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Calorie Counting: How Does it Work?

By: Sarah Clark (ILEX) - Updated: 9 Dec 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Calorie Counting Calorie Diet Weight

You’ve probably heard about calorie counting as a method of weight loss, in fact it’s probably one of the best known. If you look at the back of most packaged foods there will be a panel showing you how many calories are in that food, both that serving size and 100 grams of it.

So, What are Calories?

A calorie is, simply put, a unit of energy. In technical terms, a calorie is the amount of energy, or heat, it takes to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius. The number that we usually come across in food packaging is actually a kilocalorie - that is, 1,000 calories.

Why Bother Counting Calories?

Many health professionals see calorie counting as an essential part of weight loss, and the often repeated mantra (although usually spouted by people who have never had a weight problem in their life) is “eat less, move more and you’ll lose weight”. Some foods are very energy dense and therefore we don’t need so much of them. Typically, these foods are the ones that often taste the best!

A healthy diet is one of the basics of long term weight loss, and to keep an eye on calories is also an easy way to build awareness of what's in what you eat, and how much of it your body really needs. It follows that the higher fat and sugar foods are also likely to be high in calories, so when nutritionists advocate a low fat, low sugar diet the amount of the ‘bad’ foods you can fit in will reduce if you’re counting calories. Of course, there’s nothing to stop you from getting your entire daily calorie allowance from crisps, but most people know that’s not a great idea for long term health.

It’s also a flexible method of weight control that most people can understand. Nothing is off limits, you just have to make sure you eat less than your daily allowance and you’re more or less guaranteed to lose weight...

How to Succeed at Calorie Counting

There are calculations involved in working out a calorie allowance. If you’re lazy or not great with numbers, there is also a plethora of weight loss sites available, that will tell how many calories you need to lose, gain or maintain your weight, based on your current weight, goal weight and height. Some of the more sophisticated sites will also calculate your allowance based on activity levels and you can feel a little bit smugger knowing that you earned that extra biscuit with a walk to work.

One accepted calorie figure is that women need around 2000 calories a day, and men need around 2500. These figures are so basic that they shouldn’t really be relied on. If you are very overweight already, active, tall or muscular they are going to be way out, so if you want to do the calorie counting diet properly you must research and take the time to get an accurate figure.

To lose weight you need to create a calorie deficit. So it’s theoretically as easy as working out what you need to maintain your weight...then eating at least 500 calories less.

There are some excellent websites dedicated to helping you keep watch on your calorie intake. Some are free, and some involve a subscription. The sites that you pay for tend to have more features such as diaries that you can enter all your food choices into and work out everything from fat to fibre intake. They often have forums where you can chat to other dieters for motivation, diet plans and extras that free sites won’t have. They also tend to be more up to date.

You can also still buy calorie and fat guides in newsagents or books online that give you the calorie count in most foods.

Making Sure You Eat Properly

As mentioned before, there’s absolutely nothing at all to stop you from eating junk food day in day out. Technically you can still lose weight if you eat less calories than your body needs, but of course it’s a very unhealthy way to do it. For advice on eating well, visit a reputable website like the British Nutrition Foundation for more information.

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