I talk a lot about calories and how you need to create a deficit to lose weight. And that’s true. It’s a hard biological fact and without a deficit no weight will be lost. But is the energy balance the only thing that’s important when losing weight?

Next to the more obvious biological factors we need to think about several other things that influence us as humans. Most importantly social (environmental/economical/cultural/etc) and psychological factors.
In this blog we’ll explore a few examples of what can influence your calorie intake, exercise opportunity and health.

Example #1: Where and when were you born?

America has a huge problem with obesity. It’s their #1 killer. The big cheese amongst causes of death you could say. That problem is multi-factoral of course but portion size is certainly one.
In 1955 you would walk into a fast food joint and order a burger and fries and would get around 412 calories worth of food. In 2000 this more than doubled to 920 calories. For the same amount of money (after inflation adjustment). That’s an insane amount of extra food, and makes it that much easier to overeat.

Example #2: Movement environment

Here in Amsterdam it’s very common to go to work or school by bike. The whole city is designed for people on bikes to be able to go everywhere. Most people in cars give right of way to cyclists even if they’re running a red light or doing some other dangerous manoeuvre. They probably know that if you hit a cyclist, even if it’s not your fault, you’re very likely to have to pay at least half of the damages done. Yup.

Amsterdam and the Netherlands are built for people on bikes and thus many people get in daily exercise. The same can’t be said for a bigger city like London.
There might be some bike lines here and there, but the city is not made for bikes.
If you know your movement environment is not actually very movement friendly, you might need to get in more purposeful exercise. A pedometer like a Fitbit can be a really good indicator for general movement.

Example #3: Social surrounding

I’m an Indo. Which means I have a combined Indonesian and Dutch heritage. Which means that food is very important in all aspects of (family) life.

Somebody’s birtday? Food.
Somebody graduated? Food.
Somebody is sad? Food.
Somebody participated in something very uninteresting? Food.
Any excuse? Food.

Needless to say it’s very frowned upon to come to a family gathering and say something like: “Sorry grandma, I can’t eat your delicious pisang goreng which you made especially for me because you know it’s my favorite, because I’m dieting to excavate my abs from all these layers of fat, so I’ll eat this steamed chicken and broccoli instead”.

What I can do however is safe up calories the day(s) before so I have much more leeway. Or I can pick more of the vegetable and lower calorie options on the table instead of eating EVERYTHING.
It’s also a good idea to convince your family to not give you several days worth of food home, because if you bring it home you’ll eat it…in one day.

So yeah, there are things you can do to mitigate any social situation, but you need to reckognize first which social situations are holding you back. It can be drinks with the guys/girls, every day is cake at work day or one of a million possibilities. Identify your problem situations and see what you can do that is both socially acceptable, but will still help you with your goals.

These three examples are just a tiny fraction of the things that can influence how much you eat, how much you move and how you feel. So yes calories are still important, but they’re not the only thing that’s important to look at if you have certain (fat loss) goals.