The Breakdown on Calories

The other day I was having a conversation with a friend who was telling me about her diet.  She explained that she put herself on a 1000 calorie a day diet in order to lose weight, and she could eat whatever she wanted as long as she stayed within the 1000 calorie daily limit.  She calculated all food, alcohol, sweets, bread, and whatever else she ate and put it in her plan. She told me she wouldn’t get cravings anymore so long as kept within her daily limit because she could eat what she wanted. This got me thinking, is a calorie really a calorie? And is a diet based solely on calorie consumption a healthy and beneficial diet to individuals with weight loss goals in mind? I decided to do a little research into what calories really are and how they play into our choices in diets and eating.

According to the US Department of Health Estimated Average Requirements (EAR)  the recommended daily caloric intake is 1,800 calories per day for women and 2500 for men.  But how many calories are needed each day varies from person to person depending on lifestyle and other factors. According to a 2010 survey by the International Food Information Council Foundation, only 12% of Americans can accurately estimate the number of calories they should consume in a day. Age, height, weight, and physical activity all have a factor is what is the ideal calorie consumption.

Calories are needed for energy in order to fuel metabolic processes, growth, lactation and maintenance of body temperature. Some people think that the word ‘calorie’ refers to a term in a weight loss diet, but it is really a measure of energy. The definition of a calorie is “the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1°C”. The word “calorie” came into general use in English in the 1880s, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. The first example of “calorie” being used in relation to food rather than heat energy in general is this: 1892 Pall Mall Gaz. 22 June 6/1- A pound of beefsteak contains: 870 calories of energy.

So where do calories come from? According to an article published in the LA Times, calories come from the food we eat that contains carbohydrates, fats, alcohol and proteins. Water, vitamins and minerals are all calorie-free. When we digest food, the nutrients are released, absorbed into the bloodstream and converted to glucose, or blood sugar. This powers the body, allowing us to shiver, blink, remember, breathe and run. The food energy we don’t need right away is stored as body fat, regardless of the nutrient it comes from. That means excess carbs are no more fattening than additional calories from any source, including fats and proteins. A calorie is neither good nor bad, it just is.  But not all calories are created equal according to Leslie Bonci, RD, coauthor of The Active Calorie Diet. Studies show that foods that take more effort to chew — like fruits, veggies, lean meats, and whole grains — can increase your calorie burn. “More calories are required to digest them, and they’ll keep you satisfied longer,” she adds.

So is 500 calories worth of celery really different than 500 calories of french fries? A 2011 breakthrough study discovered that the quality of calories might matter more than the overall quantity. Those who ate a greater amount of certain unhealthy foods, like processed meat, french fries, and sugar-sweetened beverages, gained more weight faster over time than people with healthier diets. Unsurprisingly, eating  healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and low-fat yogurt were associated with less weight gain.

Food preparation also affects the amounts of calories in our meals, instead of cooking by adding lots of oil and butter try upping the spice content in your dishes. Ingredients such as caffeine and other compounds in coffee and tea, and spices such as chilies, cinnamon, and ginger fire up your central nervous system and can boost your metabolism.

Calories become fat when we consume more calories than we burn, at the heart of most modern weight-loss diets, we all know that in order to lose weight, we need to eat fewer calories than we expend. Let’s consider this; typically there are 3500 calories for each pound of body fat, so in order to lose one pound of stored fat, technically you would need to burn 3500 extra calories. Eeekk!! Don’t get discouraged just yet; your body is a constant fat burning machine through your metabolism. Your own individual metabolic rate determines how quickly your body burns fat. The average person will burn approximately 1000 to 1400 calories per day at a resting metabolic rate. When you add in daily exercise you are spiking your metabolic rate to burn additional calories, factor in small healthy meals throughout the day and you will have a successful recipe for fat loss!

It’s the combination of exercise and diet that will help you to burn more calories and achieve your weight loss goals. Having a diet rich with fibrous veggies will double your efforts. It’s important to learn to eat foods that facilitate your dieting habits and avoid foods that trigger cravings and overeating. Maximize your fat burning efforts and turn up the heat in your workouts!! You can burn up to 800 calories doing a boot camp class workout, or up to 750 on the elliptical machine. But be wary of exercise machines’ calorie counts. The University of California, San Francisco, used a V02 test to track down calories burned while on machines. The VO2 analyzer calculated how hard the body is working with its height, weight, age, and body fat. The machines’ calorie counts and the VO2 counts didn’t match up at all. Machines overestimated calorie burn by 19 percent! If you really want an accurate count of how many calories you’ve burned, invest in a heart rate monitor which will help you learn how intense your workouts are.

Paying attention to both sides of the equation actually makes it easier to lose weight than relying on one or the other, and it is much easier on your body.  You see, fat tissue lowers the rate at which one burns calories.  On the other hand, muscle is a more physically and metabolically active tissue. It therefore burns more calories than fat does. Through exercise, especially strength and resistance exercise, you can decrease the amount of fat in your body and increase the amount of muscle. This will then help you burn more calories each and every day, even when you’re not exercising. And you will have a hard time building muscle if you don’t have a proper diet which includes lean proteins and wholesome fruits and vegetables.

Calories are not the devil, they are the fuel that your body burns that keeps you alive and kicking, but if you are not conscious of your diet and health then you are allowing those calories to turn into fat, and we all not fat is neither good for you or good on you. Balancing the calories you take in with those you put out is the safest, healthiest way to control your weight – for the next two weeks, or the next 20 years. In all, eat enough calories so your body can function but few enough to create a healthy deficit and you’ll lose fat and keep it off!

I thought I would include some other interesting facts pertaining to calories:

  1. The average deep fried mars bar contains almost 1,000 calories – that could be most of your daily allowance, if you’re a small, female, inactive dieter
  2. The Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps eats 12,000 calories per day while training.
  3. Eating a high-calorie diet when pregnant is linked to giving birth to boys rather than girls. (The rise in low-calorie diets in the developed world is seen as one possible reason for the increasing number of female babies being born compared to male babies.)
  4. There are no calories in tea or coffee (just in the milk and sugar that you add…)
  5. Sumo Wrestlers consume 20,000 calories a day.. eeeshhhh!!
  6. 60% of American consume 20% of their calories from snack food.
  7. 1/3 of Americans get their calories from junk food.
  8. The United States has the highest calorie consumption in the world, with the average consumption being 3,830 calories a day.
  9. Some scientists think that the extra calories from cooked food might have given ancient humans the boost they needed to develop complex brains.
  10. Fidgeting can burn 350 calories a day.