Calories For Weight Loss – How To Count Them (And Everything Else You Need To Know)

Despite what others might tell you, knowing what calories are and how to count them makes weight loss and weight management easier. It is often said that counting calories aren’t necessary for those looking to lose weight. Still, the fact remains that body weight is directly linked to how many calories we take in through foods and burn through normal bodily function and exercise.

Here we look at what calories are, why they’re important, and show you how to count them.

What is a Calorie?

A calorie is a unit of energy. Although usually associated with food, it can apply to anything that contains energy. More specifically, it is the quantity of energy (which can also be referred to as heat) that is required to elevate the temperature of a gram of water by 1 degree Celsius or 1.8 °F.

Although they are called calories, the type that we count, eat and burn through exercise is technically kilocalories – 1,000 calories make up a kilocalorie, sometimes called a big calorie. It takes one big calorie to increase the temperature of 1 kilogram (1,000 g) of water by 1 °C. Small calories are abbreviated as “cal” and big calories as “Cal” or “kcal,” though not often.

What are Empty Calories?

Empty calories are just that, empty calories. They usually offer very little nutritional value, containing hardly any vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, or amino acids. Sometimes referred to as “discretionary calories,” we normally get them from added sugars (sugars that are added to foods and drinks to make them tastier – high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose, etc.) and solid fats (think butter, shortening, etc.), which are often added during food processing and food preparation. Empty calories are a major cause of weight gain, obesity, and disease around the world, so foods that are high in empty calories should be limited or avoided altogether.

How Many Calories do you Need?

Ok, so now you know what a calorie is. How many calories a person needs depends upon how much energy is required by the body when he or she is at rest (for survival) and how much is used when we are physically active. This can vary from person to person, depending on age, gender, levels of activity, and body weight – 2,700 is said to be the average requirement in the US for men and 2,200 for women.

Foods are generally divided into 3 nutritional groups, proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, each of which is turned into practical energy that we can use and is measured in calories. In dieting, a calorie is used to measure how much energy is provided by certain foods. A gram of protein or carbohydrate delivers four calories, while a gram of fat delivers 9.

BMI, BMR, and Weight Loss

When looking to lose weight, there are essentially two things to do: determine your body mass index (BMI) and determine your basal metabolic rate (BMR). BMI tells you if you are the right weight for your height, while BMR helps you figure out how many calories your body needs. Once you know your BMR and factor in exercise, you’ll know your suggested daily calorie intake. Anything above this amount will make you gain weight, and anything below will make you lose weight. 1 pound of fat is equivalent to 3,500 calories. If you burn 500 calories more than you eat every day and create a calorie deficit, you will lose 1 pound per week. Knowing your BMI and BMR empowers you to make better food and lifestyle choices, ultimately, which facilitates weight loss.

How to Count Calories

The first step is planning meals that contain the right amount of calories based on your needs. Buying groceries on a weekly basis, the healthy kind, is a great way to go about it. Checking the labels on food products should become a habit. Look at “calories per serving.” When foods don’t have labels or don’t state the nutritional values, simply look these up online. In fact, you may want to do that anyway. Water is also an important part of the equation; the body’s organs and systems need it for optimal function and weight loss. Lastly, use measuring cups and spoons to control serving sizes, and be sure to write down everything you consume, including calorie values, to educate and motivate you.

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