Weight management can be a simple process, in this blog post we show you how to use technology to make it happen.
Why Do We Lose Weight?
Most people have heard ‘weight loss is a matter of calories in, calories out,” but what does this really mean?
A calorie is a measurement of food energy. Food energy is the energy humans get from the food they eat.
So, a better way of describing this process is “weight loss is a matter of energy eaten vs. energy used.” The body’s way of storing energy is fat. If you eat less energy than the body needs it will take it from previously stored energy in your body (aka from fat).
How to find out how much energy you need
Guidelines usually say that an average woman needs 2000 calories a day, and a man 2500 calories a day, but our bodies and lifestyles are so different that this is often not the case. Here’s how to get a better idea of the number of calories you really need.
Find out your BMR: Everyone has a Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) which is the amount of energy you would burn if you were to lay in bed all day in a nice temperature not digesting anything. It’s the energy your body needs to breathe and pump blood, etc. It’s important to make sure you don’t drop below this on a regular basis, doing so can have many negative health side effects but it will also cause your body to store fat and burn muscle, it’s gone into ‘starvation mode’. A good calculator to work out your BMR is here.
Consider how active you are in an ordinary day: No one actually does this (the lying in bed, not digesting anything part), so we need to find out how many calories you burn in a normal day, your total energy expenditure. There are tonnes of calculators out there, but the one you just used for your BMR is great for this too, here it is again. This calculator will ask how long you spend doing different activities to give you a better number.
Get even more specific: To get an even more tailored number, we’ve found it best to set all activity measurements to 0 and use apps/activity trackers to record extra activity as this adjusts itself for particularly active/inactive days instead of taking an average.
Now you have the number of calories your body needs in order to provide you with the amount of energy that you’re using. If you wanted to maintain your weight, this is the number of calories you should eat.
Using your daily calorie requirement to create an “energy deficit” (or lose weight)
The number of calories you take off your daily calorie need in order to achieve an ‘energy deficit’ and lose weight will depend on how much you can manage. We think that cutting back by 300 calories is sensible and we don’t recommend going over a 500 deficit. This will stop you from losing too much weight too fast, which is not advisable as it’s unsustainable and can be unhealthy. If you find creating a calorie deficit difficult, it’s a good idea to work up to it because you’ll get used to eating less food. Try taking 100 calories from your diet every 1-2 weeks.
How to make sure you are eating the right amount of food
Calorie counting is a scary concept, but with the use of technology it can be very simple. It also doesn’t need to be forever. By counting your calories for a short amount of time you learn how many calories different foods generally have. You’ll look at an apple and see approx 40 calories, you’ll see a slice of bread and know it’s around 80 calories. Soon enough you’ll be able to look at a plate of food and make a pretty good judgment of how many calories it is.
Top tip: Trying to eat 3 meals a day that are around 400-500 calories each is a great way to start out. Then just factor in a some snacks that are between 100-300 calories, depending on how much of a deficit you need/want to create. Don’t forget that drinks (except pure water) also contain calories!
To start calorie counting in the simplest way possible you’ll just need a few tools and apps.
This app is the cornerstone of simplifying calorie counting. You can also use it to estimate how many calories you’ve burned and see your deficit.
An electronic food scale with ‘tare’ function
You will need this to measure your ingredients while cooking. The tare function makes this process much easier by allowing you to exclude the weight of, for example, the pan you’re adding rice to. You can also add multiple ingredients and reset the scale after each one. Here’s the one we like to use:
Step/activity and cardio exercise tracker - app based or wearable (if you want to get more specific)
The key here is for the data to sync with MyFitnessPal so that you have all of your information in one place. Most wearable trackers do this and they’ll also track steps/activity and cardio exercise. If you don’t have a wearable tracker check your phone. Many phones can already track your movement; for instance, this kind of functionality is built into iPhone 5s onwards and new android phones. (Here's a good guide to setting up your phone to record steps/activity). If you’re using your phone to track steps/activity it’s also a good idea to get a dedicated app to track cardio exercise too. Here is a list of apps and trackers that work with MyFitnessPal.
Once you have these few things you’re all set to easily track the energy you consume and burn.
A Day in the Life of Daniel (while calorie counting)
My Inactive Daily Calorie intake is 2,000 calories and my BMR is 1,600. So I am aiming for a 400 calorie deficit to avoid being below my BMR, but because I am tracking my active calories and I will be eating as many calories as I burn, I will actually always be eating plenty more than my BMR. I’ll therefore have no risk of entering ‘starvation mode’ while also getting plenty of nutrition.
