Do you absolutely have to calculate your calories to lose weight?
This is a question almost everyone asks when it comes to losing fat. And this is normal since to lose weight it is absolutely necessary create a calorie deficit.
But suddenly, it becomes a real gas plant for most of you who want to lose weight. You try to control and write down everything you swallow and it gets overwhelming after a while.
So, do you have to go through this?
Table of Contents
- Calculating Calories: Differing Opinions
- Not the only solution to creating a calorie deficit
- What is a calorie?
- Why calories are important
- 2 truths to know before calculating your calories
- The principle is simpler than the practice
- egg and soda
- Not all calories are created equal
- Calculating your calories: The real interest
- Factors that affect weight loss
- Creating a Calorie Deficit – Conclusion
- FAQ: Answers to common questions
Calculating Calories: Differing Opinions
For some, eating is more like a math exercise than a pleasure. They count their calorie needs every day with this equation in mind: (calorie + calorie + calorie) = gain or lose weight
And you? Do you find it useful or completely stupid? Do you count your energy needs and calories burned? Is it worth doing a clever calculation caloric need for weight loss?
For different reasons, calorie counting is a sensitive subject for many people. Sometimes it even becomes a pitched battle between those in favor and those against. In the first camp, you find those who firmly believe that counting calories is the only thing that matters in losing or gaining weight.
Just opposite, in the trenches, are all those who think that it is useless and that the most important thing is to eat healthy or to limit the quantities you eat.
In reality, there is truth in both camps. And dismissing any of the possibilities without giving it serious thought can make it harder for you to lose weight. So you have to decide what is best for you.
Not the only solution to creating a calorie deficit
Calories matter, but you don't necessarily have to count them. It may sound surprising… but it's a fact.
However, I am not saying that calorie counting is completely useless.
As I have explained in other articles, counting can help you realize the reality of what you are consuming in the beginning. It is also an additional motivator for some of you, but it is difficult to maintain in the long term. We will come back to the various advantages and disadvantages later.
In fact, the main thing is not there to lose fat and create this famous energy deficit necessary to lose weight over time or to maintain a stable weight. Indeed, there is a lot of misunderstanding about calories and the role they play.
To start, let’s briefly explain what calories are…
What is a calorie?
It is primarily a unit for measuring energy.
Paradoxically, the way to measure a calorie is still very much debated. From a scientific point of view and to put it simply, a calorie corresponds to the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1°C. One of the problems is that the first historical definition only stated that “a calorie is the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by one degree centigrade. »
Hence the confusion that still exists between calories (symbol callus) and kilocalories or large calories (symbol cal). In easy English, let's say that a food calorie corresponds to an amount of energy that your body receives through food and drink.
Your body uses this energy to operate the brain and the various organs. You also need it to have the fuel needed to your physical activities. It's a bit like gasoline in the car.
Why calories are important
The body needs energy to move, move its arms and legs, open its eyelids, but also to breathe, make your heart beat, build your muscles, your bones, laugh, cry, think, speak, etc.
Because this energy is vital, the body and the brain have complex and powerful mechanisms to ensure that you always have enough of it.
A natural but uncontrolled mechanism
So that you don't run out, the body has a remarkable energy storage system. It turns excess calories into fat.
Depending on how much body fat you have stored, this can keep you going without food for weeks or even months. This is why it seems that Lao-Tseu said "When the fat are thin, the thin have long since died." "Which is not entirely false 😉
But you also need to understand that excess body fat is also harmful to your health. For information, a kilo of body fat represents approximately 7000 Cal.
The root cause of your weight gain or loss
Calories are therefore essential to life, but as you know, too much calorie intake gain body mass. Why, then ?
Because of one of the laws of thermodynamics (or principle of conservation of energy), the substance of which is this:
The total energy of an isolated system remains constant. The events that occur there only result in transformations of certain forms of energy into other forms of energy. Energy can only be transmitted from one system to another. We don't create energy, we transform it.
So maybe science isn't your cup of tea. But in any case, it is because of this principle that you find it difficult to get rid of extra pounds. And that hurts! Science or no science.
So, since the energy accumulated by consuming food and drink cannot evaporate into the air, if we consume more calories per day than we burn, we grow. If we consume less, we lose weight.
Sounds really simple said like that, doesn't it?
When you eat excess calories, no matter what food they come from, they are turned by your body into fat (triglycerides) which is then stored in your fat cells (adipocytes).
