You hear the word “calories” being thrown around a lot, and you immediately equate it to fat. In the mind of the average Joe, a “calorie” is something that you want to avoid in order to lose weight. However, the truth is just a bit more complicated than that!
What is a calorie? It’s not actually a measurement of fat, but it’s a measurement of energy.
Your body burns calories for energy, and the average human body burns about 2000 calories in a single day. Smaller people burn fewer calories, larger people burn more, athletic people burn even more. Everyone has their own unique calorie output, but essentially a calorie is a measurement of how much energy is produced from the food you eat.
Let’s say you consume a donut containing 400 calories. That’s a pretty high-calorie food, considering how many calories are in foods like tomatoes or apples. However, when you hit the gym, your body burns a lot of energy–say 600 calories. All of a sudden, those 400 calories are gone, and your body has to find 200 more calories from somewhere.
That “somewhere” is your body fat. Your body stores extra calories in order to have access to energy stores in cases just like this. You often burn more calories than your body has available, so it has to tap into those fat stores just to provide your muscles and heart with all the energy they need. The more calories you burn, the more fat you get rid of.
Essentially, weight loss comes down to one simple formula: burn more calories than you consume. If you burn 2500 calories but only eat 2000, your body has to burn 500 calories of fat in order to power your muscles. Bye bye fat!
Calories to Lose a Pound of Body Fat
To lose a single pound of body fat, you need to burn 3500 calories above what you consume in a week. One pound of fat contains 3500 calories’ worth of energy, so in order to get rid of that body fat, you have to either eat a lot less every day or work a lot harder at the gym.
All dieticians, fitness trainers, and nutritionists will tell you that burning calories via exercise is far smarter than eating fewer calories. However, if your goal is to burn 3500 calories in a single week, it’s smart to combine both exercise and a lower calorie diet.
Let’s say you need the average 2000 calories per day. When you go to the gym, you burn 300 calories by walking and lifting weights. That means that your body now burns 2300 calories per day. Instead of eating 2000 calories’ worth of food, cut back and only eat 1800 calories. All of a sudden, your body has limited energy available, but it is burning more than normal. It has only one option: to tap into the stores of fat it has saved up for just such an occasion. All of a sudden, by increasing energy output AND lowering calorie intake, you burn 500 calories extra in a day–or 3500 calories extra in a week.
Here are a few tips to help you eat well while still losing those 3500 calories per day:
- Cut calories by no more than 10 to 15%
- Consume at least 25% protein, 50% carbs, and 25% fats
- Lose weight slowly, over the course of weeks and months
- Push yourself harder at the gym instead of cutting calories drastically
- Get active in your daily life, not just at the gym