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Will this help me lose weight? It depends. That’s a very common answer to most questions in nutrition. But don’t despair. There are some tips that should work for almost anyone, at least that’s what the sum of scientific research suggests. Let’s take a look at what it says about weight loss.

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It all comes down to one equation

It doesn’t matter if you go vegan, low-carb, keto, gluten-free, paleo or any other diet, science always knows how you lost weight. The equation is the same for everyone. You must expend more energy (calories) than you take in to lose weight. We know this because the energy balance equation comes from the first law of thermodynamics: energy can’t be created or destroyed; it can only be transferred from one state to another.

But all calories are not equal, right?

If this is true and weight loss is only about energy and calories, then why does it matter what I eat? Whether I eat 100 kcal of cake or 100 kcal of salad, it still counts as 100 kcal towards my intake. That is true. But, unfortunately, or maybe thankfully, we aren’t robots that can only eat 100 kcal of cake and be done. Most people will eat more like 1,000 kcal of cake if you offer it to them. But the same people will probably eat a lot fewer calories from a salad. The types of food we choose can influence how much we end up eating in a day. But food choices aren’t the only thing that influences the equation.

Cake
Would  just 100kcal of cake be enough for you?

What influences the calorie equation?

There are four main factors that influence how many calories you will take in. It will help with weight loss if you understand them well.

  • Appetite – Your appetite is regulated mainly by your hormones and is a big driver of calorie intake.
  • Quantity of food – How much food you end up eating is influenced by how much is available to you, how tasty that food is, and how energy dense it is. It is also influenced by your education, culture or income.
  • Calories absorbed – How many calories you absorb from food is influenced by which macronutrients are in your food, how you prepare your food, and by your age, microbiome, and health status.
  • Psychological factors – Calories you take in are also influenced by your stress levels, your overall mindset, self-esteem, and sleep quality.

We can also identify four main factors that influence your energy expenditure.

  • What your body burns at rest – Even if you do nothing, your body will burn some calories. This depends on your body size and composition, genetics, health status, sleep quality, your history of dieting, and even your age.
  • Exercise – How much you burn through exercise depends on duration, intensity, and environment.
  • Non-exercise activity – This is everything you do throughout the day except for exercise. Walking, cooking, gardening, cleaning, etc.
  • Energy burned by metabolising food – You have to spend energy to digest and metabolise food. For example, eating protein burns more energy than carbs and fats.
Urban cyclist
Energy expenditure is a sum of four main factors. © Profimedia

So, how do I lose weight?

Science would advise you to reduce calories in and increase calories out so that you are in a deficit. There are many ways to do this. You will increase your chances of success if you focus on the eight factors mentioned above.

Here are some tips to reduce how many calories you take in:

  • Increase your fibre and protein intake. That will reduce your appetite hormones and increase your satiety hormones.
  • Eat slowly so that signals of satiety and fullness have time to kick in.
  • Get enough sleep to reduce cravings for sweets and increase satisfaction from food.

Here are some tips to increase how many calories you burn:

  • Add strength training to build more muscle. Muscle burns more calories even if you don’t do anything compared to fat.
  • Increase your non-exercise activity by taking the stairs instead of a lift, answering phone calls while walking, getting off the bus one stop earlier to walk more.
  • Eat more protein to increase how much you burn while metabolising food.

Next up in 5 Diet Tips That Work for Everyone Series series