Calories 101 – Calorie Basics
As fitness is starting to get mainstream in Nepal we’ve started to hear a lot about calories. Things like:
“Are you counting the calories you eat”
“How much calories does it have”
“That’s loaded with calories”
So, when people talk about the calories in food, what do they mean exactly? Calorie is a unit of energy. For example, if a food or drink contains 200 calories it describes the amount of energy your body could get from eating or drinking it. We think of calories as just things in food but our body thinks of it as energy.
Facts about calories
• A calorie is a unit of energy
• Calories are vital for health. They key is to take the right amount of calories everyday
• Everyone uses up different amounts of energy everyday depending on age, weight, gender and activity levels. As such everyone requires different amounts of calories everyday
• When we hear something has empty calories, it doesn’t mean it has zero calories. It’s describing foods high in calories but low in nutritional value. Sodas and junk food usually fall in this category
Are calories bad?
People usually have a negative perception of calories. But calories themselves are not bad. The problem lies in its overconsumption. By eating too many calories and not burning enough through activity will lead to weight gain. A calorie is a calorie whether it comes from carbohydrates, protein or fat. However, the source of calories does matter for health. For example, while 100 calories of spinach comes with a lot of nutrients and fills your stomach up quite nicely, the same 100 calories in say half a muffin or half of a sel roti neither has nutrients nor fills you up. As a result, you tend to eat more of the latter and you end up over eating these so-called “empty foods” and hence end up gaining weight.
How do calories make you gain weight?
Gaining or losing weight is all about energy balance. Our body needs energy to survive and function. When we eat and drink, we put energy into our bodies. Our body uses that energy through daily movement and activity. However, if the calories we consume exceed the calories we burn, these excess calories are stored as potential energy mostly in the form of body fat. If this continues for an extended period of time, we end up gaining weight. No need to sound the alarm bells just yet though. Sometimes life happens. You go out with your friends and family, you go to a party and usually people tend to overeat during social occasions, which is totally fine. You won’t gain weight overnight. As I mentioned, it’s about the energy balance. So if you consume too many calories on one day, just eat lesser calories than normal on the following days to balance out the overconsumption.
Does everyone need the same amount of calories?
The amount of calories people need depends on a range of factors including age, gender, weight, activity levels, metabolism and our fitness level/shape. Not everyone requires the same number of calories each day. For example, a 6 foot 25 year old athlete will need more calories than a 5 foot 8 inch 40 year old sedentary guy. Basically, younger people burn more calories than older people. Likewise, caloric needs of men are higher than that of women and the better shape/fitness level you are in the more calories you burn. That’s the reason why some people are lean while others aren’t even though they eat the same foods every day. For this reason you need to look at yourself and consume calories based on your needs and not others.
How to lose weight?
Maintaining weight is about Calories in VS Calories out. This is a fact and just how our body works. People need to understand that there is no magic pill, no unique exercise plan or any special diet plan that will help you lose weight. If you’re gaining weight, it means you’ve been frequently eating and drinking more calories than you’ve been burning. So, to lose weight you just need to burn more calories than you consume through exercise or eat fewer calories than you consume through dieting and continue this over a period of time. Long term weight loss isn’t easy. To be honest, it is extremely difficult to remain in a caloric deficit for an extended period of time because it takes a toll on you mentally and physically. But, as I said “Calories in VS calories out” is still the key.