Calories are the cornerstone of every diet. This is what constitutes your food and drinks and what some people declared war to without really understanding why.
The overload of information available on internet can get confusing. Understanding what calories are and how they work is the best way to get your head around dieting and make healthy choices in the long run.
You’ll see, it’s no rocket science. We break down everything in this blog post.
Let’s start with the basis: what is a calorie?
A calorie isn’t exactly a thing. It only measures the amount of energy in the food and beverages we consume. We all need energy to live and stay healthy, and this energy comes from what we put into our body. The number of calories on your food packages indicates the energy content of this food.
Excess calories are stored as body fat, this is why it’s important to understand how your body works if you’re trying to manage your weight. We’ll go into more details later.
Another unit of measurement used to quantify energy is called the “joule.” A kilocalorie (kcal) is equivalent to approximately 4.2 kilojoules.
Macronutrients vs Micronutrients.
Macros are the main nutrients our body needs to create energy and fuel our physiological system. The primary macros are protein, carbs and fat.
- 1g of protein contains 4 calories
- 1g of fat contains 9 calories
- 1g of carbs contain 4 calories
Micros are the nutrients that are essential to our overall health. They’re found in the larger building blocks (macros). They contain vitamins, trace minerals, antioxidants, etc.
While all foods are made of macros, not all contain micronutrients. Consuming foods with low amounts of micros can be damaging to your health and wellness. They’re referred to “empty calories”.
What are empty calories?
Empty calories come from foods and beverages that contains no nutrient. That means that the calories you eat are basically useless. These empty calories are mostly found in foods that are primarily composed of sugar, fats and oils: Junk food, candies, carbonated drinks, alcohol, to name a few.
These foods supply energy but have none of the important nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, protein, fiber, or essential fatty acids.
That’s the simple reason why there are banned in most weight management diets. They do not help your body function properly while adding calories in.
Fiber, how it works, and why you should eat more of it.
We’ve talked about carbs, fat, protein and the amount of calories your guts absorb from these macros.
But what about fiber? It’s another type of carbohydrates. Your guts absorb it differently than the three others. In fact, you will only absorb half the amount of calories fiber provides, because it’s difficult to digest entirely.
Why are fiber this good when it comes to dieting? Fiber absorbs water, and thus helps you feel fuller for longer. The American Heart Association recommends adults to consume at least 25 grams of fiber per day.
Exercise vs. rest.
You probably already know that you burn calories when you exercise. But your body also needs energy at rest to properly function,grow, and repair itself (Your heart beating burns calories.)
Therefore, it’s important to know the amount of calories your body burns at rest. This is called your “basal metabolic rate”, or BMR. Understanding what your body burns just to be able to exist will help you plan your diet and exercise accordingly. No need to run for 2 hours straight on the treadmill to hit this 1500 kcal mark anymore!
Let’s keep it simple.
I am the worst at maths but this is pretty easy to understand. Here are the only equations that are actually useful in life (why don’t we learn this in maths class??)
- Calories in > Calories out = weight gain
- Calories in < Calories out = weight loss
- Calories in = Calories out = weight maintenance
Basically, in order to lose weight, you need to burn more calories that you consume.
You need to burn 3,500 calories to lose one pound of body fat. Taking your BMR into consideration, you can reach this goals simply by cutting out or burning 500 calories per day to lose one pound per week. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.
If you’re really serious about weight management, I recommend you use an app such as My Fitness Pal that will make counting calories and managing your macros super easy.
Just be careful not to make calorie counting an obsession and keep a healthy relationship with food. Remember, it’s OK to have a diet break sometimes. Let me tell you, having to count calories at the restaurant is no fun at all. So DIG IN!