All too many American citizens struggle with the ability to lose weight. With obesity rates on the rise and more than 2/3 of Americans described as overweight or obese, it’s little wonder that people find themselves struggling with how to lose weight. Understanding calories in vs. calories out, however, can help most people successfully lose weight and get in better shape.
The Basic Formula
The basic formula of calories in vs. calories out is relatively simple. When calories out exceeds calories in, you’ll be able to lose weight. If your calorie intake exceeds your output, on the other hand, you’ll find yourself gaining–often rapidly.
If your aim is to lose weight, your goal is to create an energy deficit–that is, to expend more energy than you take in through food. The higher your energy deficit (within reasonable amounts, and without starving your body), the faster and easier it will be to lose weight.
Understanding the Formula
If you’re going to count calories, you first must understand what they are. A large calorie, or kCal, is defined as the amount of energy necessary to increase the temperature of one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius. This is the measurement most commonly used to measure energy in food or energy expended through exercise.
Every food that you eat has a set number of calories. When you perform exercise, from walking around your house during the day to going for a brisk run, lifting weights, or dancing, you expend energy that is also counted in calories. Your goal is to perform more exercise and movement than you bring in through food.
Developing Your Formula
Every individual burns a different number of calories throughout a typical day depending on their weight, height, gender, overall metabolism, age, and how active they are. A woman who works a desk job and rarely gets exercise outside of work, for example, might burn an average of 1620 calories per day. An active man in his forties who is on his feet all day at work or who exercises vigorously may find himself burning as much as 3000 or more calories on an average day.
Your formula, therefore, is unique to you. Many fitness trackers and health and wellness sites offer calculators that will allow you to determine your average daily calorie burn. Wearing a fitness tracker may enable you to get a more accurate reading for your personal daily needs.
Once you know the average number of calories you burn during a day, you have your baseline. When you exercise, you burn more calories. As you eat, you will subtract calories. Many fitness websites and apps offer tracking programs that will allow you to compare the number of calories you burn each day against the number you’re consuming.
Creating a Calorie Deficit for Weight Loss
It takes a deficit of 3500 calories to lose one pound. Obviously, the greater your calorie deficit, the faster your results will be. If you have a lot of weight to lose, however, your best bet is slow, steady weight loss over time so that you can sustain your rate.
Some people set a specific deficit–say, a 500 calorie deficit each day to aim for one pound of weight loss each week. Others prefer to calculate their deficit based on percentage. Try to choose a calorie deficit that you can maintain throughout the duration of your diet, rather than exercising a strict diet that fails to satisfy and falling off the wagon after a short period of time.
If you’re aiming to lose weight, it’s important to avoid several common mistakes that can make it difficult to sustain that weight loss long enough to reach your goals.
- Don’t set your deficit too high. This can cause difficulties with your metabolism both during and after your diet.
- Don’t ignore calorie density. Healthy foods provide more energy and nutrients for your body, while unhealthy foods with the same calorie value might not be as nutritionally sound–or leave you feeling satisfied later.
- Don’t starve yourself early in the day. If you can avoid letting yourself get hungry, you’re less likely to overeat.
A healthy calorie deficit can go a long way toward helping you meet your weight loss goals. Ultimately, weight loss is relatively simple. When calories out exceeds calories in, you’ll see a change in your weight, your energy level, and your overall health.