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Last Updated on November 27, 2020

How to Burn Calories Effectively (the Healthy Way)

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How to Burn Calories Effectively (the Healthy Way)

If you’ve been proactive with your health and are exercising regularly, you will probably look at how to burn calories effectively while still staying healthy.

Fortunately, there are different things you can do with exercise, diet, and lifestyle to burn extra calories.

First, you need to understand calories better.

What Are Calories?

A calorie is the energy content in food, but if we’re getting technical, a calorie is what it takes to raise the temperature of one liter of water by one degree.

Calories are determined by using calorimeters[1], which are like mini incinerators. They involve a chamber surrounded by water, where freeze-dried powdered food is placed and incinerated. The temperature of the water is then measured, and this is how we determine the energy content of food in kilocalorie form.

Also, this is why it is said that “all foods aren’t created equal.” After all, one handful of lettuce will burn up quickly, leading to a minimal rise in water temperature, while the same portion size of almonds will be much denser, thus leading to higher temperatures. One cup of almonds will have around 530 calories, while one cup of lettuce will have maybe just five.

However, our body doesn’t “incinerate” calories; it digests them. This makes calorie counting far from a perfect science because, not only do you not know exactly how many calories you’re burning each day, but you can’t be sure of the calorie content in food.

The FDA allows labels to be off by as much as 20% in either direction, and most nutritional information comes from databases and not actual calorie measurements. This doesn’t mean calories are insignificant—far from it—but trying to measure things down to the calorie will be next to impossible.

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How Many Calories to Burn a Pound

This is another common question when discussing calories, and the answer varies greatly. This will depend on your lifestyle, body type, gender, BMI, and more.

The old rule was that for every 3,500 calories you burned, one pound was lost. Of course, it’s much more complicated than that. The more fat you have on your body, the quicker you will lose weight as your body burns away fat and water. However, when you’re fairly close to your natural body weight, your body resists burning away fat and will begin to burn away muscle.[2]

All of this affects the amount of calories you’ll need to lose a pound. I wish there was an easier answer. However, the good news is that there are lots of things you can do to learn how to burn calories effectively and help your body function better overall.

Below are six tips that will get you started. Try them out and see what works for you.

1. Focus on Real, Whole Foods

When you focus on genuine food, and not things that come out of a package or a box, you make it much easier for your body to process those calories.

Your body is designed to manage calorie intake sufficiently without things getting thrown out of whack. It has been doing this since the beginning of time, and it’s only when we add artificial and processed ingredients to our dirt that things get messy and weight loss gets harder.

Think of your metabolism like a sink, designed to drain water effectively. If we give our body real, whole food, it’s able to process and drain it effectively. However, if we put things such as hair and other gunk in the sink, the drain will get clogged up, leading to flooding.

Hair and gunk have the same effect on the sink as processed food has on our bodies. Processed food does not allow our body to run optimally; instead, it promotes fat accumulation and poor health.

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Learn how to burn calories by focusing on whole foods

    One critical review found that “of 43 studies reviewed, 37 found dietary UPF [ultra-processed foods] exposure associated with at least one adverse health outcome. Among adults, these included overweight, obesity and cardio-metabolic risks; cancer, type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases; irritable bowel syndrome, depression and frailty conditions; and all-cause mortality.”[3].

    Do your best to stay away from processed foods, and your body will naturally become better at burning the calories you give it.

    2. Work on Strength Training

    If you’re learning how to burn calories, clearly, physical activity is important, but we will look at specific forms of exercise that are more effective than others.

    Strength training will do a few things. These exercises take a good amount of effort to perform and require a lot of calories to provide energy. They also help us build lean muscle, and the leaner the muscle we have, the better it is for our metabolic rate.

    Muscle requires calories to maintain it, which means that, even at rest, our body is burning calories. Strength training improves insulin sensitivity, thus allowing our body to better handle sugars because they will be processed more effectively, leaving us less likely to end up storing it as body fat[4].

    3. Do High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

    Most people know of HIIT, as it’s one of the best workouts you can do. It also is a great calorie burner and can burn off more calories in a fraction of the time spent doing regular, steady-state cardio.

