Counting calories isn’t a sustainable or particularly pleasant way to manage your weight over time.
However, it is important to have a general awareness of how much energy you’re taking in vs. how much energy you’re expending throughout the day, for weight management and a healthy lifestyle.
Although it might be a bit of an over-simplification, a good image to use for thinking about energy balance is that of a bath tub with a plug and taps.
You are the bath.
The water flows into the bath through the taps when they are open. This is like calories in – through your mouth! When you’re eating the tap is switched on and the water flows in. If you close the tap off the water, or the calories, stop flowing into the bath, or your body. So only you can control what goes in.
How do you control what goes out? Well, in a bath you stick the plug in to fill the bath up and to stop the water flowing out. If you take the plug out, the water from the bath will start to flow down the plug hole, emptying the bath of its contents. Now compare taking the plug out to exercising and burning calories: plug out = exercise = energy out. As soon as you stop exercising and block that plug hole up (and you continue to take in energy through the taps, your mouth), the bath will soon fill up. That’s where the comparison ends, because a bath will overflow, whereas your body will just expand.
So in order to achieve equilibrium in your bath (body), your water in (energy in) should match the water out (energy out).
That’s where a knowledge of energy content in foods and energy expended in activity comes in handy! Many of our common treats, meals or beverages of choice can come laden with excessive calories that we are often unaware of. Even if we do have a knowledge of calorie content do we really understand what that means in practise? Well, a good way to put it all in context is to compare them to the calories we burn when carrying out various tasks or exercises. How long will you have to cycle for a portion of fish and chips?
Here are a few calorie comparisons to get you started.
WARNING: Some of these may surprise you!
(NOTE: Calories burned are calculated for a UK female, weighing 65kg. If you weigh more or are male you will burn slightly more calories and if you weigh less than 65kg you’ll burn less.)
Large Latte (274kcal)
= Brisk Walking for 50 minutes
Salt and vinegar crisps (184kcal)
= Pilates for 50 minutes
Big Mac (563 kcal)
= Jogging for 1 hour 15 minutes
Small portion of fish and chips (946kcal)
= Indoor cycling (spin) for almost 2 hours
Spaghetti Carbonara (581kcal)
= HIIT circuits for 1 hour 15 minutes
Slice of cheese pizza (272kcal)
= Lifting weights (vigorously) for 45 minutes
Jacket potato with cheese and beans (500kcal)
= Skipping for just over 1 hour
A couple of pints of beer (360kcal)
= Hula Hooping for 50 minutes
Mars bar (260kcal)
= House work (full on spring clean!) for 1 hour 20 minutes
Smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel (400kcal)
= Tennis for almost 1 hour
Can of Coca-Cola (139kcal)
= Dancing for 28 minutes
Bottle of Prosecco (496kcal)
= Swimming for over 1 hour
Is it that simple?
Something to consider here is the fact that calories are NOT necessarily all equal!
Despite popular belief, energy balance is NOT the only factor at play when it comes to healthy and sustainable weight loss (as my previous blog posts have eluded to: Good habits for a healthier lifestyle, How to fight belly fat the science way). Achieving the correct balance of macronutrients (protein, fat and carbohydrates), micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and exercising on a regular basis is vital for a healthy body composition.
So, as tempting as it might seem; eating nothing but burgers and chocolate and expecting to be able to undo the damage with house work and jogging just won’t cut it! Moderation and balance are key. Just be aware of the energy you’re packing in and be prepared to put in the hours burning it off.
Right I’m off for a cheeky bagel and a game of tennis (tennis fans will get the link here…hopefully!) See you next week!