Are you currently trying to lose weight, or have you lost weight in the past? I’d make a wager that everyone trying to lose weight has at some point heard of a calorie, or calories. But what are they? What is this calorie thing you keep hearing about in magazines, on TV, on YouTube, etc? In its most basic form a calorie is a unit of energy; energy, scientifically referred to as a joule; joule meaning work. When you see the word calorie on the back of a nutrition label, you can think of it as the energy needed to raise 1 gram of water to 1 degree Celsius. This is how nutrition labels define calories.
You might be thinking how does this information have anything to do with you losing weight. I assure you it has everything to do with you losing weight. Understand the primary substance that many of us want to rid from our bodies is simply stored energy. And when I say stored energy, I’m referring to fat. When we hear the word “fat” many thoughts go through our mind. However, fat is nothing but energy that the body has stored to be burned off at a later time when needed. Here is the problem, however, when too much of that energy gets stored on your body you can begin to experience some significant health problems.
Fat is demonized in the media, pop culture, on social media, and other areas. However, if you were to remove all fat from your body you would cease to exist. There are many enzymatic and chemical processes in which your body utilizes fat. Did you know that with out body fat, fat soluble vitamins like A, K, D and E would not be able to be used by your body? We all need fat, we just don’t need to much of it. Hopefully, you now understand that fat is simply stored energy on your body that is ready to be used for work. And you know that stored energy means stored calories. So, do you need to count the calories you consume in order to lose weight? The answer is it depends where you are on your weight loss journey. Often times, I work with people who are very overweight and even obese. These people have 50, to 100, to 200 pounds to lose. When they come to me for help, I rarely bring up the word calorie, unless they ask about it. When you are just beginning a weight loss journey, and you start to seek information you can be overwhelmed with data. What I always want beginners to focus on is getting started and staying consistent. There will come a time to discuss calories, but at the beginning is not that time.
The heavier a person is, the more energy it takes to move them, and the more calories they will burn. Many overweight / obese people can lose a significant amount of weight in the beginning of their weight loss journey by simply exercising and leaving their diet unchanged. This is because the increased level of activity, combined with their weight, creates a significant enough calorie deficit, and they are able to drop body fat for a long period of time. Here is what you need to understand regarding a calorie deficit: if you are not in one, you WILL NOT lose any body fat. You might drop a high amount of water weight, but you CAN NOT reduce body fat without running a calorie deficit. This is how the stored energy (fat) is metabolized by the body.
Without getting too technical, or scientific, understand that the body has three systems and processes for how it uses it’s energy. The first system is the phosphate system. The second is the anaerobic system. The third is the aerobic system, which is the system that uses fat as an energy source. This means that fat is not the only energy source in the body. There is also glycogen and phosphagen. Now, these three energy sources are all created from food and all three sources, while stored in the body differently, eventually get converted to adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to be able to be used for work. You need to understand this information eventually because as you get closer to your ultimate weight loss goal you will need to learn how to count calories, and what physical activity uses what system of energy.
The reason you will need to start counting calories one day is because you will come to a juncture where exercise alone is no longer enough to drop body fat, and you must start dieting. When I say diet, I simply mean reducing your caloric intake. I have experienced this, and you will too as you get leaner and leaner. In order for us to run a calorie deficit in order to lose more body fat, it becomes harder and harder to simply “wing it” when it comes to the food we eat. We need to know exactly how many calories we are putting into our bodies. With this information we can compare it to our Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), and our energy expenditure via physical activity, and we can adjust these factors to run a calorie deficit. Assume your BMR is 1800 calories per day and you 700 extra calories each day in the form of exercise / physical activity. That is a calorie expenditure rate of 2500 calories burned for the day, which is pretty good. Now, consider that you do not count your calories and you consume 2500 calories through food and drink. Yes, you moved around, and yes you exercised, but did you lose any weight? No. Well, why not? It’s because you did not run a caloric deficit. Even if you consumed a low carb diet you still did not run a caloric deficit.
This is the reason that you can exercise intensely everyday and still not lose weight. No calorie deficit means no weight loss; no matter how hard you worked out, or sweated. Furthermore, 1 pound of fat is equivalent to 3500 calories. So this means that if you ran a 500 calorie deficit each day you would lose 1 pound of fat each week. Which is very good! It may seem slow, but over time it adds up! Again, let’s assume your Basal Metabolic Rate is 1800. In order to lose 1 pound of fat in a week you can either consume 1300 calories a day, or you can consume 1800 calories a day and use 500 calories worth of energy in the form of physical activity. Or, you can eat less than you BMR and still perform exercise, which is what I do, and you will also run a caloric deficit. All that matters is that you run a deficit in a safe and healthy manner So, do you have to count calories, ultimately yes you do in order to get your weight loss goal.