How Much Do Calories Really Matter?

How Much Do Calories Really Matter?


Losing weight is as easy as burning more calories than you consume, right? Not so fast. While the simple equation of calories in versus calories out is something we’ve been led to believe for many years, researchers are now finding that it’s not quite as simple as all that.

Dispelling the Calories-Per-Pound Myth

In recent years, it was generally believed that in order to lose one pound of body fat, a person would need to create a deficit of 3,500 calories. However, in more recent studies (such as one ground-breaking 2011 study), it was found that simply burning 3,500 calories more than you take in isn’t a guarantee for losing a pound of fat. In reality, people lose weight at different rates, and caloric deficits alone aren’t enough to guarantee a specific amount of weight loss.

Factors That Affect Weight Loss

There are so many factors that can affect a person’s ability to lose weight, as well as how quickly or slowly they’re able to lose it. Some of the most compelling factors include:

  • gender
  • current body fat percentage
  • age
  • current height and weight
  • resting metabolic rate

The Bottom Line: Do Calories Count?

All of this is not to say that calories don’t matter when it comes to pursuing weight loss. It is absolutely true that if you consume more calories than you burn, you’re going to gain weight (and vice versa). However, we can no longer say with certainty that creating a calorie deficit of “X” calories will automatically yield “X” pounds of weight lost in a specific period of time.

The focus, then, should be not just on counting calories, but making sure you’re fueling your body with the right foods. After all, unhealthy foods can slow down your metabolism. It’s also helpful to have a solid understanding of your unique base metabolic rate (BMR). This is the amount of calories your body burns just by doing the bare minimum each day. By keeping your caloric intake below your BMR on days when you don’t exercise and increasing it accordingly on days when you do exercise, you’re more-or-less guaranteed to lose weight. Calculate your BMR here to get started!

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