How Calories and Weight Loss Actually Works

A breakfast plate of brown bread topped with two typed of hummus and yellow peppers. Served with some fruit and a coffee.

Calories can be confusing.

Especially when there’s so many people around the internet shouting about their favourite magical diet making everything sound way more complicated than it actually is.

Every diet you’ve ever heard of or tried boils down to the same basic principle: calorie balance.

And once you understand what calorie balance is, it makes everything much easier to understand.

Let’s break it down.

Calories = Energy

Calories aren’t a “thing”. They’re a measurement.

A Calorie is an amount of energy. Just like a kilogram or pound is an amount of weight, or a metre is an amount of length.

That’s why this principle we call “calorie balance” is also sometimes called “energy balance”.

We use calories to measure the amount of energy coming into, and being used up by, our bodies.

Your Body Is Very Clever

Our bodies are unbelievable. They do so many things every single day that we don’t even think about that are just wild. For example, have you ever cut yourself, and actually paid attention to how your body heals itself? You know when you watch a sci-fi movie and there’s an amazing futuristic healing spray where you see the person’s wound pull itself back together before your eyes?

That’s literally what your body does, just slower. It’s incredible.

Your body’s job is to keep you alive. And it does that in a lot of ways.

One way that it does that was really useful back in the days before farms and shops existed. But unfortunately, now it just gets on your nerves.

That way is by storing excess energy as fat.

Our bodies need a certain amount of energy (or a certain amount of calories) each day to run all those amazing functions that keep us alive. That includes processing our food, moving around, repairing and replacing all our cells, and so much more.

We get energy from eating food. If our bodies get more energy from our food than we actually need, we store that extra energy to use later, just in case we don’t get enough at some point in the future.

And our bodies do that to keep us alive. Back in the day food wasn’t as easy to come by as walking down to Asda. Sometimes there wouldn’t be enough, so we needed a backup to keep us ticking over.

That backup is what we call body fat.

Keeping The Balance

So, we know that our bodies use a certain amount of energy each day, and if we get more energy than we need, we store it as fat.

But what happens if we don’t have enough energy? The opposite!

We dip into our backup energy and use up the body fat!

When we consume more energy than our bodies need, we store the excess. We call this a positive energy balance, or a positive calorie balance, or a calorie surplus. That’s when we gain weight.

When we consume less energy than our bodies need, we use up the backup. We call this a negative energy balance, or a negative calorie balance, or a calorie deficit. That’s when we lose weight.

And if we’re consuming the same amount as we need, we’re balanced. We call this a neutral energy or calorie balance. And this is when we maintain our current weight.

That’s it. That’s all that ANY weight gain, loss, or maintenance comes down to. Whether you’re consuming more energy than you need, less energy than you need, or the right amount.

Or, in real-life terms. Whether you’re eating too much food, too little, or just the right amount.

The Magic Bucket

Your body is basically a Magic Bucket. This bucket likes to always be full. If you fill it up with water right to the top, it just looks like a normal bucket.

But if you try to pour in more water, the bucket magically expands to keep hold of all the extra water you just poured in.

Then, if you pour any water out, the bucket gets smaller again, so that it’s always full.

This is what our bodies do, but with energy instead of water. If we put too much in, we get bigger to keep hold of the extra energy.

Then if we “pour out” that extra energy, our bodies get smaller again.

What About The Diets?

If all weight change just comes down to calories in and out, why are there so many diets with so many different methods out there?

Well, because that’s all they are. Methods.

Calorie balance is a principle. It never changes.

Diets are methods. Methods just use principles in different ways.

For example, Weight Watchers uses a points system to help you achieve a negative calorie balance.

In the same way, the keto diet focuses on prioritising protein and fat-based foods because they’re more filling. That means you’re less likely to overeat, and help you achieve a negative energy balance.

Shake diets are always formulated so that your total calorie intake is really low, meaning you’re probably going to be in a negative energy balance.

And every other diet is the same, too. They’re all just different ways of approaching and thinking about the way you eat to help you achieve that negative energy balance.

The SMART Plan

Our SMART Plan is based on this principle, too. We just go about it in a more direct way.

By telling us about where you’re at now, your activity level, and your goals; we can calculate how many calories you need each day.

Remember, this just means how much energy you need from food each day.

Then, you tell us any dietary needs or preferences you have. So that might be that you’re vegan, coeliac, or just don’t like fish.

Once we know your calorie needs, and your food preferences, out SMART Plan App builds you a completely personalised recipe book and meal plan. The recipes are all based on foods that fit your lifestyle, that are all portion-sized to you and your goals.

All you need to do is get in the kitchen and get cooking!

Plus, you can get brand new recipes every two weeks.

Our SMART Plan will be launching soon. Enter your email below to be the first to know when you can get yours.