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Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Calories - the cornerstone of dieting

UPDATE 20th Sept 2017 - I've since changed my thinking on this, and although the 1st law holds, the human body treats calories from different sources differently. You'll see this evolution in later posts, where I concentrate more on lowering calories from carbohydrates, as these have a more significant impact on things like hunger and fat storage. I'll leave the rest of the post as-is.
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If there's one reason why people, including myself, have failed on their dieting goals then it's calories. Or rather, not counting them.

For those of you with a scientific leaning, the First Law of Thermodynamics states that energy cannot be created or destroyed and this of course applies to the human body. Previously, I had wondered why I seemed to be doing everything right - eating the right foods, cutting down on sugar and fat, getting plenty of exercise - but not getting slimmer / more muscular / whatever. It turned out that I was missing the most important point - to get bigger I needed more calories and to get slimmer, I needed less calories.

It sounds obvious and it is.

So why was I and so many other people failing to achieve the goals they set for themselves? As it turns out, we had no idea how many calories we needed or how many calories we were getting.

I'll make no claims that counting calories is easy or convenient. It's not. There are ways you can make it easier and I'll cover them in a future post. For now, simply realise that if you count calories you are guaranteed to achieve your goal.

To get you started, you need to know how many calories to eat. An excellent estimate is to take your bodyweight in pounds (There are 2.2 pounds in a kg and 14 pounds in a stone) and multiply by 12 if you wish to lose weight and multiply by 16 if you wish to gain weight. This gives you a starting point for daily calorie intake.

Simply weigh yourself once per week (ideally at the same time of day) and if you have lost about 1 lb after one week, then the calories are about right (assuming you want to lose weight). If you haven't lost any weight, reduce the calories by 10% and repeat for another week. Repeat this process, aiming for about a 1 lb per week loss, adjusting the calories down on a weekly basis as required (as your weight drops, so will your calorie requirement).

If you wish to gain weight (let's assume that you want to gain muscle, not fat - gaining fat is easy!) - repeat the above step but aim to gain 1/2 lb per week. Any more than this and it's likely to be the wrong sort of gain.

In both cases, exercise is extremely important, but details on that too will be in a future post.

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