Learn How to Measure Calories For Weight Loss

Learn How to Measure Calories For Weight Loss

 

To get the most out of you fitness and nutrition program you need to have a basic understanding of what calories or kilojoules are, and how many of them you need to eat in order to lose weight.

To put it simply a calorie (which is really a kilo calorie, but shortened to calorie) is a unit of measurement used for energy. Kilojoules is the newer way to denote energy intake and is a decimal term.

Depending on what country you are in the nutritional information on the packaging of food can either be listed as a calorie or a kilojoule.

For the purpose of this article I will refer to calories as the unit of measurement.

For those that prefer to use kilojoules as the unit of measurement the conversion rate is: 1 calorie = 4.2 kilojoules.

Calories are found in the foods and drinks you consume. The number of calories you eat, drink and use through daily activities is closely associated with your weight.

What Role do Calories Play in Losing Weight?

In order to lose weight you need to create a calorie deficit. A calorie deficit can be created either through eating less food, performing more exercise or a combination of eating less and exercising more.

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For example, if your body requires 1,800 calories to maintain it’s current weight and you eat 1,300 calories on a daily basis, then you will create a daily 500 calorie deficit. Repeating this process everyday for a week, you will have burned off 3,500 calories, which is equal to one pound or half a kilogram of fat.

Sounds pretty simple doesn’t it? The biggest challenge is knowing when your body is in a calorie deficit.

The problem most people face is they don’t know how many calories their body requires on a day to day basis, so it becomes a bit of a guessing game. If you guess wrong and end the day with a calorie surplus your body will store the excess calories as fat.

More often than not people get it wrong because they under estimate the amount of calories in the food they eat and over estimate the calories they are burning exercising.

How to Measure Calories for Weight Loss

In order for the human body to function it needs fuel. Everyday you are alive, your body uses a certain amount of energy to perform vital functions such as breathing, maintaining your core body temperature and pumping blood through your veins.

These functions are active even if you don’t get out of bed for the whole day. The calories that your body burns when you are resting is your Basal Metabolic Rate or BMR for short.

Several factors, such as body temperature, body weight and gender all play a part in your BMR.

How do you determine your BMR? Don’t stress, you don’t need to perform any complex mathematical equations. Some uber geek has already done that and created an easy to use calculator. Simply click here to calculate your BMR.

 

How to Measure Calories

No Complex Maths Required!

 

Once you have your BMR you will need to calculate your daily calorie requirements. Your daily calorie requirements will be your BMR x 1.2. This figure represents the amount of calories your body needs to survive and perform normal day to day functions like getting out of bed, walking around, going to work, normal everyday things we do in life.

To use myself as an example, my BMR is 1769.70. Multiplying that by 1.2 my daily calorie needs are 2126.64.

This figure represents the amount of calories I need to consume on a daily basis to MAINTAIN my current weight.

Once you have determined your daily calorie requirements you can move onto structuring your training and nutrition plan. This is my recommended nutrition plan <— Link to Video.

Determining Calories Eaten

On face value this seems fairly easy, simply add up the amount of calories that you eat and drink during the day, but it can get a little tricky.

To start with this is going to be a fairly time consuming task as you will need to educate yourself as to the calorie value of the foods that you eat.

Here are some simple things you can do to help you determine your calorie intake:

  • Read the nutritional values on the back of food packaging.
  • Get yourself a set of kitchen scales and start to weigh and measure your food.
  • Start keeping a food diary.
  • Download a calorie counting app for your smart phone.
  • Make sure you count the calories that you drink.
  • If you can’t determine a meals exact calorie value, err on the side of caution and slightly over estimate the number of calories.

As I said this is a fairly time consuming task to start with but after a few weeks you will find it starts to get easier as you eat a lot of the same things every day.

Once you have worked out the calories that you are eating during the day, the next step is to determine how many calories you are burning during exercise.

Determining Calories Burnt During Exercise

I find this component a lot easier. There are a lot of websites, iphone apps and books that can help you determine the calories you burn whilst exercise, but none of them are going to be 100% accurate.

The reason they cannot be 100% accurate is there are too many variables in the equation, everything from the genetics of the person doing the exercise, the climate you are exercising in and the intensity in which you complete the exercise. I actually find that most people over estimate the amount of calories actually burnt.

The most accurate way to calculate the calories you burn during exercise is get yourself a quality heart rate monitor. A heart rate monitor can be set up with individual information and tracks how hard you are actually working whilst exercising. At the end of the session you have an accurate reading of the calories you have burnt.

