It’s January, another new year is here and no doubt there are dozens of you who are worried about your calorie intake. You want to get fit, you want to lose weight so you check labels, you count calories, compare to the sandwich next to the one you’re holding and just have no idea what to eat so you get the smallest salad they have on the shelf. Well done, but do you actually know what calories are, how to calculate your own or how to lose weight in a way that is sensible and safe?
You’re probably staring at your screen with a panic look on your face but first, breathe. Now calm down, we’ll get you started on learning the answers to those questions and so much more in this post.
What are calories?
Calories are the energy availability in food. That means every time you eat anything there is energy in it. We use that energy to do everything from something as energetic as that HIIT class in the gym, to something as simple as sitting on the sofa and breathing while you watch TV and eat that delicious jam doughnut.
Why do calories make us fat?
Calories don’t make you fat. Let’s clear this up. However, as with all forms of energy, what’s not used straight away is stored in your body for use at a later date. If you store enough away and don’t use it then you will be building up stored energy and as such will become heavier (according to those horrible scales we avoid under the bathroom sink).
How can I use my newfound knowledge of calories to help me lose weight?
Well thinking about it, you need to try and manage it so you eat just enough calories for the activity you do on a daily basis so that you don’t build up too much excess calories. To get rid of the energy already stored in your body you have to use it up! How do you do that? Well exercise (the right type of exercise) is the first and most obvious option and the second, almost as obvious is restricting your calorie intake, IN THE RIGHT WAY. This does not mean you move to a 900 calorie a day diet as there will be no way for you to get all the nutrients and vitamins that your body will need.
Tell me how!
So, first we need to calculate your Daily Caloric Need (DCN) which is done through 3 very easy steps laid out below (DON’T SCROLL DOWN JUST YET!!). Then you start monitoring your calories BUT you consume just 500 calories short of your Daily Caloric Need that you have calculated. That gives a reasonable and sustainable weight loss. Obviously I’m assuming you understand that although you are eating 500 calories less than your Daily Caloric Need you are doing it with good, healthy, whole foods….not regular take away!!
So, let’s do this!!
Step 1 – Calculating your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). This is the number of calories you burn at rest. This includes, keeping your heart beating, breathing, sustaining your basic bodily functions. The minimum your body needs to carry on working. These values you are using are only estimates, bear in mind this number will change based on age, height and weight but the below is a good starting point to give you a rough estimate. This is standardised depending on if you are male or female:
FEMALE BMR = your weight in KG x 22
MALE BMR = your weight in KG x 24
Let’s use myself as an example. I weigh about 80kg so my BMR is:
BMR: 80 x 24 = 1,920
So my BMR is 1,920
Step 2 – Calculate your Physical Activity Level (PAL). This is the ratio of how much activity you do on a regular basis. Now, be honest with yourself here, the list below gives you an understanding of what you should be using:
Mostly inactive, sitting 1.2
Fairly active (walking and exercise 1-2 times a week) 1.3
Moderately active (exercise 2-3 times a week) 1.4
Active (intensive exercise more than 3 times a week) 1.5
Very active (intensive exercise daily) 1.7
Using myself again, at the moment while I am not working a full time day job I am exercising every day. I swim a mile 4 times a week, intense Zumba twice a week, yoga 3 to 4 times a week and pilates twice a week. Even so, my level is only Active. My exercise regime is not particularly intensive (except the Zumba) so I would still only be 1.5 on the above scale. Be honest with yourself and it’s better to underestimate than over! One of the future posts will describe exercise and how much they burn so you can then recalculate your PAL as needed.
Step 3 – Putting them together to calculate your DCN. This bit is easy:
DCN = BMR x PAL
For me, that would be:
DCN = 1,920 x 1.5 = 2,880
This means if I eat less than 2,880 calories of good, healthy food a day and continue with my very active lifestyle, I will lose weight. If I eat more than 2,880 I will put on weight. As you can see my personal DCN is over 300 calories HIGHER than the UK recommended amount for a male of 2,500. This is because they are generic recommendations and not specific. So I eat well and healthily but I will be eating more than you might expect!
Calculate your own personal DCN and keep it in your mind. To lose weight effectively and safely, you should be about 500 calories a day below your OWN DCN.
In later posts we will go further into your calories and how you should be spreading them out between all the types of food we eat regularly but for now, let’s just start with your DCN.
If you want a bit more specific calculations for you that are also based on your age, height and weight then head over to The Mayo Clinic website and try out the Calorie Calculator they have.
Ciao for now x