What is a calorie?
Let’s begin by taking a look at calories. You hear the name so often. You think of them every time you eat. But have you ever really looked into what calories are? Not many people do and the thought pattern is that calories make you gain weight. Not necessarily. Excess calories can make you gain weight, but not eating the required amounts that our body needs can cause the body to go into “starvation mode” and keep the weight on.
Calories are simply units of energy that create heat. This is what our body uses to keep going. So, it is a fact that our bodies need calories. It works like this: You eat a certain food with a certain amount of calories. Each calorie is a unit of energy. 1 calorie = 4.2 joules. 4.2 joules has the ability to raise the temperature of water 1◦ Celsius.
When a dietician talks about a calorie, you will hear them use the term kilocalorie, which is the equivalent of 1,000 calories. They do this to more accurately measure the caloric content of certain foods and the affect they have on the body. They then move on to express the energy units as, kilojoules. This more accurately depicts the energy created by foods.
Finding the balance
Figuring out how many calories to eat to lose weight is a delicate balance. You want to make sure you are eating enough calories to sustain your energy levels, but cut enough calories to cause the body to “burn-off” excess weight. (See Figure 1)
Figure 1: Calorie Intake/Energy Use
Photo Courtesy of: askthetrainer.com
The trick is in taking in enough calories, but just a little less than usual to trigger the body to burn excess weight for energy and melt off the pounds. You need to know you daily caloric needs for your body weight and then subtract a small amount of calories and increase your exercise. It works like this:
- Maintenance – Eating the exact number of calories that you burn every day.
- Weight Gain – Eating more calories than you burn with activity.
- Weight Loss – Eating fewer calories and increasing activity.
How do I know how many calories my body needs?
To be precise, you will need to calculate your Basal Metabolic Rate. This is a math formula that will be exact for you. Here is how it works:
Women – 655 + (4.3 x weight in lbs.) + (4.7 x height in inches) – (4.7 x age in yrs.)
For example: A female aged 44, 135 pounds, 5.6 inches
655+581+67-206 = BMR 1097
Men – 66 + (6.3 x weight in lbs) + (12.9 x height in inches) – (6.8 x age in yrs.)
For example: A male aged 45, 175 pounds, 5.8 inches
66+1103+870-306 = BMR 1733
In order to determine actual caloric needs, you will need to take a look at your activity levels in the next section. Multiply your BMR x the percentage of your activity level and add them together. The total will be your caloric needs each day for weight maintenance.
One way you can do this in a healthy way, is to continue to eat your calorie requirements for maintenance and increase your exercise. You then subtract the amount of calories burned from exercise. This means you burned extra caloric needs from surplus energy or fat in the body.
How much should I exercise and what are some good exercises?
How much you exercise to lose weight is figured by another equation. You take your activity level into account for this one:
- Sedentary – BMR x 20%
- Light Activity – BMR x 30%
- Moderate Activity – BMR x 40%
- Very Active – BMR x 50%
- Extremely Active – BMR x 60%
So for the female above, she lives a moderately active lifestyle. Her activity level number is: 439
You add the activity level to the BMR and that is your caloric needs each day to maintain the weight you are at. The female example above would need to eat at least 1500 calories a day to maintain a healthy weight.
Instead of starving yourself, do some of these exercises and you will burn more calories than you take in every day: (See Figure 2)
Figure 2: Calories burned with exercise
Photo Courtesy of: 123rf.com
Finding the right amount of calories for your body is easy to do in a few steps. Then all you have to do is increase your activity levels with fun and healthy exercises a few times a week. Decreasing the calories you eat should come from removing things from the diet like; high-fat foods, fast-foods, sugary carbohydrates (but not all carbohydrates are bad), processed foods and sodas. Learn to shop the perimeter of the store and buy the freshest foods possible.
With a few easy lifestyle changes, you will be on your way to a healthier you!