We hear about them all the time and know that they’re an integral part of food and what we eat. But just what are calories? And just why do we obsess over calories so much? Are they really that important when it comes to losing weight? Well, yes and no. But before we get into that, we’ll talk about what calories are. It’s actually not that complicated, but there was some surprising information that I didn’t know prior to this.
A calorie is simply the energy value we give to food. So a food or serving that has 1000 calories will have a higher energy value than that which has 100 calories. (We’re referring to energy as it pertains to metabolism, not physical energy.) A pound of fat contains approximately 3500 calories and, therefore, when you want to burn off a pound of fat with exercise, you need to perform the exercise equivalent (and/or reduce your consumption) of those 3500 calories. This sounds daunting at first, but it is a very accomplishable goal if spaced out over a few days, or a weeks’ time.
Different food types have different caloric values. Fat contains nine calories per gram. Proteins and carbohydrates contain around four calories per gram. What this means to you and your diet is that you can consume more foods containing proteins or carbohydrates and take in the same amount of calories as you would consuming less than half the same amount of fat.
When people talk about “burning calories”, what they are referring to is the amount of exercise needed to reduce the energy equivalent of a calorie. Many aerobic workout machines (treadmills, elliptical trainers, stair-steppers) will have a calorie readout based on your weight for any particular workout that you do. The more challenging the exercise is to you, generally the more calories you will burn during that workout. The longer you work out, the more calories you will burn.
You also burn calories during other types of workouts like weight training, and you burn calories doing everyday activities like cleaning the house. And in fact, the more muscle you have on your body, the more calories you will burn day-to-day, just to maintain that muscle mass. You even burn calories while sleeping; as our body needs to support respiration, brain function, circulation, etc.
Remember when you’re attempting to lose weight, that each pound of fat you want to lose is equivalent to approximately 3500 calories. If you want to lose one pound each week, you must reduce your calories by 3500 that week, through either consuming less calories, working out to burn more calories, or a combination of both of these.
The math may seem overwhelming, but the really important thing is just to get out, get active, and enjoy getting a little exercise every single day. If you do this, the calories will matter less, because you’ll just feel great!
When it comes to losing weight or building muscles, the amount of calories you eat is one of the most common metrics you’ll find talked about. Unfortunately, this simply is not a good metric for tracking and improving performance.
One often overlooked aspect of calorie counting is the measurement of how many of the calories you eat actually end up in your blood stream.
Two people could eat the same meal and have completely different amounts of fats, vitamins, minerals and toxins absorbed by the body.
One person may take in a lot of the fat and gain weight as a result, while another person could eat the same meal and have the fats pass right through his body.
In this case, what matters really isn’t how many calories you’re eating, but how many calories are absorbed.
Of course, measuring calories completely leaves out the measurement of the food quality.
Is a calorie of ice cream the same as a calorie from organic lean meat chicken? Just a few decades ago, health experts would have said “yes.” Today however, the answer is a resounding “no.”
Where your calories come from play a much larger role in determining whether you gain weight or lose weight than most people imagine.
Personally speaking, I never counted calories and I still don’t pay too much attention to them. I realize that it’s a factor in weight loss and eating healthy, but at the same time- it’s also something that I just don’t want to be bothered with.