Are calories really that important? (Exerpt from my Eating Manual)

She has a higher BMR than you.

If you’ve been online at all and have read anything about health and fitness in the last few years, you will have seen some conflicting viewpoints on the never-ending debate on whether or not calories are an important thing to monitor.

Much like the endless arguments over the G-spot actually exists, or if eggs are bad for you or not, this is one that seems to have no consensus among the major health mags and internet forums. . Many people either adhere to a calorie count system for weight regulation, or a “screw calories, just make sure you’re eating well” system for weight regulation.

I’ll give you a little dose of science in an attempt to clear things up for you.

BMR, RMR, Race Cars and Ice Cream:

Basal metabolic rate (BMR) is essentially the amount of calories that a person burns while sitting in a dark room alone watching the lifetime channel, and not moving. Resting metabolic rate is (for all intents and purposes) the same thing. We can and will use them interchangeably.

The BMR formula we will be using because it’s easy and accurate is the Katch-McArdle Formula, which is BMR = 370 + (21.6 x LBM) the LBM in this equation stands for Lean Body Mass in KG, and can be obtained by finding out your body fat percentage, subtracting that number from 100, multiplying your weight by that number, and dividing by 2.2

Example: a 200 lb male with a body fat of 15%.  Plug your numbers into this, and find your BMR too!
BMR = 370 + (21.6 x ((200 x .85)/2.2)
BMR = 370 + (21.6 x (170/2.2)
BMR = 370 + (21.6 x 77.27)
BMR = 370 + (1669)
BMR = 2039

Hopefully that was exceedingly clear.
Keep in mind this is not the amount of calories that this example gentleman would burn in a day, but just the amount of calories that he would burn sitting at home watching “I Dream of Jeanie” and “Bewitched” reruns. This wouldn’t even account for the extra calories that he would burn lifting his cup of herbal tea to his lips.

Now, in order to find the total calories spent (TCS) during a day of work, physical activity, walking the dog and grilling chicken breasts for dinner, we can use the Harris-Benedict Formula with our newly found BMR.

Harris Benedict Formula

To determine your total daily calorie needs, multiply your BMR by the appropriate activity factor, as follows: 

If you are sedentary (little or no exercise) : TCS = BMR x 1.2 13)

If you are lightly active (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week) : TCS = BMR x 1.375 14)

If you are moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week) : TCS = BMR x 1.55 15)

If you are very active (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week) : TCS = BMR x 1.725 16)

If you are extra active (very hard exercise/sports & physical job or 2x training) : TCS = BMR x 1.9

In our example this 200lb male works out 3x per week, and walks the dog every day. We would say that he is moderately active, and multiply his BMR of 2039 by 1.55 for a TCS of 3160 Cal per day, or 22120 Cal per week.

If you’re lazy, and don’t want to do all the math yourself,  get your BMR from this online calculator!  While this isn’t 100% perfect, it will give us a number that will be within ballpark range of your actual BMR, which is worthwhile to know.
Keep in mind that there are certain days that you burn more calories than other days, and this number should not be something that brings more stress into your life, but merely gives you some information about your body.

All of this information is to say that your body does use a certain amount of calories per day, and it would be foolish to dismiss calories as if they didn’t matter at all. But like all things in health and fitness, rarely is their black and white answer to this question, like many of the varying fitness gurus preach.

Calories matter.

It’s just that simple. You can’t take a person with a TCS of 2000, have them eat 2500 calories of the highest quality foods imaginable, and expect that they will lose weight. 2500 calories of chicken breast would still cause weight gain in someone who doesn’t require that many calories to survive.

The good news is that in order to eat 2500 calories of chicken breasts you would need to consume 17 of them, which not only sounds horrible, but would probably also make you never want to taste chicken again.

Food choices matter also!

If you’re eating underneath your TCS, but only eating junk food, yes, you will lose weight, but most likely it won’t be the weight you wanted to lose.

Body composition is mostly influenced by WHAT YOU EAT
Weight is influenced by HOW MUCH YOU EAT.

This subject was just self tested a few years ago by a doctor who wanted to find out if it was possible to lose weight eating only junk food. He supplemented his diet with some fruits and veggies in order to have some nutrients in his system, but by and large ate mostly processed sweets, sugars, and simple sugars, but ate well underneath his TCS. He lost weight, but a lot of it was muscle, and reported feeling tired, sick, irritable, and generally in bad health throughout the majority of his trial run. He also started losing his hair at a fast rate, his cholesterol shot up, and his triglyceride levels were at an all time high.


If you’re trying to change your body in any meaningful way, then it’s important to harness the power of both viewpoints to make a difference in your body makeup. You’ll also find this is the easiest way to ‘diet’ because higher quality foods have less calories, and are more satiating than normal processed, fatty and sugary foods, which will leave you wanting more and more, way after you have eaten your TCS for the day.



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