You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again. Weight loss is all about calories in vs. calories out. The more you burn, the more weight you will lose. But what exactly is a calorie?
A calorie is a unit representing the energy provided by food. Carbohydrates, protein, fat and alcohol all provide calories in the diet. Carbohydrates and proteins have 4 calories per gram, fat has 9 calories per gram, and alcohol has 7 calories per gram. Alcohol is considered an ‘empty calorie’ because you are getting nothing nutritious for those 7 calories per gram. (Zip. Zilch. Just a nice little buzz and plenty of calories to burn off tomorrow!) And when you consume 3,500 calories, you have just gained one pound of fat. So it’s very important to keep your calories in check by determining how many you should consume in one day, and knowing the best ways to burn them off through exercise.
Now there are many websites out there that can help you figure out your daily caloric allowance. Just google “calorie counter” and take your pick. Your caloric allowance is based on your weight, height, activity level and goal weight, if you’re looking to lose weight. Now these are just estimates and I’m suggesting them as a way to visually understand the relationship between calories in and calories out. Seeing a number in your mind can help you when confronted with a menu item on the dessert list that states it’s 525 calories (if you’re in fact dining at a restaurant that discloses this information”. Not many do, so when you come across the warm chocolate lava cake with vanilla ice cream oozing down the sides, your gut should be telling you that that dessert is probably way over your daily caloric budget and you’ll have to opt for the fresh fruit plate. Bummer, I know.)
Ok, so now that you have a close estimate of the number of calories you should be consuming in a day, it’s time to start monitoring your “calories in” by keeping a food journal. (I just heard few moans and groans out there but believe me, it’s worth it.) It will, no doubt in my mind, make a huge difference in the way you eat. If you bite it, you must write it! This will actually make you think twice before sinking your teeth into that 4:00 p.m. sugar fix, or keep you from mindlessly devouring a bag of chips. Carry around a small notepad and just quickly jot down what you’re eating as you’re eating it, this way you won’t be stuck at the end of the week trying to remember everything you ate. Guaranteed you’ll forget about a chocolate bite here and a cookie there if you wait too long to write it down.
Moving on, once you’ve mastered the food journaling, it’s time to incorporate fitness into your lifestyle so you can increase your “calories out” number. A great way to get more bang for your buck is interval training. This is one of my favorite ways to exercise because you can burn a ton of calories in a relatively short amount of time. Interval training is alternating high intensity bursts of activity with easier recovery bouts. So if you’re on the treadmill for 25 minutes, warm up for 4 minutes with a light jog. At minute 5, sprint for one minute (or however long is comfortable for you, be it 10 seconds, 30 seconds or two minutes.) Then go back to a light jog so your heart rate can slightly recover, and then speed it up again for however long is comfortable for you so you can get your heart rate revved up again. (Think mini-bursts of activity followed by slightly longer recovery times.) Do this until the end of your session and follow with a 4- minute cool down. You’ll see that you can burn over 300 calories in a quick, heart-pumping workout and it will burn a ton more calories than if you were to jog on the treadmill at a steady pace. There are so many ways to vary your workout to keep it interesting and extremely effective through interval training. Try bringing it into your workout at least twice a week and you’ll soon notice that you can go faster and longer after a few short weeks!
In summary, know your daily caloric allowance, write down everything you eat, and try incorporating interval training into your workouts. Simple enough, right?