    HIIT training involves doing an all-out exercise (such as bike sprints or regular sprints) for around 30 seconds, followed by a 90-120-second, slower-paced recovery period. You can do anywhere from 3 to 8 rounds of this, leading to a workout that won’t take you long.

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    HIIT is similar to strength training, as it uses a lot of calories. They are tough workouts, but the good news is that they don’t take as long and burn more calories in less than 30 minutes, compared to an hour of walking on a treadmill. This is why sprinters look leaner than marathon runners.

    Another benefit of HIIT is known as Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption, or “EPOC.” This is an “afterburn” effect that allows our body to burn calories long after the workout is done. Our body needs a lot of oxygen to perform a HIIT workout, and it needs to replenish it—this is done by burning calories.

    We can burn calories for up to 24 hours after doing a HIIT workout[5]. The great news is that we do not need to work out every day to get these benefits; just 2-3 times a week can be effective.

    Here’s a beginner guide to HIIT: How To Choose The Best Moves For Your HIIT Workout

    4. Try Tabata Training

    This is HIIT ramped up to the next level. Tabata’s were invented for Olympic athletes as a super intense training method, but it’s one that will also act as an amazing calorie burner.

    Tabata is a four-minute workout, and as bizarre as it may sound, there’s a lot of science behind its design. Tabata follows the same breakdown as a HIIT workout, but here the intense exercise is done for 20 seconds followed by a ten second rest, over 8 rounds, for four-minutes total.

    The great thing about Tabata is that it can be done with a bodyweight exercise such as burpees or mountain climbers, and it can be done anywhere. Check out the video below to learn how to do burpees correctly for a great workout.

    Of course, bodyweight will add to the intensity of the workout, pushing us to our limit. At first, it may not feel like it can, but it is important to persevere, because once at the half-way point, the rest periods will feel insufficient.

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    If you’re really determined to learn how to burn calories, Tabata can be added to the end of a strength training workout and can be done every other day.

    5. Eat Spicy Food

    Here’s one that doesn’t require you to leave the dinner table! Eating spicy foods, such as jalapeno peppers, cayenne, chilis, or a hot sauce, can give your metabolism a boost by up to 8% because they contain a chemical compound called capsaicin[6].

    Eating spicy foods increase our body’s thermogenic output by burning fat to create heat, thus we feel warmer, and our sinuses clear up. Capsaicin can also prevent weight gain; talk about a double whammy!

    If you want additional information about the health benefits of spicy food, check out this article.

    6. Drink Cold Water

    This will not burn the same number of calories a day as a good HIIT session, but since we have to drink water throughout the day, we may as well burn calories while we’re at it.

    Not only does water keep us hydrated and quench our thirst, but drinking it cold can give us a temporary metabolism boost.

    With cold water, our body must warm it up, thus creating a thermogenic effect. It varies quite a bit, but one study showed that drinking 17-ounces of cold water may increase calorie burning by at least 4.5% to up 30 % for 30-40 minutes[7].

    Final Thoughts

    When considering how to burn calories effectively to lose weight, it is important not to forget that our body has this ability built into it.

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    We can rely on natural methods to boost calorie burning and improve our health. Not only are these natural methods healthy, but they generally don’t cost much and are easily added into most lifestyles.

    More on How to Burn Calories

    Featured photo credit: Julia Ballew via unsplash.com

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    More by this author

    Adnan Munye

    Personal Trainer and Fitness Expert

    15 Fitness Goals That Will Help You Live a Healthier Life This Year 13 Most Common Muscle Building Mistakes to Avoid How to Lose Water Weight Fast And Naturally When Is the Best Time to Work Out? (Science-Backed Answer) What to Eat After a Workout (Revealed by Professional Trainer)

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    Published on August 24, 2021

    What Is a Whole Food Diet And Does It Really Work?

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    What Is a Whole Food Diet And Does It Really Work?

    I’ve been a dietitian now for a long time (more years than I care to mention), and if there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that fad diets are best avoided. This is why I’m so pleased that whole food diets are being talked about more and more.

