What would life be like if we treated our bodies in the same way we treat our bank accounts?
In this day and age most of us are pretty clued up when it comes to money. Even if you don't know precisely what your bank balance is at any given moment, I'd hazard a guess that you have a rough idea. You know what your salary is and what this means to your regular pay check. You'll know which bills you pay every month and how much you spend on your food shopping. And whatever the difference between the two, you'll know what you want to spend on other things and how much you want to save for a rainy day.
Maybe you have a credit card, loan or mortgage. You understand the concept of debt - you agreed to borrow a sum of money for a particular reason and you'll pay it back in instalments over a period of time.
OK, maybe we don't always have a perfect handle on our finances. But once we've been burned a few times by poor money management most of us eventually find it in ourselves to get organised.
What would happen if we treated our bodies in the same way?
Think about it like this. In financial terms, money can be categorised as profit or loss. Your income is your profit, and everything you spend is your loss. You also have a personal balance sheet - your assets such as your home or car plus your cash in the bank and your liabilities such as bills owed, debt and interest payable.
Our bodies' energy equation can and should be managed in the same way.
Your Balance Sheet
Think of your ideal weight as 'being in the black', i.e. all debts repayed. This is your body weight goal. In order to reach your goal, you first need to understand your balance sheet - this tells you where you currently stand.
To begin you need to have a goal weight. This will be different for everyone, and will depend on your height, gender and natural body type. A simple way to choose your goal weight is to calculate your ideal BMI weight - you can do this here. BMI is not perfect, but it offers a great starting point. Later on we will discuss how to set a time related goal i.e. how quickly you aim to achieve your ideal weight.
Calculate the difference between your current weight and your ideal weight. This number becomes your liability - the debt you owe your body.
For each pound you want to lose, you'll need to achieve an energy deficit of around 3500 calories to begin with. This will be different for everyone, and you will discover over time what your number is.
Now I'm afraid I have a bitter pill for you to swallow. This number will increase every month. This is because your body will fight against your efforts to lose weight by becoming more efficient - it thinks you are trying to starve it. Also, the amount of calories your body needs to maintain your current weight at rest (your Basal Metabolic Rate - we go in to this in more detail later on) will decrease because there is less of you to keep alive. This is a total pain in the ass for people losing weight, but unfortunately it is a fact of life. It is better for you to understand this now than to get part way through your journey and be stumped by the fact you have stopped losing weight. The good news is, this is manageable - more so if you are prepared.
Think of weight loss as a continuum. At the beginning you will lose weight relatively easily when you manage your calorie intake and energy output. Over time, you will lose fewer pounds on the same plan. At this point, you can make a choice about your next action - you can increase your daily calorie deficit, or you can take a bit longer losing the weight. There isn't a correct choice here - the only right choice is your choice.
A good goal for your first 4 weeks is to lose between 1-2 pounds a week, therefore requiring a calorie deficit of approximately 14,000 to 28,000. When these 4 weeks are over you can calculate your actual calorie deficit requirement per pound. You do this by working out how many pounds you have lost and your total calorie deficit for the period.
e.g. Start Weight = 180 Pounds, Weight After 4 Weeks = 174 Pounds, Total Calorie Deficit = 20,400
(180 - 174 = 6) / 20,400 = 3,400 calorie deficit per pound
This gives you a great starting point to work out your daily calorie deficit target for the next month. You will need to assume that your required calorie deficit will increase slightly in the next 4 weeks. A good starting assumption is 5%. Therefore, if you wanted to lose another 6 pounds in the next 4 weeks, you would need a deficit of approximately 3,675 (3,400 x 1.05 = 3,675) per pound, which equates to 788 calories per day over 28 days:
(3,675 x 6 = 22,050) / 28 days = 788 calorie deficit per day
Remember that your BMR will have decreased due to your weight loss, so you will need to account for this to ensure you achieve your desired calorie deficit.
Alternatively, you could continue your current daily calorie deficit and expect to lose a little less this month.
