What is the secret to weight loss? Actually it isn’t that difficult. In the two parts of this article you will learn the important concept behind all diets and how to apply it to make your weight loss happen.
The Magic Diet
Every year tons of new diet books hit the shelves, all supposedly having the ultimate answer and magic formula for making pounds disappear. Some tell you to only eat raw food, others to avoid carbohydrates or they confuse you with scientifically-looking terms like “insulin response”.
But it’s all window-dressing for a very simple secret: To lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you eat. As long as a diet follows this principle, it will work. And all that work, do follow it.
What Is A Calorie?
So, what is a calorie? It’s just a unit of measurement: one calorie is the energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1°C (1.8°F).
The calories on food containers normally are stated as “kcal”, meaning “kilocalories”. “Kilo” stands for “1000″ and one kcal therefore is actually 1000 calories. But because people often use the term “calorie” for what woud be “kcals”, you don’t need to be confused by this; if you so far thought of kcals as calories, you already got it.
We usually associate calories with food, but you can measure the energy of anything with them. One gallon of gasoline, for example, contains 31,000,000 calories (or 31,000 kcal) . It could therefore heat 31,000 kg of water by 1°C (1000 g = 1 kg).
The gasoline already leads us over to your body and calories: Just like a car, your body runs on fuel. For your car that fuel is calories in form of gasoline, for your body the calories come in the form of food.
Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)
The difference between a car and the human body is that when you arrive at home and turn off the car, it ceases using energy. If our cars burned gas 24 / 7, even when we don’t use them, most of us probably couldn’t afford having one. But our bodies do exactly that.
Even if you lie in bed all day and sleep, some processes still have to go on: your heart has to beat, your skin is being renewed, your hair grows and you breathe. All this costs energy and the energy burnt by these basic, always-on tasks is collectively called basal metabolic rate. “Basal” simply stands for “minimum” and “metabolic” is a term used to describe the processes that occur within living organisms.
You can translate “basal metabolic rate” as minimum processes needed to run to stay alive.
Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE)
Of course we don’t lie in bed all day and sleep. That would make life rather dull. We do stuff: wash that car, go shopping, work out, clean the house etc. And all these things burn energy as well, in addition to what is burned by those basal tasks that always have to run.
The total energy used per day therefore is what was needed for the BMR and to do all the things you did. These together are called the “TDEE”, the total daily energy expenditure.
You And Your TDEE
So, what does all this mean for you? It’s quite simple: If you eat more than your TDEE, you give your body more energy than it needs. In the form of fat it will store that extra energy as fuel reserve for bad times – a mechanism very useful for our ancestors, who didn’t have convenience markets and fast food restaurants available at their whim.
To once more go back to cars, this storage is a bit like your car’s gas tank, which is the car’s fuel reserve, but the problem is that the “gas tank” of the human body has no fixed size. It can increase almost endlessly, by building more and more fat, as many of us to our dismay already experienced. A car’s tank has a fixed size and when you try to fill in more than that, it will just spill over.
But if you give your body less energy than the TDEE, it will have to rely on the reserves to make up for the rest and those reserves will become smaller.
You can summarize it like this:
- If you eat more than your TDEE, your weight will increase
- If you eat exactly your TDEE, your weight will remain constant
- If you eat less than your TDEE, your weight will decrease
Putting It Into Action
Take a bit of time to wrap your head around these. In part two of this article we calculate your BMR and TDEE and look at how you practically use them to lose weight.