This observation leads to 2 inseparable truths of weight loss, with or without calorie counting…
2 truths to know before calculating your calories
There are 2 fundamental truths that you must know and understand:
- As soon as you consume more calories than your daily requirement, you gain fat.
- When you burn more calories than you eat, you burn fat (calorie deficit).
These are science facts: Calories are important for weight gain and weight loss. Any extra unburned calories are stored.
If we go back to the comparison with gasoline, if you add 50 liters to your tank when only 30 are missing, it overflows!
As an old advertisement for a fresh cheese said: “The rest is literature”.
Don't confuse losing weight with losing fat.
Of course, the word "weight" can mean several different things. For example, you might gain weight because you are increasing your muscle mass. Remember that muscle is denser than fat. A muscular person can weigh a lot without having a lot of body fat. That's why when you do a BMI calculation on a bodybuilder, he is considered obese...
What really interests us is the destocking of fat rather than weight loss. That's why I prefer to talk about fat loss.
But, generally speaking in terms of weight loss, an excess of calories causes fat gain, while a calorie deficit causes fat loss.
The principle is simpler than the practice
As you have just read, the principle of fat loss might seem very simple. A priori, it is enough to eat less to create the famous caloric deficit and to lose weight.
It would therefore suffice to calculate the calories we eat to lose weight for sure. However, it is not that simple.
Many believe that because body mass is largely determined by calorie intake and energy expenditure, it is a completely conscious process. That if all people had an active job, a healthy diet and ate a little less, the problem would be solved.
In fact, it would be super easy if the human body were equipped with a calorie gauge like cars have a gas gauge or a battery charge level.
But it's much more complex than that in practice...
You have to overcome your body and your brain
The problem is that food consumption is not fully conscious. In addition, there is an emotional relationship with food that does not exist with the tank of your car 🚗
It's not enough to tell yourself one morning that you're going to calculate the calories you eat to eat less. The biggest problem people have is that many hormones and areas of the brain are trying to stop them from losing fat. This is also why magic miracle solutions do not exist.
The perverse effect of hormones
If we eat less overnight without changing anything else, the level of hunger hormone (ghrelin) increases while the level of satiety hormone (leptin) decreases.
The consequence is that you feel hungry. Even if in reality there is no “technical reason to eat”. The proof is that if you are used to eating right at noon, you will be hungry precisely at noon, even if you have had a good breakfast.
Try exercising your "willpower" when your body and brain are screaming FAMINE. This is absolutely impossible for most people!
However, do not misunderstand me. The old method of eating less and exercising more works to lose weight.
But many people don't. Otherwise, there wouldn't be the obesity epidemic that is hitting developed countries today… and some so-called poor countries.
I lived for 8 years in West Africa, and I can assure you that many of those who live on a shoestring also suffer from overweight or obesity. It must be said that they consume a lot of cheap sodas, beer and corn flour, wheat and the like.
So it's true, unless you live on Mars, you know that eating fewer calories causes weight loss. But the problem is that hardly anyone can stick to it because of the biological reasons mentioned above (ghrelin and leptin). A real vicious circle, it's nerd...
However, and this is good news, there are some ways to overcome these biological factors that resist fat loss.
For example, changing the type of food we eat can have an effect. Foods have different effects on metabolism and hunger pangs. They also have dramatically different interactions with fat and hunger regulating hormones.
I'm going to tell you a fable by Jean de La Fontaine that you probably don't know:
egg and soda
Let’s compare these 2 sources of calories:
The soda :
Regular sodas only contain pure sugar (or high fructose corn syrup). You won't find any essential nutrients, just energy from sugar.
Studies have shown that sugar gives almost no feeling of satiety when consumed in liquid form.
This means that you still eat as much after drinking a soda, thus resulting in a surplus of 140 calories on your meal. This is also true with the alcohol of the aperitif...
It contains proteins and healthy fats, as well as a large amount of micronutrients (vitamins A, B2, B5, B9, B12, D, E, selenium, phosphorus, zinc, antioxidants, choline).
Studies have shown that eggs have a high satiety index. Plus, their high protein content promotes fat loss and muscle gain (if you exercise, of course).
In short, if you eat eggs, you will eat less and eat better. A real miracle diet on their own! But you will discover that there are other effective foods in your weight loss journey…
The role of the satiety index
So it is obvious that the egg is much better for fat loss than sugary drinks (including 100 % natural fruit juices). It contains protein and fills your stomach, while a soda contains pure sugar in liquid form, without any effect on your hunger.
