Have you heard the weight loss ‘rule’ that it takes 3,500 calories to lose a pound? Basically, the rule says that in order to lose one pound you have to create a calorie deficit of 3,500 calories by either consuming 3,500 calories less than usual or burning 3,500 calories more than usual.
However, as we well know, weight loss is not that simple. Calorie intake and deficits vary from person to person. So, we are going to breakdown all you need to know about calories to help you achieve your goals.
What is a calorie?
Let’s start with the most obvious question. What actually is a calorie?
In short: a calorie is the amount of energy food or drinks provide.
Nicole McDermott said, “one calorie is the amount of energy it takes to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius.”
Why do we need calories?
As we stated above, calories are the energy in our food. We need this energy to live, breath, grow, repair cells, circulate blood, adjusting hormone levels and everything else our beautiful bodies do for us.
McDermott said, “these functions make up our basal metabolic rate (BMR).” The BMR is also known as your resting metabolism and is the minimum amount of calories that should be consumed each day.
How many calories should I be eating?
This is different for every person. It depends on your age, size, body fat %, how active you are and your weight goals.
However, you can estimate your daily calorie intake by using the National Institute of Health’s Body Weight Planner.
How many calories does it take to lose a pound?
The 3,500 rule is appealing because if you break it down it sounds simple and achievable. It’s just 500 calories less per day. However, weight loss is a lot more dynamic than that.
Sonya Angelone, MS, RDN said “Weight loss is more than a math equation. For more people, 500 calories is a modest reduction and one that is realistic to maintain. However, it doesn’t naturally translate to a one pound weight loss per week.”
Actually, the rule can significantly overestimate the amount of expected weight loss. How so you ask? Well, the rule doesn’t account for important changes like how your energy expenditure can decrease as you lose weight. “As those pounds come off, your metabolic rate goes down because there’s less of you,” says Andrea N. Giancoli, MPH, RD, registered dietitian and Openfit nutrition manager.
And that’s not the only problem with the rule. The rule encourages people to treat weight loss as a simple, ‘calories in, calories out’ equation. This could tempt people to just eat fewer calories to cause a bigger deficit. BUT, this can backfire. Eating a lot fewer calories will slow down your metabolism, which means you don’t require as many calories so your weight loss is slowed down too.
So the ultimate advice we can give is this: Instead of concentrating on counting calories, focus on eating a healthy and balanced diet.
Why what you eat matters
Let us get this straight from the beginning – a calorie is not a calorie. What we mean is, where the calorie comes from is very important. 500 calories worth of roasted chicken and veggies is much better for your body than 500 calories of sugary foods and drinks.
“It’s important that we choose quality foods rather than empty calories,” Giancoli says. If you don’t choose your foods wisely you may end up missing out on important nutrients.
The pros and cons of calorie counting
Calorie counting can take a lot of time and effort. However, it can be a great starting point for people as it really opens up your eyes to your food patterns and hidden calories. Keeping a food diary could highlight where your diet needs improvement, i.e., you may need to add more fruit and veg.
Overall, the rule is just a myth. For healthy and sustainable weight loss we suggest focusing on cutting out the junk, adding in wholesome foods and sticking to a fitness routine that you actually enjoy.