How Many Calories Do You Need?

Is this ice cream a snack or a day’s worth of food?

Many people happily and healthfully live their lives blissfully unaware of all things calorie. Others could benefit greatly from a little education in this area.

My slim and very fit younger brother is a perfect example of the former. After watching him devour a small tub of chocolate peanut butter Häagen-Dazs ice cream (with help from his pregnant wife), I couldn’t help peeking at the nutrition label: 1,520 calories!!!

Seeing my jaw on the floor, he asked: “Is that a lot?”.

The answer depends on who you are. For me, and most other adult women, that tub represents nearly a full day’s calorie needs. My brother’s energy needs, however, are nearly double mine. He is not only larger than me, with more muscle mass, but also routinely bikes over 100 km (60 miles) burning over 2,000 calories in the process.

Do calories matter?

Some argue that it doesn’t make sense to talk about calories because our bodies don’t treat fat, sugar, and protein calories the same way — for example, fats don’t trigger an insulin response the way sugars (and starches) do.

While this is true, I believe that balancing calories in and calories out is at the heart of successful weight loss and maintenance. This belief stems from my research into the science of weight loss and the relationship between sugars and obesity.

When it comes to weight loss, long term studies comparing diets consistently show that calories are king and that there is no magical diet. For example, one meta-analysis of low fat versus low carb diets shows no difference in weight loss, despite showing metabolic differences (See study here) while another showed a small difference of about 1 lb of fat loss per month, in favour of low-fat diets (see study here) .

Similarly, human trials of sugar intake and health tells us that high sugar intake is associated with obesity, but ONLY if the sugars ‘cause’ you (directly or indirectly) to eat more overall. If you swap sugars for other carbohydrates but keep calories constant, waistlines are unaffected (See research article). [Note: stay tuned for upcoming articles that explore this in more detail.]

Last but not least, I will be the first to acknowledge that the simple ‘calories in minus calories out = weight change’ formula rarely performs perfectly, for reasons we are still trying to understand (great research article here). Certainly, part of the disconnect is that our bodies are awfully good at resisting change. Yet, ignoring energy balance (calories in and out) altogether because of this imperfect prediction is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Now that I hopefully have you onboard with ‘calories are king’, let’s figure out your rough calorie needs. There are multiple approaches, and the one that’s best for you depends on how patient, detail-oriented, and geeky you are. For me, the answer is “all of the above”.

Read full article here.

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