This is why egg calories are said to have a higher satiety index. And that is a key element in finding a good nutritional balance.
Of course, eggs are only there to give an example with a healthy food, but it is possible to do the same with other foods with a high index of satiety. These are often:
- lean protein sources such as tuna and chicken or turkey breast, whey protein, etc.
- whole grains, seeds and sprouts like chia, quinoa, amaranth, soy, etc.
- legumes rich in vegetable protein such as beans, chickpeas, lentils, etc.
- most nuts such as walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews, cashews, etc.
- complex carbohydrates like buckwheat, oatmeal, brown rice, etc.
- fiber-rich vegetables such as green beans, peas, artichokes, cabbage, spinach, etc.
If we eat nutritious quality foods, we eat fewer harmful foods instead. On the other hand, if we take a soda or other sources of empty calories, we eat too much because we are always hungry after having consumed them.
So the truth is that not all calories are created equal. They are an important element in gaining or losing fat, but they are not the only thing to consider.
Different foods have different effects on your hormones, your brain, the amount of calories you burn, and how hungry you feel.
Let’s elaborate on this point a little more…
Not all calories are created equal
Once you understand the rule of thermodynamics, you might think that it is enough for a person to consume exactly the same number of calories as another with the same level of physical activity to obtain the same results.
But many studies have shown that this is not so. This is what complicates our lives 🙁
things are not that simple
Researchers decided to superfeed 16 young men and women by adding 1000 calories per day to their diet for 8 weeks. Based on the assumption that 7000 calories correspond approximately to 1 kg of fat, the scientists expected each person to weigh approximately 8 kg more than at the start of the experiment (1000 X 7 X 8 = 56000 / 7000 = 8 kg).
Well no !
There is only one person among the 16 who gained 8 kg. The average was a weight gain of about 5 kg, while one of the guinea pigs gained only 1.5 kg. The latter probably corresponds to the kind of people you hate because they can eat pretty much whatever they want without gaining weight 👿
Is the law of thermodynamics wrong?
Not at all. It is true that if you consume more calories than you need per day, you will gain weight. However, it is very complicated to calculate exactly how many calories the body burns. First, we must take into account its basal metabolic rate (MB), that is, the number of calories the body consumes even when you lie in bed without moving. It's actually life sustaining functions.
It corresponds to the minimum daily energy expenditure allowing the body to survive. Even at rest or in sedentary work, the body has an incompressible daily need for calories to keep its functions active (heart, brain, breathing, digestion, body temperature).
The MB varies greatly from person to person. It even varies in the same person according to his age, his current body fat, past eating habits, activity level, hormones, current health, etc.
In short, it is almost impossible to calculate…
At best, you can make a very rough calculation of your daily calorie requirement. But without a clear idea of how many calories your body is burning, it's extremely difficult to know what are his caloric needs to lose weight or gain weight.
Especially since the basic metabolism is not the only variable to take into account. Many other factors make this calculation of caloric need even more complex…
A few words about the Mifflin St Jeor formula
Researchers have found an example of calculating MB based on a person's gender, age, height, and weight. You can use it to do your own MB calculation (Mifflin St Jeor equation):
- Male : [10 x weight (kg)] + [6.25 x height in cm] – [5 x age] + 5
- Women : [10 x weight (kg)] + [6.25 x height in cm] – [5 x age] – 161
NOTE : Although considered the safest, the Mifflin St Jeor equation is unreliable at 100 %. However, it will give you a guideline from which you can calculate your daily energy needs. This can be used as a basis for your tests.
Calculating your calories: The real interest
Remember these 2 important points:
- The number of calories you consume is not the only important thing;
- It is impossible to calculate exactly how many calories you should consume.
So the question is this: Is daily calorie counting a complete waste of time?
Not at all. But you must absolutely remember that we cannot reduce the functioning of our body to a simple mathematical formula.
The Benefits of Calorie Counting
No, it's not an exact science. However, it remains interesting at first for the following reasons:
- This may open your eyes: Many people have no idea how many calories they are consuming each day. To help you, you can download a free application such as FatSecret.
- This is a starting point: You need to find what works for you, and calorie counting will help you do that. For example, if you are consuming 2000 calories a day and find that you have gained 2 pounds by the end of the week, then you know that is above your actual need.
