The new year has started and so have the resolutions. For many, losing weight or watching what they’re eating is a popular goal to strive for. Cutting calories is a straightforward process, but there are some hacks – and limitations – to look out for when wanting to burn extra calories.
One of the main ways to burn calories is achieving a calorie deficit. A calorie deficit means that calories consumed are less than calories burned. This can be accomplished by increasing calories burned through activities such as exercise, decreasing calories consumed with dieting, or a combination of both. If a calorie deficit is achieved and sustained, weight loss will occur.
Exercise is an important component for creating a calorie deficit and increasing fat burning for several reasons:
- First, exercise burns calories during the exercise session.
- Second, exercise results in an excess postexercise calorie expenditure (“afterburn”) that elevates metabolic rate, meaning that the longer and more intense a workout, the more calories will be burned afterward.
- Third, exercise increases the amount of fat burned after a meal is consumed, regardless of the calorie composition of the meal. If you are consuming meals high in carbs in combination with daily exercise, your body will store the carbs to fuel your body and burn the fat, therefore having long-term effects on weight gain prevention.
Metabolic adaptation, the number of calories your body burns daily, decreases when someone creates a calorie deficit through dieting or exercise. The degree of metabolic adaptation varies from person to person, meaning some people will have success with a calorie deficit while others will have a great deal of difficulty losing weight.
There is also a phenomenon called dietary-induced thermogenesis (DIT) which is defined as the extra calories burned after consuming food. Eating foods high in carbs post-exercise have one of the highest effects on DIT, meaning that consuming high-carb foods can aid in increasing the number of calories your body burns daily. Keep in mind that DIT typically amounts to no more than about 10% of the calorie content of a meal, so the impact of DIT in weight control is small.
If you want to be successful in your caloric deficit, know that the number of calories consumed is more important than the food source the calories are coming from. Calorie deficits work in the short term and generally cannot be sustained, so rather than focus on a weight-loss goal, it’s better to make lifestyle changes that can be maintained such as more exercise and healthier food choices. This will likely create a calorie deficit, even if only modest. If weight loss does not occur, don’t get discouraged, exercise and healthy eating have their own intrinsic rewards and should not be tied to only weight loss.
The above information was contributed by Glenn Gaesser, PhD.