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Cals in Cals out

Published : May 25, 2016

Most of us at some point in our lives will try to lose weight. Unfortunately many of us will fail. But losing weight (and gaining it!) is actually very simple.
By Janey Halliday
Most of us at some point in our lives will try to lose weight. Unfortunately many of us will fail. But losing weight (and gaining it!) is actually very simple. Whilst calorie counting can be tedious and currently seems to be unfashionable, there is no better way to get to grips with lifelong healthy eating and get results. So, get out your calculator and put your thinking cap on – we’re about to do some maths!
Thermodynamics (the boring bit!) is basically what goes in - calories through eating and drinking - and what goes out - calories though activity and exercise. Everyone is different. Basal metabolism is what we need every day to ‘tick over’ ie; to breathe, sleep and digest our food, also to repair our bodies and for basic functional movements.
Again, everyone is different. It can be calculated by working out your body surface area from your height and weight, and using a formula that includes your age (have a look online for a basal metabolic rate calculator to work out your own individual basal metabolism).
Examples: I am 29 years old, 177cm and 68kg; my basal metabolism is 1572. Susie is 50, 165cm and 81.6kg; hers is 1641. Lucy is 25, 170cm and 59kg; hers is 1434. This means that if we consume this number of calories every day (calories in), we will maintain our current weight. If we consume more calories than this every day, we will gain weight. But if we increase the number of calories/kilojoules we burn (calories out), then we will lose weight. Does that make sense?! Now we have to add in some calorie needs for activity and exercise these may change week to week.
Exercise/Activity Inactive 3 hours a
Light Activity
(x 1.3)
plus daily
Activity (x1.6)
5-8 hours a
exercise plus
daily activity
Activity (x1.8)
Janey 1572/6581kj 2044/8557kj 2515/10529kj 2830/11848kj
Susie 1641/6870kj 2133/8930kj 2626/10994kj 2954/12367kj
Lucy 1434/6003kj 1864/7804kj 2295/9608kj 2581/10806kj
Can you see how they vary?
I am moderately active most of the time, so my calorie needs are about 2500 calories. If I eat 2500 calories//10467kj I’ll maintain my weight, if I eat 2000 calories /8373kj I’ll lose weight and if I eat 3000 calories/12560kj, I’ll gain weight. But if my activity level goes down eg; if I am injured, sick, or on a lazy beach holiday(!), my daily calorie needs will go down to about 1800 calories/7536kj (midway between inactive and light activity). If I don’t then adjust (ie; reduce) my calorie intake, I will gain weight!
To lose or gain a pound of fat you need to create a calorie deficit of 3500. It sounds like a lot, but in actual fact it’s quite easy. If you reduce your calorie intake by 350 calories a day, over 10 days you would lose 1lb of fat.
Alternatively if you increase your activity level to burn an additional 350 calories a day by, for example, walking briskly for 45 minutes every day you would also lose 1lb of fat over 10 days. Now, if you both reduce your intake by 350 calories/1465kj AND also burn an extra 350 calories every day, you would lose a pound of fat in just 5 days! I usually consume 2500 calories/10467kj when I’m moderately active. But if I keep eating 2500 calories/10467kj when my activity level reduces (which means that my daily calorie needs go down to 1800 calories/7536kj, I’m consuming 700/2930kj extra calories a day – that means a one pound fat gain (3500 cals/14653kj) in just 5 days!!!! If I adjust my calorie intake and drop to consuming 1800/7536kj, I’ll maintain my weight as normal.
I hope I haven’t lost you all at this point - I was always terrible with maths at school - but once you can grasp this concept, I promise you that it’s plain sailing to easy food and fitness management forever.
Once you know what you can eat depending on your day, week or year, whether you are active, inactive, smaller or heavier, you don’t need to become an obsessive calorie-counter. But it is useful to understand how many calories are in the things YOU eat regularly – and of course how many calories you burn doing activities that YOU enjoy. But beware – most of us over-estimate the calories we burn and under-estimate the calories we eat!!!!
Exercise – how to burn 350 cals/1465kj:
45 mins of power walking (6-8kmh)
30 mins of running (8kmh)
40 mins of aerobics
30 mins of kick boxing
50 mins of leisurely continuous swimming
45 mins of resistance training
40 mins on cross trainer
Some shocking 350 calorie/1465kj stats:
Latte + orange juice
1½ glasses white wine
½ tub of hummus
Bar of chocolate
1½ litres of fruit-flavoured water
50g of nuts
2 low fat yogurts
Remember, ANY surplus calories - regardless of where they come from - are converted and stored as fat.
My top reasons why people don’t lose weight:
Overeating healthy foods – Many of us are eating healthy foods, but just too much of them! Good fats are essential to our health but too many of them can still make us fat. If you are sprinkling seeds on cereal, having nuts as a snack, avocado and hummus for lunch, and salmon and salad with an olive oil dressing for dinner, you will be consuming at least double the recommended fat intake, your calories will be high and you’ll gain weight.
Too much sugar not enough fat – Some low fat yogurts contain eight teaspoons of sugar; sugary cereals (even the ones that look healthy) can have twice as many calories as your favourite chocolate bar. Always read the labels.
Not enough good fat - Our bodies respond positively to good fat, our taste buds are satisfied which reduces food cravings and our nervous system, brain function, vital organ repair, hair, skin and nails are improved. NEVER eat low fat processed foods.
Alcohol – A large glass of white wine has the same number of calories as a Mars bar (think liquid mars bar!) and they are empty calories, so no use to the body whatsoever.
Habitual drinks – If you have an OJ with breakfast and a latte mid-morning and you want to lose weight, all you would need to do to lose 3 pounds in body fat is to cut these out for 30 days!
Being scared of carbs – Women avoid carbs but seem to be quite happy to replace them with wine or other non-nutritious snacks. Choose from wholegrain rice, sweet potatoes, rye bread and oats. If you have a carb at lunch (a fistful), you’ll avoid the 4pm hunger pangs.
Can you afford it? Try thinking of your daily metabolism like a monthly finance budget. There are certain things you have to spend your money on (house, car, food, etc) and there are luxuries that you treat yourself to (designer shoes, holidays, facials, new dress). In metabolism budgets there a things you have to eat (staple foods, nutrients, etc) and there are luxuries (wine, chocolate, chips, etc).
If I bought all the dresses and shoes I liked this season, I would be overdrawn and in trouble with the bank. Similarly, if I ate all the treats I wanted this month I would be overweight and miserable.
I could, however, buy one dress on my credit card and then earn more money the next month to cover it - or I could save up this month to buy the dress next month. In the same way, I can have a couple of treats and either burn off the calories with a long hike or an extra gym session - or I could cut back my day-to-day food calories by reducing portions, cutting back on wine, etc
Dress = Chocolate cake
Finance budget = daily metabolic needs
Saving = exercising / dieting
Keep a notebook and write down everything that you eat and drink throughout the day, then add up all the calories you have consumed. Also record any exercise you have done and calories burned. Refer back to your daily metabolism needs and workout whether you have kept to your budget or exceeded it – it’s that maths again!!
Janey is currently living in the UK and will be returning to WA in 2007. Visit

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