Counting calories – the dos and don’ts

Counting caloriesIf like me you’ve tried numerous diets over the years and failed, then make sure you read on as I’m going to explain where you might be going wrong and what you can do to make sure you lose weight – and for good this time!

First of all, let’s address the age old question of –

Should I count calories to lose weight?

YES! I cannot stress how important it is to count calories when you begin a diet. But why do you need to count calories?

It’s sooooooo important to count calories to make sure you are taking in less so you lose weight. A lot of people think that losing weight is all about eating healthily and attempt to stuff as much fruit and veg into their diet as possible. This is the biggest mistake one can make, because although fruits and vegetables are much lower in calories than other meals and snacks like pizza and chocolate, you can still eat too many calories and prevent weight loss – and even put on more weight in some cases!

Most people who are overweight struggle with regulating their portion size at meal times, so when they switch from a huge portion of fish and chips to a huge portion of vegetables, they may be cutting down on the total amount of calories in comparison with the junk food, but this total could still be well above the maximum daily amount that you need in order to lose weight.

So you don’t only need to eat fewer calories than you did before; you also need to eat fewer calories than your RMR (resting metabolic rate) in order to lose weight.

What is RMR?

Resting metabolic rate (RMR) is the energy required to perform vital body functions such as respiration and heart rate while the body is at rest. About 50 to 75% of one’s daily energy expenditure can be attributed to resting metabolic rate.

Let’s now turn the energy that’s required into an amount of calories your body needs. In order to do this we need to calculate your approximate RMR to see how many calories you need on a daily basis:

RMR calculator: (opens in a new window)

How many calories do you need?

Once you’ve calculated your RMR you also need to take into consideration the additional calories you consume during the day. This could include simple ventures like walking to the shop, or having an active job role like a mechanic. The calories that you burn in addition to what your body requires for basic functions can now be used to calculate roughly how many calories you should consume each day in order to lose weight.

For example, if we assume your RMR is 2,000 calories per day (typical average male RMR) and you also burn around 300 (let’s call these lifestyle calories) if you’re fairly active and on your feet quite a bit, then to maintain your current weight you would need to consume around 2,300 calories per day. If however you are not very active at all and don’t get any exercise, then you may need to consider not counting any additional calories at all and just go for a total of 2,000.

For this example we shall use the fairly active persons totals which gives us around 2,300 calories that can be consumed each and every day to maintain your weight. This means that you will not lose or gain any weight. Now that we have this figure, we can come up with a sensible daily calorie total that will allow us to guarantee weight loss.

So how many calories should I consume in order to lose a healthy amount of weight each week?

The experts say that around 3,500 calories equates to a pound of fat in your body. So in order to lose about a pound a week you would need to consume 3,500 calories less than your total amount needed (RMR plus lifestyle calories burned). So a sensible amount of calories to drop per day is 500, which would total the 3,500 over a week.

In the above example we calculated that the RMR plus lifestyle calories were 2,300. So in order to lose around a pound per week you need to consume 1,800 calories a day. To lose more than a pound a week you would need to obviously consume less than 1,800 and/or exercise more and increase the amount of lifestyle calories you burn each day.

Although you don’t need to go to the gym in order to lose weight, it certainly helps to maintain an active lifestyle to help. Just by getting outside and going for a walk could dramatically increase the amount of calories you burn during the day. The recommended minimum amount of exercise is 3 times a week, and this only has to be around 30 minutes.

Should I count calories forever?

NO! You certainly shouldn’t get hung up on counting calories for the rest of your life.

Although it’s vital that you count calories whilst you’re losing the weight, once you are happy with what you’ve lost and you want to just maintain your weight, then you should happily get back to enjoying your food without the stress of counting calories in everything that touches your lips.

If you’re frightened that you’ll put the weight back on once you stop counting calories – then don’t be! You should find that once you’ve spent a fair amount of time counting calories, that you develop a good memory for how much is in a meal or snack. It will also be easier if you tend to stick to the same meals each week, as you can quickly add them up in your head without breaking a sweat.

Once the weight has been lost you can relax – but be careful! We all know that pizza and ice cream are extremely calorific. So if you go back to eating lots of that, then obviously the weight is going to go back on. You can’t use the excuse that stopping counting your calories was the reason you put weight on again!

Eat sensibly and healthy for the majority of the time and you should always maintain a good healthy weight. Feel free to treat yourself with junk food and sweets on the odd occasion; otherwise you’ll only end up driving yourself crazy with the cravings and end up back at square one.

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