- It's a way to measure the calorie deficit: If you want to lose fat, you will reduce your diet, for example by 300 calories a day. Then you will take stock at the end of the following week. Whereas without keeping track of your calories, it will be much more difficult for you to measure your real need or to assess your basal metabolic rate and your real nutritional needs.
- You will increase your motivation: The fact of noting the food consumed reminds you of the objective you are pursuing. It is through regular and voluntary efforts that you will develop new habits to be healthy. Also, anything that helps you focus your attention on your goal increases your motivation.
- This can encourage you to play sports: Indeed, it is sometimes easier to do physical exercises to increase your energy expenditure than to further reduce your diet. Especially since it is quite easy to measure the calories consumed in a sports session https://sportchezsoi.com/calcul-calories-sport-ou-activite/.
The Disadvantages of Calorie Counting
One of the main disadvantages of the daily calorie log is that some people go crazy about it 🤪
But this process should not take over all of your free time or your life. Its objective is not to constantly tell you what you are allowed to eat or not.
It is only a source of information to help you to make reasonable decisions. Watching your diet should just help give you better habits, not more.
No calorie counting for life
This is why this practice should not be established over the long term. Do this for just a few weeks, keeping a food diary, the time to get an idea of the calorie intake of different foods.
For example, if you're struggling to lose weight, have health issues, or have a terrible diet, make an effort to calculate your calorie consumption for one month. You'll find some great Android apps to help you count calories, such as FatSecret.
Factors that affect weight loss
Do not throw yourself on your representative of the Post, since these factors have nothing to do. Unless you run after it, which can undeniably make you lose weight 😅
Look for a few moments at the pyramid above. The purpose of this visual aid is to help you understand the order of priorities when it comes to your diet. The most important element is at the bottom (#1), while the least important is at the top (#5).
So you immediately understand why the food supplements supposed to make you lose weight are not the most important. Stop buying them if you don't change anything in your diet. In this case, they will not, however, make your wallet thinner 🙁
Repeat after me : “The food supplements supposed to make you lose weight by miracle do not work”. There are useful supplements to help control hunger, but they have no benefit if you use them without any effort.
Let me explain. Often, people tend to think that only one of the elements of this pyramid is essential for losing weight or gaining weight. This is why many focus on the number of calories or on appetite suppressants for example.
Others swear by the importance of having 5 to 6 meals, or on the timing of these. The reality is that you have to see these factors as a set to get the results you want.
Now let's take the time to explain each of them in detail, starting with the most important:
1. Calculate your calories to lose weight
This is an important equation! The amount of calories consumed determines whether we will lose or gain weight. As you have already understood, if you consume more calories than you burn, you will store fat. And vice versa...
And this, whatever the quality of the calories absorbed. Yes, I know, this may shock purists, but it is a fundamental truth. Let us come, however, to other factors which deserve consideration.
2. Type and quality of calories consumed
Here we are talking about the macronutrients that we swallow, i.e. proteins, carbohydrates and fats. To eat healthily, it is important to take care of the distribution of these macronutrients. You should know that each of them does not provide the same amount of calories, and even that each calorie does not have the same effect on the body.
In short, each type of macronutrient causes a different response from the body. For example, carbohydrates cause your body to store fat under the effect of insulin. Conversely, proteins have a thermic effect on the body since the body must burn calories to digest them (up to 30% of intake).
That's why we can say for example that a protein calorie is not equivalent to a carbohydrate calorie.
Caloric intake of macronutrients:
- Protein: 1g = 4 calories
- Lipids (or fats): 1g = 9 calories
- Carbohydrates (or sugars): 1g = 4 calories
3. Vitamins and minerals (not forgetting water)
Of course, to eat healthy, one must consider micronutrients and not just calories. When we talk about good quality foods, we often refer to foods rich in micronutrients such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits, meat, fish, eggs, etc. Indeed, these foods are full of vitamins and minerals that are important for the proper functioning of your body.
Conversely, junk, completely processed food, such as chips, pizza, ice cream, fast food burgers and the like, is completely stripped of its micronutrients. This is why they are often referred to as “empty calories”.
Remember to drink water
In the food pyramid, I have associated water with vitamins and minerals. I know it has nothing to do with calories. But drink enough water is extremely important, including in the goal of losing fat. This accelerates the destocking of body fat, promotes the assimilation of proteins and the proper use of fibres.
