If you’ve been unsuccessfully trying to drop pounds, it may be because you haven’t yet learned the rules of the calories game. Let’s start from the beginning… what is a calorie, anyway?
Everything you eat and drink has calories, but they aren’t just used to describe food items. Calories are actually a way to measure energy… That being said, the calories we see on food labels represent the amount of energy available to our bodies after eating those certain food items. (1) We call them calories in the nutrition world, but they’re technically called “kilocalories” – hence why we see “kcal” by the amount on dietary labels.
How Do Calories Affect My Ability to Slim Down?
Think of calories as energy. If you give your body too much “energy” than you’re able to burn off each day, it can lead to excess weight. Basically, any extra calories from food items that you don’t burn off by physical activity or your normal routine are stored by the body as fat.
Therefore, for successful weight loss, you need to eat less calories from foods and drinks than you’re going to burn off, so your body taps into your stored fat reserves and burns that instead. For weight maintenance, you want to eat only the same amount of calories that you burn off – keeping things balanced. Learn more about the connection between calories and weight loss here.
How Many Calories Should I Eat a Day for Weight Loss?
The number of calories per day you need to eat for weight loss is not one size fits all… everyone will have a personalized goal based on age, sex, weight and physical activity level. That’s why it’s best to use a calorie counter app to determine the calorie intake that’s ideal for your particular needs, and then help you keep track of the calories you eat daily.
What’s a Calorie Calculator?
You can easily find an effective calorie calculator online or download an app. You simply insert your individual body metrics and it uses a proven formula to generate a specific target calorie number for you.
The tools use different equations to get the data, and it’s all based on basal metabolic rate (BMR), or the amount of energy you use while you’re stationary.
The Harris-Benedict Equation was previously the most trusted formula used to calculate your BMR, and it was mainly used until 1990, when a new formula – the Mifflin-St Jeor Equation – took its place. This one is now considered to be the most accurate (and you’ll find it used in most of the online calorie calculators). (2)
Calorie Counter & Tracker Apps
Next, you’ll want to get yourself an efficient calorie tracker tool. Although some people like to do this part the old-school way by writing everything they eat and drink down in a food journal, this way takes more time. Instead, there are websites and even apps that you can get right on your phone that do the work for you including:
With these, you insert each specific food and drink item that you consume into the calorie tracker app, and it generates and keeps track of the calories for each. It also lets you know how you did each day in reference to your specific calorie goal. Many of them can also be used to log your physical activity and how many calories you burn. And these tools are usually free, which is a huge plus!
Calories and Nutrition
It’s not just the number of calories that’s important, but also the type. The best way to stay on track with your overall weight goal is to eat the right kind of calories daily. Basically, you want to eat calories from foods that are nutritious, and that fulfill and sustain you – helping you fight hunger and make healthy dietary choices.
Think of your body as a car, and calories as the fuel. You need to give your body quality fuel so that it runs properly – so you’re energetic, motivated and feel your best. To do this, you want to eat foods that are high in:
- Amino acids
- Dietary minerals
And avoid foods that have:
Solid fats: These fats are solid at room temperature, and most are high in unhealthy saturated and trans fats, having less of the healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Some examples of solid fats include butter, cream, lard, chicken fat, shortening, margarine, partially hydrogenated oils and coconut oil. (3)
Added sugars: These sugars are added to processed foods and drinks during the manufacturing. Some examples include sodas, candy, cookies, pastries, fruit drinks and ice cream. (4)
Meal Replacement Shakes and Calorie Goals
A great way to avoid empty calories and maintain a clean, healthy, low-calorie diet on a busy schedule is with high-quality meal replacement shakes and powders. A meal replacement shake is designed to contain a proper balance of essential macronutrients (protein, carbs and fat) along with vitamins and minerals needed to replace a wholesome meal. The best part is that many of these shakes are low in calories and can help you stick with a clean, healthy diet and weight goal.
Here’s what you want to look for in a meal replacement shake that will best support your total health and weight management goals:
- Low calorie (100 calories or less per serving)
- No or very low sugar
- No artificial sweeteners which can increase cravings
- Plant based protein (15-20g from plant sources or whey; avoid controversial soy)
- Sufficient fiber (5-10g per serving)
- Vitamins, minerals, and superfoods
In addition, low-carb meal replacement shakes (and low-carb diets in general) are also a great way to meet your daily calorie goals along with your weight goals faster. Check out our guide on how to choose a meal replacement shake thats best for you here, or check out our top meal replacement shake recommendations here.