Your assets here won't have a number attached to them, but are important to consider. Your body IS your biggest asset - it is the asset you will use in order to repay your debt. It has a brain to think and make good decisions. It has muscles and bones which allow you to move and burn energy. It contains everything you need to get back in the black. Your other asset is time - every hour in the day is an opportunity to burn some calories. This is an asset we often waste - don't make this mistake.
Your Profit and Loss
Now consider your profit and loss. You start today at zero for both of these. Think of it as a 'clean break' from your past eating and activity levels. Each day from now you will add to both.
Your loss or 'expenditure' will be calculated from your consumption of food and drink (i.e. the number of calories your body receives).
The profit or 'income' which counteracts this consumption loss comes from your daily activities. Every movement you make requires energy i.e. calories. This includes each step you take as well as any deliberate exercise you complete.
You also need to account for your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). This tells you how many calories your body needs just to keep you alive at your current weight, assuming you did nothing but lie in bed all day. Here is the calculation:
Women: BMR = 655 + ( 4.35 x weight in pounds ) + ( 4.7 x height in inches ) - ( 4.7 x age in years )
Men: BMR = 66 + ( 6.23 x weight in pounds ) + ( 12.7 x height in inches ) - ( 6.8 x age in year )
A word of warning here. You NEED calories to survive. Unless you are very overweight and have been given specific advice to consume less than your BMR I would not advise that you do so. Consider the long term effects - eating too little has the potential to make you very hungry, lacking in energy and generally miserable. Instead be smarter about what you are eating - check out our archive for more advice.
The best way to calculate this is to wear an activity tracker such as a FitBit - you can pick up cheaper versions for as little as £10 to monitor basic activities, ranging up into the £100's for a top of the range tracker. You can also calculate this using free apps such as My Fitness Pal or the Health app if you have an iPhone.
So if you worked off 800 calories a day, you would add these to your profit column plus your BMR.
As we mentioned earlier, bear in mind that as you lose weight, your BMR will decrease, meaning it becomes more difficult to lose weight over time. This can be frustrating, but understanding this helps you to prepare for it.
So how can this concept be used to help us lose weight?
At this point you have decided on your ideal weight target, and you know how to achieve an initial calorie deficit to start your journey. Now you need to work out how long it will take to accomplish this, and how you are going to do it.
The ideal calorie deficit and speed to lose will be different for everyone. If you are very overweight you will be able to achieve a higher daily deficit than someone with only a few pounds to lose because your body needs more calories just to survive. The first few weeks will be trial and error - you can use this time to try different daily calorie deficits and see how your body reacts. If you find that a deficit of 500 calories per day is working for you, great. If you feel starving and exhausted, it's time for a rethink.
You can build a couple of scenarios and revisit them after the first 4 weeks. At this point you will know what your starting calorie deficit per pound is, and how easy it was for you to achieve the initial weight loss. You can make a decision about whether to increase your daily deficit to maintain your speed of loss, or continue as you are and expect to lose the weight a little slower.
No single path will be right for everyone - you need to listen to your body and find the right way for you. Bear in mind you can change your daily calorie deficit as you move through your weight loss journey - a deficit of 700 may be totally achievable when you are very overweight, but might be incredibly hard as you get closer to your goal weight. As discussed earlier, the closer you get to your goal, the more efficient your body will become - making it more difficult to lose weight.
Another consideration is that our bodies are not built like machines. Our hormones, water retention and many other seemingly inexplicable factors affect our weight. Many people will experience a plateau at some point during their weight loss (where we stop losing weight even though we think we are achieving a calorie deficit). This is perfectly normal but very frustrating. Use the numbers to your advantage here - recalculate your BMR, and try out a new calorie deficit. Change your macro intake (% of carbs, fat and protein) to see if this makes a difference (just make sure you are sticking to your target calorie intake).
Where do I go from here?
My advice would be to build a balance sheet and profit and loss for your body and use them for 4 weeks. By this time you will have a really firm grip on the numbers. Although I do not believe in counting calories for life, doing this exercise for a period of time is essential to your journey. Over time you will learn to estimate your daily calorie intake without having to record every single thing you eat.
So many numbers - I'm confused!