Also, get into the habit of drinking enough. This advice is especially important for women since they tend to not drink enough. I'm going to give you a weird but important rule: Your goal should be to pass clear urine at least 5 times a day.
If not, drink more.
4. Meal times and frequency
Like me, you may read many sports nutrition articles that emphasize the importance of meal timing and frequency. You can read for example this kind of advice:
- Never eat carbs at night
- Eat 6 small meals a day
- Eat your biggest meal right after training
The importance we attach to multiplying the number of meals is overestimated because it has no direct relationship with the quality and quantity of what we eat. Also, running the digestive system all the time is not a good idea.
You can very well be satisfied with 2 to 3 daily meals, unless you want to spend your time eating. There are other things to do in life all the same 😉
5. Food supplements
They are last on this list, but unfortunately this is often where most people start to lose weight.
Many people consume supplements or supplements thinking that it is a quick fix for losing belly fat.
This does not mean that dietary supplements are absolutely useless. But keep in mind that while they can help you achieve your goals, the best way to use them is in addition to the previous 4 points. Don't forget to put it all together to physical activity to accelerate fat loss. Otherwise, you will just spend money for nothing!
Of course, there are supplements and vitamins that can really help you manage your appetite like PhenQ. But that's not what you should base your entire strategy on.
Creating a Calorie Deficit – Conclusion
You can read this article for find out your current body fat to take stock of your energy expenditure, knowing that you have to eliminate 7000 calories to lose one kilo of body fat. If you are quite a fan of new technologies, you can equip yourself with a connected sports watch https://sportchezsoi.com/comparatif-montres-fitness-musculation/.
Even though counting calories is an imperfect system, it may be just what you need to help you melt your first fats. Calorie counting can work, and some studies show it improves the odds of success, but it's not necessary for everyone.
For example, eating a high-protein diet can lead to fat loss without counting calories. The same goes for a low-carb diet, as well as many types of intermittent fasting.
So remember this:
- You need a calorie deficit to lose weight. It's a certainty !
- But you don't necessarily need to be counting calories or consciously restricting them to achieve that calorie deficit.
- And not all calories are created equal, because some foods are kinder to you than others. This is particularly the case for those who have a high satiety index.
You will discover in “I am learning to eat to lose weight” an easy method to determine your body fat rate. It is indeed a much more reliable indicator than your weight alone.
You will also learn simple techniques proven by science to lose weight and keep it off. Click the button just below to learn all about this meal plan. For those who wish, it can be associated with an adapted training program:
Come on, don't wait and get started! And leave a message in the comments area below to tell me what you think or to ask your questions. Thank you 😉
FAQ: Answers to common questions
How to make a calorie deficit?
It's very simple in theory since you just have to eat less than your caloric expenditure for the day. This expenditure includes the incompressible basal metabolic rate and all the extra calories consumed by daily activities such as secular work, household chores, sports, etc.
But in practice, it takes a bit of trial and error because every body has its own MB and reacts differently to a reduction in calorie intake.
Should you do at least an hour of exercise a day?
No, it all depends on the starting deficit in your diet, your secular activity (office work or physical work) and even your stress level (cortisol promotes weight gain).
The ideal is to promote a regular and fairly intense sports activity such as HIIT sessions. For example, 20 to 30 minutes of intense activity 5 times a week is enough to obtain excellent results.
What calorie deficit to lose weight?
For the effects to be visible, a sufficient gap must be created between the daily caloric needs and the calories absorbed from food and drink.
However, too large a gap generally leads to complications and unwanted reactions related to the body's adaptation to this drop. The ideal is to aim for a reduction of 250 to 500 calories per day to obtain convincing results in the long term. This is enough to lose 1 to 2 kilos per month, or 12 to 24 kilos per year.
By adding a few minutes of intense physical activity each day, it is possible to lose body fat while avoiding muscle wasting (important to avoid the yo-yo effect of diets).
Should you use a scale to calculate your calories?
Most of the time, it's better and it doesn't cost much. Indeed, you can weigh and record everything in a food diary or app. Another solution is to buy a cookbook which gives the caloric values of each dish like Metabolic Cooking.
But you will still need to weigh the food to be able to incorporate the required amount of food into each recipe.
Use our free calculators
Calories per sport
Related words: pitfalls harris formula big weak foods first thing