Calories are unit measurements of energy. Cleveland clinic defines calories as the amount of energy released when your body breaks down (digests and absorbs) food.
Different foods have different amounts of calories. For example, carbohydrates and proteins comprise 4 calories/gram while each gram of fat has 9 calories.
It goes without saying that foods high in fats are calorie-dense. Common foods that have a high number of calories include sweets and chocolates, candies, ice cream, fast foods such as fries and fried chicken, pastries, and ice cream.
But what’s the whole fuss about calories and weight loss? Why should you care about your calorie intake if you want to lose weight?
Read on to find whether calorie goals work together with food choices. Find answers on how many calories you need per day. You will also find answers to common questions about calories and weight loss.
Calories and weight
The amount of energy released when your body absorbs food is measured in calories. Ideally, 100 calories from a meal means that your body has released energy equivalent to 100 calories after absorbing the food.
Your body uses calories to perform functions such as basic metabolism, digestion, and physical activity.
Your body works best in recommended daily calorie allowances. For example, adult men have a daily calorie recommendation of 2,500 calories while women require 2,000 calories per day.
Now, if your daily calorie intake significantly exceeds the required amount of calories, the extra calories are stored as body fat. Extra calories can come from any food- could be proteins, carbohydrates, or fats.
When body fat accumulates over time, there is a gradual weight gain. One can become overweight and obese if their body fat keeps increasing over time. But consuming fewer calories is less helpful because you will lack the energy to do your daily chores and exercise.
Not all body fat is harmful. Visceral fat (active fat) that is stored in the abdominal cavity is very dangerous if accumulated in excess. It poses a risk for diseases such as heart diseases and type 2 diabetes.
Medical News Today suggests that physical activity of a minimum of 30 minutes each day will help to burn visceral fat.
Regular physical activity can help you burn excess body fat to lose weight. If you are overweight or obese, you can start counting calories in your foods and try and cut down at least 500 calories per day to lose approximately one pound of fat per week.
Can I eat whatever I want if I watch my calories?
Yes and no. You can eat whatever you want within your calorie limit and still lose weight. But “whatever” you want to supersede the health aspect of losing weight in itself.
While eating your favourite fast foods rich in calories such as fries within your calorie intake limit can keep you from gaining weight and even help you in losing weight, the fries would not necessarily provide your body with sufficient amounts of very essential nutrients to attain good health.
If you want to stay healthier as you get older, watching what and how you eat is very important. Otherwise, you may be faced with unexpected weight gain that may be harmful to your health
So, yes- you can maintain and lose weight if you eat anything to meet your daily recommended calories. But really, that will be essentially counting calories and policing around with rather unhealthy food just to maintain or lose weight.
Healthy food choices are important even if you are continuously counting calories to lose weight.
Your nutrition needs are important as much as you desperately want to lose weight. The right foods will help you reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some types of cancer.
For example, diabetes does not only affect overweight and obese people. There are some people within “healthy weight” that have diabetes whose risk factor was not weight but the types of food they have been eating over a long time.
Does it matter what I eat if I stay under calories?
What you eat matters a great deal to your physical and mental health. Your body requires all nutrients in the right portions to function properly.
Let your diet be rich in fruits and vegetables. Research shows that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables has many health benefits including reducing your risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Harvard Nutrition Source suggests a diet rich in fruits and vegetables also lowers the risk of eye and digestive problems, and have a positive effect on blood sugar while keeping your appetite in check.
You must have seen several dietary recommendations regarding fruits vegetable diets. Perhaps you do not like eating them at all and prefer your calorie-dense diet comprising of fries and energy drinks. Well, in most cases, food-related healthy habits are hard to stick by. But you need to still ensure that your food intake is composed of adequate fruits and vegetables.
You can use an app to monitor your calorie intake and get food choice recommendations to help you not only lose weight but also maintain a healthy weight that puts you at a lower risk of diseases.
Is counting calories an eating disorder?
Being obsessed with counting instead of seeing your chosen food can lead to eating disorders. Several research studies have proved that counting calories can lead to an eating disorder.
Research shows that counting calories and self-weighing more frequently was linked to increased eating-disorder severity among college students.
Another research established that instead of counting calories for those with a history of disordered eating, intuitive eating, which involves listening to your body and eating when you feel hungry can help in maintaining healthy body weight or weight loss.
However, another research established that calorie labelling on a hotel menu can help one be mindful of their calorie intake. The findings confirmed that information on restaurant menus significantly reduced the total amount of calories people ordered in a meal hence improving their ability to estimate their daily calorie intake. For example, if you are on a diet and want to consume fewer calories per day, reading menu labels can help you choose the best food to eat at that time and the right portion size thereof because you will be monitoring your calorie content.
The bottom line on counting calories is to not let labels or calorie calculations get in your way of healthy and satisfying eating. Choosing the right portion sizes will help you attain your weight loss plans seamlessly while being physically active.
How do you split calories between meals?
There is no definite rule of splitting calories between meals. But what is certain is that spreading your calories throughout the day is helpful in losing weight.
First, identify the number of calories you need in a day for healthy body weight. Second, check your goals: do you want to lose weight? do you want to gain weight? do you want to maintain your current weight?
If your daily calorie intake is 2,000 calories, and you eat three meals per day, you can split your calories as below:
Breakfast 🍳 650 kcal (min: 600, max: 700)
Lunch 🍽 750 kcal (min: 700, max: 800)
Dinner 🥗 600 kcal (min: 500, max: 700)
Again, there is no definite rule to split your calories throughout the day. What is important is ensuring that your daily calorie count is met by eating healthy foods and through physical exercise.
Counting calories is helpful in monitoring your weight, especially if you have weight loss goals. The basic rule of the thumb in weight loss has always been consuming fewer calories than those burning calories. But this rule could be misleading if you end up eating whatever food you want.
Weight loss, as much as it is healthy, should also include continuous consumption of nutritious foods within one’s daily calorie recommendation. You should form a habit of reading any food label at the restaurant to know how many calories are contained in specific food portion sizes. When you know how many calories are present, you will know the number of calories still left for you to meet your recommended daily calorie intake.
Recommended daily calorie intake varies between men and women. Women need a daily calorie intake of 2,000 calories while when requiring 2,500 calories per day. Research shows that other factors that determine the daily calorie intake levels include age, health status, lifestyle, and the level of physical exercise.
Adopt healthy habits besides counting calories such as sleeping adequately, drinking enough water, managing stress levels, and regular exercise.