The Equation

The third element on our pyramid of importance is energy balance. Everything we eat or drink gives us energy in the form of calories. When talking about weight management, we use a straightforward equation;

Calories in – Calories out = Weight

If you eat more calories than you use in a day, you gain weight. If you eat fewer calories than you use in a day, you’ll lose weight. This is called being in a calorie surplus or deficit, and it really is as simple as that.

Calorie balancing

Calories Out

Well, you are now taking part in exercise, that burns calories, right? So why should you have to worry about nutrition, surely now you will be in a calorie deficit. Although this statement is partly true, there are a few other things we need to take into consideration.

Firstly how many days of the week are we actually working out? 3, 4 or maybe 5 max? If we are using exercise to create our calorie deficit, it’s probably not consistent enough throughout the week to be making a huge difference.

Secondly, we tend to overestimate the number of calories we actually burn from exercise on a daily basis.

This diagram shows our Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) or our calories out per day.

We can see that a whopping 70% of all the calories we burn in a day comes from our Resting Energy Expenditure (REE), or Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), this is the total amount of calories your body will naturally burn in a day when going through its everyday functions. These include but are not limited to breathing, producing hormones and circulating blood around the body, all things we have little to no control over.

The Breakdown

Around 15% of our TDEE comes from Non-Exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). This includes any form of activity that isn’t planned exercise such as cleaning the house, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, taking the dog for a walk etc.

We then use around 10% of TDEE from the Thermic Effect of Food (TEF) or in other words, digesting food. Our final 5% comes from Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (EAT) which is any form of exercise we intentionally partake in. These elements make up the Non-Resting Energy Expenditure (NREE).

In essence, we can see that even if we were to exercise every day, it’s not having as big an effect on our calories out as we thought.

So how can we affect our calories out? Well your BMR is pretty set and won’t change drastically, same with your TEF. NEAT on the other hand is something we can control very easily and has a big impact on our calories out. Try hitting that step goal in a day, stretch and move whilst watching telly, give the house an extra spring clean, do anything you can to stay as active as possible during your day.

Calories In

So far we’ve only talked about one side of that equation. Whether we are looking to lose weight, gain weight or just maintain our weight, the easiest thing we can control is our calories intake. The most effective way of controlling calorie intake is to track them. In the past, this has been a long and tedious process. However, with apps such as ‘MyFitnessPal’ or the NHS ‘Weight Loss’ app, counting calories has never been easier.

The more you track, the better. But this isn’t the only way to reduce your calorie intake. You can try simply reducing your portion size and eating off of smaller plates. And avoiding high calorific drinks and snacks. Read the food labels and make smarter choices.

Now that you know how vital it is to be aware of your energy balance. How many calories should you be dropping when you are looking to lose weight? Commonly 500 cal is recommended as a good starting point, which is actually a considerable amount – that’s pretty much a whole meal. If you immediately drop by that amount of calories, your body will probably adapt very quickly and lose a lot of weight. But you will probably end up very hungry and this will make it harder for you to stick to your calorie deficit, which could lead to putting all the weight back on when you inevitably resort back to eating those extra calories.