There’s a certain amount of confusion about Calories. A lot of people don’t know what they are or how to count them. The important thing to know is calories are not a thing. They are a unit of measurement. Just as we use amps and watts to measure how much energy we use in our homes, we use calories to measure how much energy our bodies use and, of course, how much energy we take in.
The energy we take into our bodies comes in the form of food. We get it from three nutrients:
If you are wondering why sugar is not on the list it’s because sugar is a simple carb.
Carbohydrate and protein provide four calories per gram. The amount of calories fat provides is much more. You are taking in nine calories with every gram of fat that you eat. That’s why eating a lot of high-fat food is such a good way to pile on the pounds.
Alcohol is a source of calories as well. Each gram of pure alcohol provides seven calories so, if you want to lose weight you need to consider avoiding alcohol or, at least, reducing how much of it you drink. (What are the Nutritional Values in Your Drink?)
Why Calories are Important
Calories are not your enemy. Don’t think it for a moment. You need energy to survive. If you have gained weight you have done so by providing your body with more energy than it needs. Let’s just say too much of a good thing and leave it at that.
Your body is a biological machine. Food is its fuel. Your body uses the energy food provides to power every single biological process that keeps you alive. Little things you take for granted such as breathing, digesting food, and keeping your blood circulating.
Your body also loses energy into the air around it in the form of heat. The process is known as thermogenesis. It’s the reason why your skin is warm during life.
Physical activity requires a greater amount of fuel and the more intense the activity becomes the more energy we burn. That’s why pursuits like swimming and jogging are so good for helping us lose weight.
Exercise also increases thermogenesis. That’s why our skin becomes warmer during exercise and we “work up a sweat”
How Many Calories Do You Need Per Day?
Everyone is different and some people live more active lives than other people do. That makes it hard to be precise about how many calories you need to eat per day. However, experts have come up with a ballpark figure. They say the average man needs 2,500 calories per day. That’s the number of calories “Mr. Average” would need to eat every day to keep up with his biological requirements and power his everyday activities.
If this average guy consumes 2,500 calories per day, he will neither gain weight nor lose weight. He will stay exactly the same.
Women don’t require as many calories per day as men do so. The average woman only needs 2,000 calories each day to maintain her present weight.
Again, it’s important to stress these are only ballpark figures. People who have very physical jobs or unusually active lifestyles will need more calories per day to maintain their average weight.
So, if Mr. Average quit his office job and became a mailman, his normal diet of 2,500 calories per day would no be sufficient to maintain his weight. His body would start burning fat to get extra energy and Mr. Average would begin losing weight.
You may be surprised to learn obese people may actually need more calories per day than they did before they gained weight. This is because their bodies are larger and take more energy to maintain and move around. It’s also one of the reasons why some overweight people can begin dieting and lose weight quite fast only to find their rate or progress begins to slow down.
Do You Need To Count Calories To Lose Weight?
Some people may tell you calorie counting is a waste of time. That’s not true. It’s very important. You need to know how to count calories and do it. Especially in the early stages of a diet. If you don’t keep track of how much energy you are putting into your body, how will you know if you are going too far?
It’s entirely possible that some people may lose weight without calorie-counting, but there’s a name for that. It’s called luck.
Which sounds like a better idea to you? Taking decisive action and tracking your calories every day, or crossing your fingers and hoping for the best? Lottery players do that every week. You probably know a lot of people who play the lottery but I’m willing to bet you’ve never met a lottery millionaire.
Tracking your calorie intake gives you accurate data that can help you lose weight. It can also show you where you are going wrong. Once you begin taking notice of how many calories different foods contain and keeping count, you may be surprised at how good (or bad) some of your favorite foods are.
When you are new to calorie-counting, the whole process can be a humongous pain in the ass. It’s unfortunate, but that’s how it is. If you think about it, not keeping track of your calories is probably the main reason you gained weight in the first place. These days we are constantly surrounded by so much appetizing food it can hard not to take a nibble or go back for more.
The good news is, after you have been counting calories for some time, you will get such a good understanding of the energy content of your food it will probably no longer need to keep counting. You’ll just look at a food and know. Of course, if it’s a new or unfamiliar food, you can always take a glance at the nutrition information, just in case.
How Do You Count Calories?
If you are serious about tracking your calories, you may want to think twice about eating out. Although some food establishments provide information about the calories in their meals, many more do not. That’s not good. You’d be surprised at how much hidden fat and sugar a lot of meals contain.
A lot of supermarket food has nutrition information on the packaging. That makes it easy to do the math. All you need is access to a set of reliable kitchen scales.
Many vegetables and other fresh foods do not have this information but you can get a rough idea of the likely calorie-load by doing a little research online.
In a lot of cases, just putting your chosen food into the Google search engine along with the word “calories”, will be enough to deliver the answer you seek.
Several websites can help you track your calories. MyFitnessPal.com is one of the better ones. Although the site is geared towards pulling in paying members, there is no need to take out a subscription.
Nor is it necessary to take the free trial. Just scroll down the homepage, enter your food in the MyFitnessPal search engine, and it will retrieve the information from the database.
It’s also possible to get calorie-counting apps for your phone. Some are free, others are not.
Medical News Today has put together a list of the best calorie counter apps. The MyFitnessPal app is right at the top and it’s free, but there are plenty more on the list. Here’s a link to the page: What is the best calorie counter app?
A food Diary is also a good way to track your calories. People have been using this type of journal for years. Any book will do. The cover doesn’t matter. The important thing is the information you gather inside.
The Bottom Line
The best way to track your calories is to take note of how many calories each food provides per gram and how many grams of it you eat. You can log your food intake using an app, via certain websites, or using a food journal.
You can’t have a successful calorie-controlled diet unless you know how many calories you have got to control.