The calorie originated in the 19th century as a measurement of heat, and today is mostly used to track the energy potential of the foods we eat.
The best thing about calories is that they seem to be everywhere. They are measurable, quantifiable, and the data on them is readily available. Almost every food product sold in the supermarket contains nutritional information, which specifies the number of calories per serving of that particular food (some foods don't, of course, and the issue of stealth calories will be dealt with in a later article). Thus, they're a perfect vehicle for monitoring whether or not we're eating too much. Some experts criticize the exaggerated focus on calorie counting in many diets, but at the end of the day they make it easy to figure out whether we're on the correct path to weight loss.
If you surf the web and fill out different calorie counters, you'll get a range of estimates on what your daily intake should be. The variance is usually around 10%. To simplify our discussion, we're going to assume that the daily calorie consumption for men should be in the range of roughly 2500, and about 2000 for women. This assumes an age of around 40, average build, and moderate level of exercise. Depending on the variables, your recommended daily intake could be as low as 2100 (men) and 1600 (women).
DOING THE CALORIE MATH
Let's assume you should be consuming 2500 calories per day to maintain your current weight. What to you need to do to start trimming down? Most experts will tell you that if you eliminate 500 calories per day from your diet, you'll lose one pound each week; it's as simple as that. Thus, it becomes easy to keep tabs on those 500 calories if you're taking note of exactly what you're consuming (more on this in the next post, Keeping A Journal).
Of course, if your recommended level is 2500 calories per day, 500 represents 20% of your total intake, which is no small sacrifice. If your ideal level is 2100, the percentage jumps to nearly 24%. This seems like tough sledding, until you recognize your hidden factor for success:
Let's assume you get in the habit of going out for a walk every evening, or whenever it's convenient. If you walk for 30 minutes at a reasonably brisk pace (a 15 or 16-minute mile), you'll burn at least 200 calories. If you want to be more precise, get on a state-of-the-art treadmill and measure how many calories you burn at different speeds and levels of incline. It doesn't matter when you walk, but it's best to schedule it at the same time each day. Personally, I like to walk in the morning. If I burn 200 calories at the start of the day and have my normal breakfast of a protein bar, I'm basically even. I won't have to start counting calories until lunchtime.
If you burn 200 calories exercising each day, the goal of 500 seems much closer, and your level of sacrifice is obviously lower. On top of that, consider all the other benefits of exercise: you'll feel better, you'll be healthier, you'll live longer, and you'll have less desire to consume food. This last point is crucial. The dynamics of weight loss can be compared to a progressive jackpot as a casino. If you play only one machine, your potential payout is limited. Switch to a bank of machines, and the size of your possible jackpot grows exponentially. Exercise will not only facilitate weight loss, but also stimulate your desire to do more and go further.
A WORD OF CAUTION
Before we leave the subject of calorie counting, you need to be aware of The Portion Trap.
While most foods sold in the supermarket are labeled with nutritional information, many have that information broken down by portion. It's crucial that you look at the number of portions contained in each package, since it's usually more than one. That package of frozen macaroni and cheese may look awfully tempting, and if you take a quick glance at the numbers, it might appear to have only 250 calories. Not bad, you think, and perfectly acceptable as an indulgence that fits into your diet regimen. If you look closely at the package, however, you'll probably see that it contains 3.5 portions, or nearly 900 calories, roughly 36% of your recommended daily intake.
Take the time to read the information on each item you buy. It may seem time-consuming, but it's part of the process of being more careful about what you put into your body.
SOME SPECIFIC RECOMMENDATIONS
If you feel that you have the will power, I do recommend some programs on my website ( http://www.kentlivingstoneweightloss.com ) that I believe are effective. These include the Fat Burning Furnace, Fat Loss 4 Idiots, and Burn The Fat Feed The Muscle. All three cost money, though, and they are no more potentially effective than the knowledge you'll gain by reading my articles for free.