Fat loss is predicated on the fact that we are in a calorie deficit. A calorie is a metric we use to assess the amount of energy contained in a food. We cannot lose body fat if we are consuming more energy than we are using. Calories are in nearly everything we put in our mouths. We can’t avoid them. In fact, we need them. If we were cars, calories would be our petrol. We don’t work without them.
Yet, ask a huge amount of people and their first thought is how to reduce calories. How do we take away our fuel? Hundreds of diets are based on the premise of restriction—restrict how many calories you consume, restrict how many calories you get from carbs, restrict how many calories you get from fat. This is a fundamentally flawed way of approaching energy consumption. Calories are our fuel, not our foe.
The Calorie, Our Enemy?
Being told what you should eat is commonplace from an early age. Whether it’s a family member telling you to eat all your veggies as a child, or your primary school science teacher telling you what a food group is, we’re all told what to eat, but never why. These foods are invariably “healthy” options that have common themes throughout. They are all low calorie, can be eaten in high volumes and are nutritionally dense. Not bad principles. But we are never told why we should eat these foods. So, from a young age, we associate low calorie foods as healthy and anything high calorie instantly becomes unhealthy.
Is it good practice to educate kids on healthy food choices? Of course. But as we grow up, we start to punish ourselves for eating high calorie foods. This can lead to serious and dangerous extremes. Plus, the majority of people view a high calorie eating session as damaging that just one blowout on food can lead to them giving up completely. Does this sound familiar?
Your Calorie Bank Account
With this attitude, it’s no wonder people view calories as a foe not a fuel. But with a simple mindset shift, it’s 100% possible to help people have a much healthier relationship with nutrition. Let’s walk through a little analogy that could completely change your outlook.
You’ve got a bank account. Hopefully there’s some money in it. You spend your money how you see fit. The responsible ones among you will keep the vast majority of your money for the important things, like paying bills, buying food, and paying rent. Because you are responsible with the majority of your money, you leave a small amount back for treats, a day out, a bottle of wine, or perhaps a holiday.
You allocate your money according to what is most important. What if I told you that you could do the exact same thing with your calories?
You may have heard that each individual person needs a different number of calories per day to maintain their weight. This is based on gender, age, lean body mass, and activity level. This is viewed as number you must restrict yourself to, but in reality it is much more like the bank account we spoke about above. It is an allowance.
If you spend your calories like you spend your money, with the majority (80% or more) going to the important things (high protein, nutritionally dense food) and allowing yourself a little money for your treats (the feared high calorie food), all while sticking to your allowance, you’ll still be able to achieve your goals. This approach is known as flexible dieting, and has a much higher adherence rate than any other diet.
Your Spending Allowance
Viewing your calorie intake as an allowance rather than something to keep minimal will change your approach to dieting, improve adherence, and make your weight loss seem much more bearable. After all, you’re now working to fill out a spending allowance rather than trying to stop yourself from spending. Whether you go over or under your allowance will determine your success, first and foremost. After that, what you spend your allowance on will determine the success you have. Take this approach with you, and you’ll have correct energy balance, be eating the right things, and you’ll have adherence, too.
You can’t help but succeed!