Balancing calorie intake and usage lies at the crux of maintaining a healthy weight. Most of us know that if you eat as many calories as you burn, you’ll maintain your weight; eat less and you’ll lose weight; eat more, and you’ll gain weight.
Sounds simple enough? In theory, yes – in practice, not so much. As every individual uses and consumes a different number of calories at different rates, it can be difficult to get an accurate guideline that’s tailored to your exact lifestyle.
What are calories?
Most simply put, calories are units of energy. As humans, we consume energy in the form of food and drink which then fuels physical activity.
What are empty calories?
Avoid ‘empty calories’ for a healthy diet, is the message from the dietitians, as they provide energy but little or no other nutrients.
“Compare a wrapped chocolate bar with two satsumas,” explains Sian Porter, Dietitian and Spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association (BDA). “While both options provide 50kcal of energy, the two satsumas provide fibre, water, vitamins, folate and phytochemicals, while the chocolate bar is predominantly sugar and fat.”
How many calories do I need?
Age, size, height, sex and lifestyle are all taken into consideration when it comes to calorie consumption, so it can differ immensely from one person to the next.
Even how you chew could affect your calorie intake, according to 2013 study by Purdue University. After tests were conducted on participants who were asked to chew almonds either 10, 25 or 40 times, researchers found that chewing your food more can help you retain energy levels.
Instead, the BDA advises following government Reference Intake (RI) guidelines, which are based on an average-sized woman doing an average amount of physical activity.
Set out in European law, RI has replaced the Guideline Daily Allowances (GDA) previously used in the UK. It’s currently set at an intake of 2000 calories a day, broken down into the following:
How many calories should I eat to lose weight?
In order to lose weight in a safe and sustainable way, the BDA recommends a deficit of 500 calories a day alongside gradually increasing physical activity.
This should result in a weight loss rate of 0.5kg to 1kg each week. The NHS weight loss plan is based on a slightly higher deficit of 600 calories. On this 12 week plan, men would consume no more than 1,900 calories and women no more that 1,400. Enter foods into the NHS online calorie checker to help record your intake.
Here are the British Dietetic Association’s top tips for losing weight on a calorie controlled diet:
- Watch your portion sizes. Measure or weigh your portions to ensure they are in keeping with your recommended calorie intake.
- Be wary of ‘diet’ or ‘reduced fat’ products. Low fat mayonnaise, for example, has 30pc less fat than regular mayo but it is still a high fat, high calorie food.
- Fill half your plate with veg or salad first, then add other foods.
- Be prepared. Having meals ready and looking at menus online before going out can help you stay on track.
- Tell people. Your friends and family can support you
- Eat slowly and chew your food. Mindful eating means you’ll notice when you’re feeling full and won’t overeat.
- Don’t drink your calories.Drink water, go ‘skinny’ on drinks, avoiding syrups, added sugar and sugary drinks.
Best calorie counting apps
Calorie counting apps are a convenient way of recording your daily intake on the go. These are some of the most recommended on the market…
Enter your details to generate a recommended daily calorie intake, which the app will turn into a pie chart. This allows you to track your daily intake of nutrients.
With over five million foods including many restaurant menus, and the ability to create custom foods and dishes, logging your intake is fuss free. You can also record exercise and sync with fitness trackers.
Set your weight loss goal and the app will create a personalised plan tailored to you. If you consume a lot of branded products, this is the app for you as its database of brands, stores and restaurants is extensive – you can even scan the barcode to get nutritional information.
What’s more, it displays your progress on a week by week graph so you can track progress and stay motivated.
Looking to lose weight over a few months? The monthly summary view on FatSecret is perfect for tracking the progress of a long term weight loss plan as you record your daily intake each day.
And to stop you getting bored, you can take part in challenges with your FatSecret friends.