    Rather than a “diet,” I prefer to think of a whole food diet as a way of life. Eating this way is balanced, and it is a great way to support your all-around body health and longevity. Plus, it’s delicious and—in my opinion—not limiting either, which is a massive bonus.

    A well-balanced diet follows some fairly basic principles and, in essence, consists of plenty of the following:

    • Fruit
    • Vegetables
    • Whole grains
    • Lean protein
    • Nuts
    • Water

    This is essentially all a whole food diet is. Unfortunately, there isn’t an accepted definition of the whole food diet, which means that there are some highly restrictive versions around and some involve principles to frame your diet around rather than strict rules.

    Read on to learn more about the whole food diet as a framework for eating rather than a strict rule book of dos and don’ts that restricts your lifestyle.

    What Is a Whole Food Diet?

    By definition, a whole food diet consists of eating foods that are as close to their natural form as possible. It’s easy to get lost in a quagmire of organic, local, or pesticide-free, but a whole food diet is basically food in its most natural form. Obviously, spices can be ground and grains can be hulled, but you get the idea. You eat the whole food rather than what’s left after being refined or processed.

    In other words, it involves a lot of cooking because whole foods do not involve anything processed. That means no premade sauces, dips, or convenience foods like chocolate bars, sweets, or ready-meals. It also includes things like tinned vegetables and white bread.

    Why? Processed and convenience foods are often high in salt, saturated fat, and additives in comparison to anything homemade. Because of this, their toll on your overall health is higher.

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    Can Other Diets Also Be Whole Food Diets?

    Here’s where it gets confusing—yes, other diets can also be whole food diets. Eating a whole food diet is a lifestyle choice, but many other diets can exist within a whole foods construct. So, diets like the MIND Diet and Mediterranean Diet are also whole food diets.

    For example, here are the foods involved in the MIND Diet:[1]

    • Green, leafy vegetables five times a week
    • Five or more different colored fruits and vegetables every day.
    • Berries five times a week
    • Five or more servings of nuts a week
    • Olive oil five times a week
    • Whole grains five times a week
    • Oily fish twice a week or take an algae-based omega-3 supplement
    • Legumes and pulses five times a week
    • White meat/mix of plant-based proteins twice a week
    • Vitamin D supplement
    • Minimally processed foods
    • No more than one glass of wine a day
    • One or two coffee or tea a day max
    • Two liters of water a day

    That’s pretty much a whole food diet, right? As long as any meat or plant-based proteins are as unprocessed as possible, then it can be a whole food diet.

    Other diets, like a vegan diet, for instance, could be whole food diets or not. It really depends if processed foods are included. Some food substitutes are really heavily processed, so it’s important to read labels really carefully. But it’s only some, not all.

    And here’s where it gets woolly. If you don’t need to eliminate certain food groups for whatever reason—ethical, health, religion—then a whole food diet can be great. But if you do exclude certain foods, then it could be beneficial to include certain “processed” foods. This is to make sure that you don’t miss out on vital nutrients to keep you healthy.

    Processed Foods That Are Okay on a Whole Food Diet

    Many brands of cereals are fortified with B vitamins, which can be hard to come by on a plant-based diet.

    For example, vitamin B12 (needed for maintaining a healthy nervous system, energy, and mood-regulation), is largely found in animal sources. It is something that those on a plant-based diet need to keep an eye on, as studies show that around 20% of us are deficient. And we also know that 65% of vegans and vegetarians don’t take a B vitamin supplement.[2]

    So in that case, choosing a cereal fortified with B vitamins would be a good option, if done wisely. By that I mean use your discretion and check the labels, as many brands of cereals are packed with sugar and additives. But you can strategically choose minimally processed foods using a whole foods mentality.

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    As a rule of thumb, if there are any ingredients that you can’t pronounce, don’t understand, or sound artificial, they probably are best avoided.

    Benefits of a Whole Food Diet

    In a 2014 analysis by Yale University, they concluded that “a diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants, is decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention.”[3]

    A diet rich in fruit and vegetables or other high-fiber foods like whole grains and nuts is really important in maintaining good long-term health and preventing health problems like diabetes and cancers. These kinds of foods also help our bodies to cope and control the effects of inflammation.

