Calories. Many women associate this word with extra weight. There is a common belief that for a quick and guaranteed weight loss you need to consume as little calories as possible and burn as many as you can. Let’s find out if it’s true!
For starters, you should know that one pound of fat contains as much as 3500 calories. To burn this one pound of fat you have to create a deficit of calories. For example, cutting your daily calorie intake by 500 calories, you can lose one pound of pure fat in a week. Too much or not enough? Getting rid of 4-5 pounds of body fat in a month is an excellent achievement. Moreover, you can be sure that you have lost not just the water weight or muscle mass but specifically extra fat. Wait but is it really as good as it sounds?
To lose weight you either consume fewer calories or burn more calories than you consume. Thus, some more knowledge about calories and how they work in your body will help you in the weight loss battle.
In this article, I will explain how many calories are there in proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. We will also briefly explore the theory behind the daily deficit of 500 calories, and, most importantly, how we can assess your weight loss potential more accurately.
What is a calorie?
In a nutshell, a calorie is a unit of energy contained in the food. To keep functioning, your body needs to get energy from the food all the time. Everything you do requires energy (reading this article too).
Yet not all the products contain the same amount of energy (calories). They are different in the amount of macronutrients they have: carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. To be exact:
- Protein – 4 calories in a gram
- Carbohydrates – 4 calories in a gram
- Fat – 9 calories in a gram
The calories you consume are either stored as body fat or as, so-called, glycogen which is later used to keep the body functioning.
Caveats of the Daily Deficit of 500 Calories
There is a widespread myth that if you consume less than 500 calories daily or less than 3500 calories weekly, you will lose one pound of fat in a week. This is equivalent to four pounds of fat in a month and twelve pounds in three months. This is where the common idea of safe weight loss of one pound per week comes from.
But does it actually work?
Many people overrate this weight loss strategy and feel disappointed with the results they get. (1, 2, 3).
First of all, this approach does not take into consideration changes in biological processes in the body. When you cut the amount of food you eat and consume fewer calories, over time your body gets accustomed to it and starts to use less energy for functioning.
This is the reaction of your body to a low level of nutrition. This metabolic transformation is called “adaptive thermogenesis”. Your body is switched to starvation mode and gets used to a deficit of calories.
Second, this approach does not take into consideration your daily needs of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. What does it really mean? It means that this diet can cause health issues due to insufficient consumption of nutrients if you follow it for a month or so.
What do You need To Know When You Are Trying To Lose Weight?
Although the deficit of calories is the key to weight loss, sooner or later your body gets used to it. If you sharply cut your daily calorie intake by 500 calories you will definitely lose weight. But along with some fat, you will lose mostly excess water and muscle mass. A few weeks later this will come back to you as body fat. This is a vicious cycle that you should avoid.
Your muscles need energy (calories) to endure too. It means that the more muscles you have the more calories you burn. That’s why it makes sense to maintain and grow your muscle mass (4).
Luckily, there are a few ways to preserve and increase muscle mass.
Weight lifting: it is highly recommended to do weight lifting to prevent loss of muscle mass. It also helps to grow muscles and consequently increase the amount of calories that your body burns.
High-protein diet: this diet helps to prevent muscle loss.
If you follow these tips you can maintain and gain muscle mass.
One pound of fat represents 3500 calories. However, it doesn’t mean that you will lose one pound a week if you cut your calorie intake by 3500 calories. This is a misconception that may lead to disappointment.
In the beginning, this diet will work, but eventually, your body will get used to it and further weight loss will be no longer possible.
To lose weight consistently, you should determine your demand for energy in calories regularly. You’d better start with a deficit of 200 calories and carefully watch what you eat.
Adjust your strategy to weight loss as you get more slim and slender. It will guarantee constant weight loss and eventually will help you reach your body goals.
- Hall, Kevin D, et al. “Quantification of the Effect of Energy Imbalance on Bodyweight.” Lancet (London, England), U.S. National Library of Medicine, 27 Aug. 2011, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21872751.
- Thomas, D M, et al. “Can a Weight Loss of One Pound a Week Be Achieved with a 3500-Kcal Deficit? Commentary on a Commonly Accepted Rule.” International Journal of Obesity (2005), U.S. National Library of Medicine, Dec. 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23628852.
- Hall, K D. “What Is the Required Energy Deficit per Unit Weight Loss?” International Journal of Obesity (2005), U.S. National Library of Medicine, Mar. 2008, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17848938.
- Chaston, T B, et al. “Changes in Fat-Free Mass during Significant Weight Loss: a Systematic Review.” International Journal of Obesity (2005), U.S. National Library of Medicine, May 2007, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17075583/.