It’s July and the sun is still shining which, in my book is a very good thing! This month I am going to write you a series of blog posts that highlights areas of nutrition, something I know that a lot of you don’t know enough about. I also know that by arming you with more knowledge about basic nutrition it will aid you in your fat loss and also help you to get to where you want to be that little bit quicker. And that is never a bad thing. This week I will be talking about the calorie.
Have a think.
Do you really know what it is and how it affects us?
Like really know?
Don’t worry as I’m going to be lifting the lid on it so you will never have to wonder again.
The definition from Google Dictionary of a calorie is:
Either of two units of heat energy:
- The energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water through 1 degree Celsius (now usually defined as 4.1868 joules)
Well that sounds quite simple. A calorie is the energy required to warm 1 gram of water by 1 degree but as you can see, this is only one of the definitions. This is what is called a small calorie.
This calorie isn’t what we would call a calorie. There is another definition and those with eagle eyes would have seen the difference on the food labels that you have read over the years.
The energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 kilogram of water through 1 °C, equal to one thousand small calories and often used to measure the energy value of foods.
This is a large calorie but is more commonly known as a kilo-calorie or a Kcal. This is what we see on our food packaging and what we mean when we talk about calories.
The calorie is a form of energy that your body uses all of the time. Without calories, your body would die. Your cells need energy 24-7.
You are burning calories even as you sit and read this on your phone or tablet. You burn calories when you sleep and even burn still more when you are chewing food to get more calories.
How The Calorie Affects Us
The calorie is something that most of my clients and most people try watch, maintain, cut, count or measure at some point in their lives in order to lose weight. Most, believe it to be the holy grail of fat loss and if they could only understand and harness it, then the fat will literally melt off them.
To an extent, this is true. At it’s most basic, fat loss will occur if you eat less calories than you use up.
But how do we know how many calories we are eating?
Your food can be broken down into three groups which are called macro-nutrients or for those trying to sound like they know what they are talking about: macros.
These three groups are:
There isn’t another but I want to lump in alcohol with them.
Don’t get too hung up on them yet as I’m going to look at these three in detail as we go through this series.
For 1 gram of each of these macros we digest, we gain an amount of energy. A certain number of kcals.
- Proteins 4 kcals per gram
- Fats 9 kcals per gram
- Carbohydrates 4 kcals per gram
- Alcohol 7 kcals per gram
Well that’s easy, isn’t it? We just make sure that we break our foods down into these groups and balance our kcals and Bob’s your uncle. I will be athletic and lithe in no time at all.
Just hold your horses there for a minute. There is a little more to this game than you might first believe.
Not all foods were created equal, and all foods are made up of more than just one of these groups.
So, you may think that 1 gram of chicken breast is pure protein when in fact it is made up of 79% protein and 21% fat.
Most would just count this as protein only.
Pasta is often thought of as pure carbohydrate and it does contain high levels. But a typical gram of cooked pasta contains 7% fat, 16% protein and 77% carbohydrates.
A bit of a minefield.
There are however, easy ways to monitor the number of calories you are consuming. The first way is old fashioned and would require you sitting down with paper and pen and manually writing the numbers down from your food packets.
Although this sounds like something from the middle ages, there is something helpful about doing this. You take time from your day to really think about what you are eating. It makes you realise the consequences of some of the food choices you make.
The easier method is by using a tracking app such as MyFitnessPal. This app allows you to set up your macros and for you to scan the barcode on the back of food packets. It’s really quick and simple and saves a lot of time. Everything is done for you.
I think using these apps is better than not recording your food, but clients that track them the old way in my opinion tend to do better than those using an app. It’s too easy to quickly scan a packet and you don’t really think about what you are eating.
You may or may not have heard of this term but it’s important that we take a quick look at it when we are talking about calories and kcals.
This refers to food that don’t really contain anything other than the calories. Typically, there won’t be any proteins or carbohydrates and there certainly won’t be any vitamins or minerals.
These are typically heavily processed foods that we would associate with fast or convenience foods and will more than likely contain added fats and sugars. So, we are looking at foods like cakes, crisps, fizzy drinks, pizza and even alcohol.
At a cellular level, our bodies get nothing from these foods. Sure, we get the energy but nothing else. Our cells are crying out for sustenance in the form nutrients which they need to grow and repair themselves but we aren’t giving it to them.
In the very short term, this doesn’t cause too many issues but in the long term by continuing to eat these empty calories we are causing damage to our health and they will cause us to gain unhealth levels of fat.
Calories and Weight Loss
So here we have what we all have been waiting for.
Sure, we know about calories but how do we use this to lose weight or fat?
Losing fat is as simple as:
Energy in and energy out
If you eat less energy than you use during the day, the body is forced to use calories stored as fat to help it keep going.
Therefore, you will lose the fat you have stored around your body.
It is easier said than done though.
First you have to work out how many kcals your body needs to maintain your current weight. You then need to work out the correct number of kcals to reduce your intake by to lose fat.
And everyone is different.
As you can see, the calorie is a something that most people who are trying to lose weight throw around quite casually, when I’m not sure they really know what it is.
The calorie is something that is also easily demonised but what has it ever done to you?
For use to lose fat, we have to get to grips with what a calorie really is and how we can make it work for and not against us.
Be all you can be
If you have any questions about calories or about losing weight, then don’t hesitate to get in touch. As a BTN Nutritionist Coach, I can help you out.