No matter who you are or what kind of diet plan you’re on, the key to weight loss is all in the calories. While not all weight loss programs actually make you sit down and figure out the calories in the food you eat, most of them are based on the idea of taking in fewer calories than what you burn off during any given day. That simple equation – the deficit between the number of calories you burn and the number of calories you take in – is the single most important factor in your weight loss. Other things, such as your metabolism and things like the composition of food affect it, but that calorie deficit is key.
It’s important, first of all, to understand what a calorie is and how it applies to weight loss. A calorie is, in the most basic sense, a unit of energy measurement. It measures the amount of energy that you’ll find in a given food. Your body takes the food and drink that you consume and turns it into energy in order to perform just about any bodily function. Simply breathing burns calories, as does jogging through the park.
Everyone has a certain caloric requirement in order to keep at your current weight. Essentially, if you take in less calories or burn more calories than that requirement, you’re going to experience weight loss. On average, burning around 3,500 calories more than what you take in will lead to weight loss of right around a pound.
Figuring out that caloric need can be a challenge. There are a number of different ways of calculating it, but it comes down to a number of factors. Your gender, your weight and your activity level all play a role in figuring out how many calories you need. You can visit the USDA website to plug in your own numbers and get a good idea of how many calories you need to consume in a day in order to maintain your weight.
Once you know that number, weight loss is a straightforward (if not necessarily easy) proposition. You simply burn more calories than what you take in.
Finally, it’s worth remembering that the calorie count in a given food is entirely dependent on its serving size. One of the biggest weight loss mistakes that folks make is not controlling their portions, which means they’re taking in much more in the way of calories than what they intended to take in.