food you eat. Our favourite is My Fitness Pal and all the Kerrigan's meats and dishes are listed but there are loads of options out there. Check the app store for the best ones.
How to Weigh and Measure Your Portions
Portion sizes have gone through the roof. In restaurants people want value for money so plates are becoming invisible under the mountains of food. This can also be said for what we cook at home. Our mothers always said 'Your eyes are bigger than your belly'. This has never rung more true in our food-craving society. We are seeing large servings of foods as the norm. We are eating until we are uncomfortably full and it's taking more and more food to do this.
Calorie counting can help you combat overeating by giving you a better understanding of how much you are really consuming. But it isn't an exact science, even when you weigh and measure portions. You should be most careful about recording items that are high in fat and sugar such as pizza and ice cream. Under-recording these foods can be detrimental to your weight lose goals.
So when messuring out your foods, especially when cooking, use scales, cups and measures or portion-size estimates to determine how much you’re eating.
The Quality of Your Diet Still Matters
Calories are useful for tracking how much you eat, but they don't tell you much about the quality of your diet. The body reacts differently to the source in which you're obtaining your calories from. For example, 200 calories of broccoli will affect your health differently than 200 calories of potato waffles. This is important because your overall diet and the types of foods you eat have an effect on your health.
Additionally, the effects of different foods on hunger, appetite hormones and the amount of calories you burn can vary considerably.
Aim for healthy, natural wholesome foods. Try reduce your intake of processed foods that are high in sugar and bad fats. High-quality foods not only provide health benefits, but they also make it a lot easier to consume fewer calories in the long run.
In a Nutshell
"Calories in, calories out" certainly isn't the only thing that matters for optimal health. However, when it comes to weight loss, calories do count and you should at least do your best to monitor your intake. Although it doesn't suit everyone, you may find that counting calories is an effective way to lose weight and stay trim.