    In fact, one review from 2019 stated that “diets high in plant foods could potentially prevent several million premature deaths each year if adopted globally.”[4] This is a big endorsement for a whole food diet.

    Whole Foods and the Gut

    Whole foods are loaded with fibers that are sometimes lost during processing or refinement. Fiber is essential for a healthy gut because aside from its traditional “roughage” reputation, it also feeds the healthy bacteria in your gut, providing a whole host of other benefits.

    They also provide a lot of variety, which the gut loves. The more variety, the better. So, even though you might fall in love with certain recipes, it’s important to mix up the kinds of whole foods you eat to maintain a healthy gut. Aim for 30 different whole foods each week. It’s easier than you think!

    Whole Foods and the Brain

    The brain is a really hungry organ, and it uses 25% of the total energy you consume from your food. Everything it needs to function at its best is—you guessed it—a whole, unprocessed food.

    In fact, the best diet recommended for brain health is the MIND Diet. In one study, it was shown that people who follow the MIND diet closely had a 53% reduced rate of developing Alzheimer’s.[5]

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    Some of the best whole foods for the brain are:[6]

    • Oily fish
    • Nuts
    • Eggs
    • Berries
    • Broccoli
    • Whole grains

    Is It Easy to Follow a Whole Food Diet?

    Once you’ve got your head around having “ingredients” rather than “ready-to-eat” things in your kitchen cupboards, it’s actually very easy. The only issue is the lifestyle and habit changes that come along with it.

    It is very likely that for many people, following a totally, religiously whole food diet may be unattainable at least some of the time. For example, there are days where you don’t get time to make your lunch or if you want to enjoy social eating. Similarly, people who have young children or who are working more than one job are unlikely to be able to follow a whole food diet all of the time.

    Sometimes, we put ourselves under pressure to be as perfect as we can with diets like this, which can lead to an eating disorder called Orthorexia, which is a preoccupation with healthy eating.

    This means that following a whole food diet, in principle, can be healthy and accessible for some people but not for everyone. It also means that those with previous disordered eating, as always, need to avoid any form of dietary restriction or rules around their diet.

    Is a Whole Food Diet Boring?

    Absolutely not! The beauty of this way of eating is that there are barely any recipes that are off-limits. If you can make it yourself using natural ingredients, then it counts. So, dig out your recipe books and get familiar with your spice cupboard.

    Here’s my advice if you’re just starting: stock up on coconut milk and canned tomatoes. You’ll use them all the time in sauces.

    Best Hacks for Sticking With a Whole Food Diet

    Here are some tips to help you stick with a whole food diet and develop this lifestyle.

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    1. Practice Batch Cooking

    Especially in the beginning, if you’ve been used to eating more convenience-based or packaged foods, you’re likely to feel like you spend the majority of your life in the kitchen. So, I’d suggest getting your cookbooks out and planning around five things to make per week. If you make double, or even triple portions depending on your household, you’ll have enough quantity to last several meals.

    For example, his could be homemade granola. Make it once, and that’s breakfast sorted for a week. Whole food diet ingredients like oats, quinoa, buckwheat, nuts, and seeds are all delicious, and great nutritional resources to keep you feeling full until lunchtime.

    I also love to make big stews, sauces, and curries that can happily be reheated and added throughout the course of a few days.

    2. Make Your Own Convenience Foods

    Sticking to a new way of eating can be really difficult, especially for your willpower. So, it’s very important to make it as easy as possible for yourself.

    Pre-chop. Pre-chop. Pre-chop.

    If you’ve got a container of carrot sticks on hand or can happily munch on a few pieces of melon from the fridge, use those—it’s almost easier than grabbing something from a package. This can extend to your other vegetables, too. If you get your veg delivered or buy it from a market, choose a few things to slice after you wash them. That way, if you need a speedy lunch or a lazy dinner, it’ll be ready in minutes.

    Ready to Try a Whole Food Diet?

    If you’re looking to maximize your overall health, well-being, and vitality, I’d absolutely suggest a whole food diet. But, as with everything, it’s important to do what works for you and your own lifestyle.

    Featured photo credit: Louis Hansel – Restaurant Photographer via unsplash.com

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    Reference

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