Ever since I got hold of a fitness tracker, it has been easier to keep track of the number of steps that I clocked on daily basis and with the workout feature, it is easy to track the number of calories burned for each type of workout. However, losing weight significantly has been a tough effort despite the hours of exercise that I put in on daily basis. Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels
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One of the problems that one will face when looking at the kcal benchmark to use as the starting point is the amount of kcal. This is because the starting point depends on your age, gender, height and weight and even perhaps lifestyle. In other words, there is no one fixed formula to compute the kcal. Image source: Pinterest
What are Calories?
One cannot run away from looking at kcal when we are looking at losing weight – either when we are on a diet so we intake a certain number of kcal or when we are exercising to burn kcal. So what are kcal in the first place?
Most people only associate calories with food and drink, but anything that contains energy has calories. 1 kilogram (kg) of coal, for example, contains 7,000,000 calories.
There are two types of calorie:-
A small calorie (cal) is the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of 1 gram (g) of water by 1º Celsius (º C).
A large calorie (kcal) is the amount of energy required to raise 1 kilogram (kg) of water by 1º C. It is also known as a kilocalorie.
1 kcal is equal to 1,000 cal.
The terms “large calorie” and “small calorie” are often used interchangeably. This is misleading. The calorie content described on food labels refers to kilocalories. A 250-calorie chocolate bar actually contains 250,000 calories.
(Source: Medical News Today)
To be frank, before this, I do keep track of the nutrition information at the back of the food packaging whenever I pick it up from the supermarket. But instead of looking at the kcal numbers, I actually look at the size of sugar that went into the food processor. Different brands may have the same kcal but the sugar content does differ. That is what I look out for when I buy packed food or drink.
But now, it looks like I need to take a closer look at the kcal as well.
When one is trying to lose weight, it is becoming very important to gauge the total kilocalories or kcal information on the packaging before one purchases it. Sometimes it is not straightforward to compute the kcal especially when it comes to stall food or home-cooked food. Infographic source: Visual.ly
Calorie Starting Point
The funny part of looking at calories is the starting point. Different websites and apps give you different starting points on the calories counter.
For example, based on my age, weight and height, Samsung Health suggests a starting point of 2,359 kcal but the dieting app suggests a starting point of 1,500 kcal. Other gives you a range depending on the age:-
As is the case for women, calorie needs for men may range based on several factors.
The most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans estimates that men between the ages of 19–30 should consume 2,400–3,000 calories per day to maintain their weight.
Energy needs decrease as you get older. In fact, men between the ages of 31–59 need about 2,200–3,000 calories per day to maintain their weight, while men over 60 generally require 2,000–2,600 calories
Men who are very active or have certain health conditions may require more calories. The number you need within these ranges also varies based on your height and weight.
(Source: Health Line)
Frankly speaking, it is tough to maintain maximum calories of just 1,500 kcal with Malaysian meals as some of it can easily spike up at breakfast and lunch and even with intermittent fasting. However, for comparison, I use both 1,500 kcal and 2,359 kcal as the benchmark and tracking purposes.
There are many apps in Google Play that can assist to track the amount of kcal that you intake from food and drink. Unfortunately not many of these apps except some like the MyFitness Pal app caters for Asian customers and does not have a list of Asian food. Screenshot from Google Play
Calories Monitoring & Computation
For ease of tracking the food calories for the daily meals, I am using the tracker from MyFitnessPal which has a good list of Malaysian food. The problem with daily tracking is firstly remembering to update the food list and secondly picking the higher or lower kcal for the same meal. For example, if you search “nasi lemak”, you will get 5 to 6 nasi lemak entries.
So the maths of kcal monitoring is rather simple.
Take the benchmark for the day, say 1,500 kcal minus the kcal of the food that you have taken for the day. For example for breakfast, you take nasi lemak and teh tarik, it comes to 600 kcal in total. So, it will be 1,500 minus 600 kcal = 900 kcal for lunch, dinner and snacks. If you eat more than 900 kcal, then you will put more weight and that is the theory. If you eat less than 900 kcal, you will lose weight.
Then we have the kcal burned from exercises and you can add those kcal into the equation. For example, some 6,000 steps before breakfast will burn some 350 kcal. So, it will be 1,500 kcal minus 600 kcal add 350 kcal = 1,250 kcal for lunch, dinner and snacks. In other words, you have an extra 350 kcal that you can spare on meals and still lose weight. This is why you need to do at least some form of exercise that can burn kcal. The easiest way is walking and clocking 10,000 steps in a day.
Then there are some interesting ones:-
Cleaning for just 25 minutes can burn 100 calories
According to University of Montreal researchers, women burn off 69 calories during the average sex sesh, while men burn off 100.
According to Jill Koegel, RD, a sports-certified registered dietitian, sitting on one of those big sports balls during your workday can burn up to an extra 100 calories a day.
Checking out the latest fashions and gadgets at the mall will fry 100 calories in a mere 33 minutes!
Delegating an hour to hosing down and buffing up your vehicle will burn roughly 140 calories if you weigh 150 pounds.
(Source: Eat This)
Interestingly you are also burning calories even when you are sleeping. For a person like me, it is estimated that I burn about 650 kcal for a full 8 hours of sleep.
I guess it is all about the science of things.
It seems to be complicated when it comes to losing weight and it goes beyond just exercising and watching what you eat. It ends like a fine balancing act where you really need to keep close monitoring of the food that you take and track them so that you know how much you need to exercise to keep the total kcal intake in check.
A fitness tracker is a good start to track calories burned in a day as you can burn a great deal of kcal even for activities not considered a formal exercise. As for formal exercise, different types of exercise burn different amounts of kcal for the same duration. So the idea is to pick the exercise that maximises the kcal burned.
In the meantime, keep up the daily steps target of 10,000 steps per day.