I find this to be the best option as I find it not only accurate, but you can easily keep track of your daily, weekly or yearly calories burnt whilst exercising. If you have a look at my weekly doses you will notice all the calories I burnt during my daily training sessions and my weekly total calories burnt.

Putting it all Together

You should now know how to measure calories for weight loss:

  • Use the calculator to determine your BMR, then multiply it by 1.2 to find your daily caloric needs.
  • Once you know you daily calorie needs consume less calories than you need, creating a deficit.
  • Throw in some exercise to burn more calories, creating a bigger deficit.
  • Aim to create a deficit of 500 calories per day through a combination of eating less and exercising more.
  • Each week you have a deficit of 3,500 calories, which with all other things being equal, will result in a loss of one pound or half a kilo of weight.

The theory is simple, putting it into practice is the hard part. If it was easy everyone would have the body of their dreams.

Keep in mind whilst it is hard, it is not impossible. Get started on a quality training program, here are my recommended choices for men and woman  and get you eating sorted, here is my recommended nutrition plan <— Link to Website. Once you make the change you will find it becomes a lifestyle.

If you have any question or want any further information drop a comment below.


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29 Comments
  1. Taking account of calories is so crucial, it’s not all about going to the gym and lifting weights. I’m surprised by the many people who think they can just eat anything, anywhere and anytime. We all need to plan. Very informative post Niko. :D

    • Thanks Chris,
      You are spot on, we all need a plan. No one ever got in shape by accident!
      Niko

  2. Not to throw a monkey wrench in the gears, but a couple of weeks ago I was listening to an Underground Wellness podcast with Zoe Harcombe (that was recorded about this time last year). She really challenges the whole counting calories, largely because there is so much variability in the actual calorie amount per type of food energy. For example there is “about” 9 calories per gram of fat. In the podcast you learn that the range or deviation is 1 or so calorie on either side of that 9. So even if you are counting calories you could be severely under- or over- counting calories.

    I would suggest we need to focus more on the food sources (types of calories) versus counting them. Seriously, it was a good podcast worth checking out. (I think it was called “Obesity Epidemic”, Zoe has a book as well).

    • Richard,

      I am going to check out the podcast on your suggestion, as I am always open to new information. I couldn’t agree more with the advice in your comment, that we need to focus on the food source, my complimentary ebook ‘Lose Weight Without Dieting’ details my beliefs on food selection.

      My view on weight loss is to take a holistic approach, I believe that it is a culmination of healthy habits, with both nutrition and exercise that lead to weight loss not just one factor alone. However fundamentally in order to lose weight you need to create a calorie deficit. All the successful nutrition plans on the market, whether it me intermittent fasting, the paleo diet, weight watchers ect…, work because they all result in you having a calorie deficit, therefore you lose weight. To highlight the point check out this article ‘Twinkie Diet Causes Man to Lose 27 Pounds’ @ http://www.dietsinreview.com

      Whilst I think this diet is ridiculous and extremely unhealthy, it highlights my point, that you need a calorie deficit to lose weight. People need to know how much fuel their body needs. If you eat in excess of what your body needs, even if only eating all natural unprocessed food, you will still gain weight.

      The intention of this article is to educate people how much food their body actually needs, as most people grossly over estimate this. From there my hope is people will create a calorie deficit through a combination of exercise and the consumption of good clean food sources.

      Niko

  3. Counting calories is something i did for a short period of time.
    I wouldn’t do it again, but I think it’s essential to do it at least once so you have a ‘base’ to compare things to. It’ll become second nature in the long run.

    C.

  4. I like the fact that you have written it in a really simple to understand way. Good article and solid advice for anyone who have issues understanding weight loss.

    @Clint I agree that everyone has do the calorie counting at some point and then just run with guessing and eye balling the meals.

    • Clint & Vaclav,
      I think it important for people to get this basic understanding and then evolve from there. The majority of people are lost about where to start their weight loss journey. This problem isn’t help be the ridiculous amount of quick weight loss products out in the market place. Fundamentally weight loss isn’t magic it’s science, simply give your body less fuel than it needs and you WILL lose weight. Once people grasp this principle they can move forward from there.
      Niko

  5. When I first started taking my nutrition seriously, I counted calories. Now that I understand the foods I’m putting into my body I have a very good idea of how to mix foods to make up my macro #’s. At the start it’s a pain, but once you get a good understanding, it doesn’t take any time and just becomes a part of your lifestyle.