So I enter 1,600 calories into MyFitnesspal as my goal, the app will be increasing this number as the day goes on and I burn calories, for every calorie I burn, it adds one on. I’m aiming for my calories to be made up of 40% Healthy Fat, 30% Carbohydrates and 20% Protein.
I wake up and have a coffee with a little milk. At the moment I am intermittent fasting so my first meal isn’t due until 12pm. I enter this coffee into MyFitnessPal but it only takes a second as it’s saved from previous times I’ve had it. My coffee is under 50 calories so it doesn’t affect my fasting state.
I walk to the train station and walk from the station to the office, my activity tracker says I walked 2,800 steps. This data is automatically pulled into MyFitnessPal and it adjusts my daily calorie intake by 50 calories as this is how many I burned from walking.
I buy my first meal of the day from town, I also know I’m going to the gym tonight so I buy an afternoon snack. I scan the barcode of the items I eat using MyFitnessPal and it updates the amount of calories I have eaten.
On my way home I stop by the gym, I lift weights for 30 minutes and then run for 30 minutes. My activity tracker automatically adjusts my calories by 300 as this is how many I just burned while running. I log my strength training in the app, 90 calories per 30 min weight training is a good measurement.
I go home and cook dinner. As I add each ingredient I quickly pop it on my scale and search MyFitnessPal. One of the ingredients is quinoa, which I had last week so it’s saved in my recent history. This whole process adds about 5 minutes to the length of time it takes to cook the meal. I add this recipe to MyFitnessPal because it’s one of my favourites. I can then add it next time by tapping one button. If I’m following a recipe, I sometimes update the app after I have finished eating using the measurements in the recipe.
As I’m relaxing in the evening I check MyFitnessPal and it tells me I still have 100 calories remaining to stay within my target for the day. It’s taken the 1,600 calorie target and then subtracted the 2,000 calories I’ve eaten but added the 500 extra calories I’ve I burned. I treat myself with a piece of dark chocolate :-)
Record your progress and adjust your targets accordingly
There’s no point going the extra mile if you’re not recording your progress. For this stage you will need a scale.
Always measure yourself at the same time everyday, ideally in the morning before eating. This is important as food and water in your body can throw the scales off quite a bit. For example, 1 litre of water weighs 1kg.
Don’t compare one day to the next, record your weight manually using MyFitnessPal or any scale that can sync with it, such as Withings scales. Look for long term trends or only weigh yourself once a week or fortnightly.
Protein has been shown to keep you fuller for longer. Have some with every meal to avoid cravings. It also helps build muscle which helps burns more energy throughout the day.
Don’t avoid healthy fats. 1 gram of fat is equal to 9 calories, this is high compared to 4 calories for protein and carbohydrates. However, healthy fats are very important to maintaining good health and the medium chain fatty acids found in places such as coconut oil may actually help burn fat.
Apply the 80-20 rule. Life is busy enough, and if losing weight is going to add to this you won’t stick with. Don’t let your calorie counting get in the way of social situations, one bad day won’t throw everything off.
If you really feel guilty after a particularly heavy calorie day, fast the day after to balance it out. Fasting has been shown to have a great many health benefits and is a powerful tool in weight loss. Your energy in vs. energy out deficit is more important over the course of a week rather than 24 hours.
Try to exercise if you want to eat more. By exercising you are able to eat more and still maintain a deficit. By eating more you will also obtain more micronutrients that you need to be healthy and more macronutrients which your body needs to build muscle.
Supplement. It’s going to be harder to make sure you are getting all the micronutrients you need each day while in an energy deficit. Take a multivitamin to make sure you are getting all the nutrients you need.
Drink enough. Drinking water can suppress appetite and has been shown to actually increase the amount of energy you burn in a day. We recommend a minimum of 2 litres throughout the day, but aim for 3 or more.
After just one month of following the above guide you will have made a real impact on your weight, potentially losing nearly 2 kg. It’s good to readjust your goal too using the calculator, as you loose weight your BMR and Total energy Expenditure will change. But just as importantly as loosing weight, you’ll have developed new habits and gained a huge insight into what your own body needs. So even when you’re not following the above system, you’ll know what a portion of food for you should look like and have a feeling about how many calories you’re burning without even thinking about it!