The 101 About Calorie Deficiency – How Important Is It For Weight Loss?

Is losing weight easier if you are aware of calories? Is a calorie deficit the only answer to long-term weight loss? Lucy Gornall questions the experts

If you’re hoping to lose unwanted weight, it’s a good idea to master calorie burn.

After all, weight loss in its most basic terms means that the body burns more calories than it takes in. This is called a ‘calorie deficit’.

There’s a little more to the weight loss conundrum, though. But first, what IS a calorie? It’s a word that gets thrown around all the time, but do you actually know what a calorie is and how it relates to metabolism?

Rob Hobson, sports nutritionist at Healthspan Elite, explains that a calorie is, simply put, a unit of energy.

“The energy in food is measured in calories, which can help people understand what they should eat to meet their own personal energy needs,” Hobson describes.

A faster metabolism means a greater calorie burn

In general, we need a certain number of calories each day to function; the UK NHS recommends 2500 calories per day for men and 2000 calories per day for women.

Hobson adds that metabolism is defined as the chemical processes that take place in the body to sustain life. These processes aid in the conversion of food into energy.

‘A lot of energy is used at rest because the body is busy performing the tasks that help you stay alive, such as breathing, growth and repair. This is known as your basal metabolic rate and can vary from person to person,” explains Hobson.

A person’s basal metabolic rate is essentially the rate at which you burn calories when you’re not doing anything. A faster metabolism means a greater calorie burn, while a slower metabolism means fewer calories are burned.

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101 ON CALORIE BURNING woman stepping on the scale

Basic Factors Affecting Your Metabolism and Calorie Burning

Not everyone burns calories at the same rate; this is where metabolism comes in. However, there are a number of other reasons why a person may burn more calories without even realizing that they are doing so.

‘Body size is one such factor, for example someone who is taller burns more energy’, explains Hobson.

‘Someone who is overweight or obese will naturally burn more energy when he moves, precisely because it takes more effort to bear the weight.

‘If you have more muscle to fat, you burn more energy, not only at rest, but also when you exercise. This is often the reason why men burn more energy than women of the same age and weight, because they have higher muscle mass’, adds Hobson.

Someone who is overweight or obese will naturally burn more energy

Finally, age also plays a role.

Muscle mass declines with age and at an even greater rate in women during menopause. Because of this decrease in muscle mass, you burn fewer calories when you exercise’, says Hobson.

This is why maintaining healthy muscle mass throughout life by staying active and including resistance training is important for maintaining the healthy metabolism we all desire.

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Chili Peppers

Want to speed up your metabolism?

Rob explains that the only really effective way to do this is through exercise and also changing your body composition by increasing muscle mass and losing fat.

As for foods that can boost metabolism, it’s really short-lived.

“There are certain foods that are often claimed to help you burn more calories, such as peppers and green tea,” says Hobson.

“Although they can temporarily increase your metabolism due to heat, when we talk about peppers, the resulting calorie loss isn’t that great,” Hobson reveals.

Burn calories in your sleep?

The great thing about calorie burning is that it happens all the time. Yes, even when you sleep!

“The body doesn’t just stop while you sleep. Energy is still needed for many different functions in the body and this really goes back to the basal metabolic rate (BMR),’ says Hobson.

A woman’s menstrual cycle can also affect basal metabolic rate

If your BMR is high, you burn more energy during sleep.

A woman’s menstrual cycle can also affect basal metabolic rate, but Rob says it seems to depend on the individual.

“Other research suggests that BMR may increase during the luteal phase of the cycle (between ovulation and the next period), but these differences in energy are very small,” adds Hobson.

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woman sleep burning calories while you sleep calorie deficit

Calorie burn during the day

Of course, your BMR isn’t the only calorie burn you’ll experience from day to day. Exercise, whether that’s a scheduled exercise session or general exercise throughout the day, such as getting up and walking around, cleaning, cooking, and climbing stairs, is a great way to burn calories.

A 30-minute walk can burn up to 189 calories in 30 minutes, while a 30-minute walk can burn up to 336 calories.

But ultimately, if you’re hoping to lose weight, an hour-long gym session with the rest of the day sedentary probably isn’t enough, unless, of course, you’re taking in fewer calories than you burn.

your BMR is not the only calorie burn you will experience from day to day

It is important to keep moving throughout the day; take a walk during your lunch break, opt for the stairs instead of the elevator and park a little further from your destination so you can walk a little more.

You may have heard of certain foods that burn more calories simply through the chewing and digestion process than the calories the food actually contains. Celery is one such food.

The story is that since celery is so low in calories (because it really does contain a lot of water), the energy used by the body to eat and digest it mechanically is greater than what it contains. But Rob explains that this is an exaggeration and unfortunately there is no such thing as a negative calorie food.

What about supplements?

There are a range of pills and potions on the market that are said to help burn calories, but Rob says this is a bit of a myth.

‘Caffeine will increase your metabolism for a while because your heart rate is higher and hormones like adrenaline are on the rise. This supplement is widely used by athletes,” reveals H0bson.

Try: Healthspan Elite Kick Start Caffeine Gum, £9.99.

“In every sport I’ve participated in, caffeine has been used to enhance performance, whether consciously or unconsciously,” says Performance Nutritionist Nigel Mitchell.

Caffeine will increase your metabolism for a while as your heart rate is elevated

‘Conscious use would be when an athlete tactically consumes caffeine at certain times; this can be from food such as coffee or supplements in the form of pills, chewing gum and combined caffeine and carbohydrate energy gels.

“Unconscious use would be for someone like me to have a few espressos before riding a bike.”

“If we look at research on caffeine and exercise, we see that this is probably the most researched supplement,” says Hobson.

‘This supplement acts as an ergogenic aid to enhance performance by reducing the perception of fatigue, but I wouldn’t rely on it for weight loss’.

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101 ABOUT CALORIE BURN Foods To Eat More Or Less Calorie Deficit

eat MORE, take in LESS

Cutting back on the amount you eat can be difficult and often requires serious willpower! But you can eat a lot without the high calorie count that often comes with large meals.

“The easiest way to do this is to eat foods that are high in water because they have fewer calories but more bulk,” explains Hobson.

‘Salad vegetables are a good example, because you can pile them high on the plate to extend your meal, but you’ll eat few calories in the process. The same goes for meals like soups, stews, broths, and stews. These contain a lot of water, so as long as they’re stock or tomato based, they’re a great way to eat more for less if you want.”

The argument against calories

While calories in versus calories out is the general rule equation for weight management, several arguments have been put forth as to why calorie counting may not be all it is.

Research suggests that the type of bacteria in your gut influences the number of calories your body actually uses from certain foods.

‘It has even been found that people who are naturally thin have different microorganisms in their gut than people who are overweight,’ Hobson reveals.

He adds that another argument is that your body has “a ‘set point’ that regulates your weight.”

Biologically, eating fewer calories than you burn daily creates a deficit that leads to weight loss

Everything in the body is controlled by the hypothalamus in the brain, which works to maintain balance. It has been argued that even if you diet and exercise AKA reduces your calorie intake, there may be a plateau in weight loss as the body fights to stay at the set point.”

This can also be a reason why some people have trouble maintaining their weight.

Biologically, eating fewer calories than you burn on a daily basis puts you in a deficit that leads to weight loss. Research has suggested that this concept may not be that simple and that the way people consume calories can vary from person to person.

However, calories still provide a simple and very accessible way for people to monitor their overall energy intake.

The fact remains that to lose weight people have to change their diet, which inevitably means eating less food while increasing their daily activity to help increase their calorie burn.