    • Brad,

      I am in the same boat as you, to start with I counted calories as a way of getting a better understanding of how much I should be eating everyday. Now, I know exactly how much fuel my body needs each day, as well as knowing how different foods effect my body.

      Niko

  6. Niko, thank you so much for posting this!
    I have a question for you: additionally to counting calories, do you think it would make sense to count Fats, Carbs etc.? It’s obvious that it’s not the best idea to fulfill your daily calorie needs with fast foods and soda… But assuming you eat lots of fruit, veggies and other healthy things and have a calorie deficit of at least 500, will fat and carbs really matter?

    • Julia,

      Don’t worry too much about counting macronutrients (carbs, fats and protein). What is inportant is to balance your diet with good wholesome foods, that are as close to their natural form as possible, whilst maintaining a calorie deficit. My complimentary ebook, “Lose Weight Without Dieting” goes into a lot of detail about food selection when trying to lose weight http://www.noexcusefitness.com.au/lose-weight-ebook/Lose-Weight-Without-Dieting.html

      If you have any other questions let me know.

      Niko

  7. I always got so confused with all the information that is out there about diets , nutrition and calories.. great write up!

    • Thanks Ralph. It can get pretty confusing, the main thing is don’t over complicate things. Simply put, consume less food than your body needs, the rest flows from there!

  8. I started counting calories and created what I thought was a deficit of calories. This article was AWESOME because I hadn’t thought to figure out how many calories I NEEDED first. According to the articles simple math my BMR is 2110, at my current weight. Times 1.2 gives me 2532 calories per day. Up until now I had cut my calories down to about 1500 a day. Should I continue with this 1000 calorie deficit or bump up my caloric intake? I am doing all of this for an upcoming Tough Mudder Event in about 3 months. I am blogging my daily activities and progress here: http://preparingfortoughmudder.blogspot.com/ Thanks in advance for any advice.

    • CJ,
      In assisting you determine your calorie intake there are a number of factors that I need to take into consideration, namely:
      - How much weight do you want to lose
      - In what period of time do you want to lose the weight
      - How much and what type of activity are you doing each week
      Once I know these things, I will be able to give you a better idea as to what your calorie intake should be.
      Niko

  9. calories in calories out works, but is a sketchy way of achieving weightloss at best. my opinion.

    • Hermann,
      Thanks for your opinion, I agree calories in calories out is not the be all and end all of weight loss. It is however a good starting point for those that are at a loss on where to begin their weight loss journey. Fundamentally when trying to lose weight we eat well and exercise to create a calorie deficit. The problem is, most people don’t know how many calories their body needs in order to create a deficit.
      Niko

  10. Joined My Fitness Pal on-line and it is very helpfull on calculating how many calories I consume during the day and does a good job with estimating the amount of calories I work-off too. I have been loosing steadily keeping track with this tool.

    • Mary,
      Great news that you have been losing weight steadily using this tool. There are some great apps for your smart phones out there now that you can use on the run. Make sure you keep us posted about your progress, and make sure you drop us a line if you need a hand with anything.
      Niko

  11. Hi there. I've just done my BMR. I'm 31 years old, 1.65 and 63k. I just found my number of calories per day too low. It is 1346. If I cut down 500 calories I should have to eat 856. Isn't it too low? Do you thing it's healthy amount of calories? I just got confused cause I've heard that under 1200 calories intake is consider anorexia. Tks in advanCed.

    • Sara, try doing that again cause I got a higher number than you and I'm shorter than you….I put in your info and got over 1600 for you x

    • you're crazy…stop focusing on losing weight bcuz you will disappear…you look perfect now Sara…STOP IT!

    • Sara, I just put in youor details and worked out your BMR to be 1411. Remember that you need to multiple that be 1.2 to determine how many calories your body needs to survive and perform normal day to day functions like getting out of bed, walking around, going to work, normal everyday things we do in life. Your daily calories therefore is about 1693. Aim to create a deficit from there through diet and exercise. Given your current weight I would look at creating a deficit of about 250 calories per day and see what results you get. If you need anymore help let me know.

  12. I made a total lifestyle change 2 years ago. During that 1st year, I lost 85 pounds. The 2nd year, all of that came to a hault. Not only did I stop losing weight, I have gained 25 pounds back. I just started year 3 of my lifestyle change. I still have 75 more pounds I would like to lose. I am trying not to get discouraged, but it’s difficult. I keep telling myself even if I dont lose weight, this is about being healthier…and healthier I am!

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