What is a calorie?
A calorie is simply a unit of energy. Energy is vital to the human body and is required for every body process to function.
Protein, fats and carbohydrates in our food and drink contain calories; protein and carbohydrate provide 4 calories/gram, and fat provides 9 calories/gram.
Each person will have their own specific daily calorie requirement based on your age, weight, and activity level. Ensuring this calorie requirement is met and not exceeded is a factor in maintaining a healthy weight as well as providing enough energy for your body to function and undertake daily activity.
Calories and weight management
In order to lose weight, you need to take in fewer calories than your body needs. When this happens the body will begin to break down ‘energy stores’, like fat, in order to provide the body with energy; resulting in weight loss.
BUT is it just about calories?
Well it appears it is not that simple!! Yes, it is true, to lose weight we must consume fewer calories than your body needs but HOW we achieve this appears to be an important factor when it comes to safely losing weight and, most importantly, maintaining that weight loss!
Three additional factors are important to consider;
- Macronutrient content
It is important to consider where your calories come from as each macronutrient has its own role when it comes to weight management.
Firstly protein (meat, fish, beans, pulses), fibre (from vegetables, whole fruit and wholegrains) and fat are all thought to keep you fuller for longer compared to simple carbohydrates (cakes, sugars, biscuits etc) and processed foods (white bread, white pasta, pizza etc).
In addition protein, fat and fibre are thought to slow down how quickly sugar enters your blood. Why is this important? Well, the amount of sugar entering your blood at any one time can have an impact on your weight. Sugar is the bodies main energy source and so the body likes to maintain a very stable amount of sugar in the blood at any one time. Too little or too much sugar will trigger your body to respond.
A sharp increase in blood sugar, as seen when consuming sugary/processed foods, triggers a large amount of a hormone called ‘insulin’ to be released. The role of insulin is to ‘pack away’ sugar safely into the cells in order to remove it from the blood. Some of this sugar will be stored in the liver and muscles as a quick source of energy; the remaining, excess sugar will be stored as fat. While insulin is being secreted, your body will find it very difficult to ‘burn fat’.
As we know, what goes up must come down….. following an increase in blood sugar comes a drop in blood sugar. Low blood sugar tends to be associated with feelings of low energy and mood as well as cravings for ‘sugary’ foods. Your body will secrete adrenaline (a stress hormone); the main action of adrenaline is to increase blood sugar levels….. it is common for a ‘blood sugar rollercoaster’ of up’s and down’s to occur throughout the day, having a negative impact on weight management.
Protein is also thought to have a much higher ‘thermic effect’ compared to carbohydrate and fat. This means during the digestive process, the body actually uses more energy than it does for carbohydrate and fat digestion, meaning less energy is available to be utilised by the body.
With this in mind, focus on a diet that provides a higher protein and fibre content. This should keep you fuller for longer and support you in your weight loss goals.
How healthy you are is not only about what you weigh and how many calories you consume, it is also about what nutrients e.g. vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, amino acids you have available for your body to use. It is important to get as much ‘nutritional value’ i.e. vitamins and minerals, from every calorie in your diet.
Focus on foods that provide you with a high nutritional value. Vegetables (aim for 6 portions per day), fruit (aim for 1 portion per day), lean quality proteins, oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, anchovies and sardines, nuts and seeds all contain a variety of nutrients that help to keep us healthy.
To achieve long term weight loss, it is paramount that dietary changes are long term and sustainable. This means that the diet should provide good nutritional value but also contain enough food to keep you full and happy. Aim to make a lifestyle change for good rather than following a short term ‘diet’.
Weight management is complex with individual requirements and circumstances playing a role. For more information and personalised support in managing weight please contact us or book a FREE 15 minute consultation.