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Understanding Calories - First Step to Weight Management

If I ask you to define the word ‘calories’, you might fall short of answers. You might have multiple answers or none at all.

Well, considering the amount of vast information we get day in and day out from different sources like through the internet, by people, by different books, or just a side column in a newspaper, it's very daunting to get the ‘true’ and ‘correct’ information.

This may also be the case for calories, the most fundamental unit of food, which is still a word of mystery for most people. Therefore, understanding calories is the first step to making wise, healthy decisions.

When we talk of calories, the first thing that comes to our mind is ‘weight’. Right?

We might have different ideas about how calories are readily associated with weight but what to believe and what not? What are calories exactly and how do they help with weight management?

Understanding Calories

Simply put, a calorie is a unit of energy and it tells you about the energy content in the food and drinks that you consume on a regular basis. Now, where do these calories come from?

Carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are the three major sources of calories in the human diet. Out of these three, carbohydrates will give you the most calories followed by fat and then protein.

A common question that frequently follows the concept of calories is whether all calories are created equal. Well, scientifically, a calorie is a measurement so it must be all the same, no matter where you are getting it from. But the reality is otherwise.

The conventional idea has always been that ‘a calorie is a calorie', but no sugar-coating here- ALL CALORIES ARE NOT EQUAL.

Different nutrients are processed by the body in different ways and thus calorie count from all the food sources is definitely not going to be the same.

For many people, low-fat diets can be healthier but naturally high-fat items can also be a component of a balanced diet. These variations count for different calorie intakes and that also vary from person to person.

This all boils down to the main focus- burning calories. The number of calories you burn every day depends on many factors and one of the most important is your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR).

Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the amount of energy your body uses at rest. Yes, you burn calories even while just existing!

Your basic metabolic processes, which keep on going even while you are resting, also require energy, and trust me, a major chunk of what your intake is spent in your metabolism.

How Many Calories Do You Need?

Generally, a recommended intake of calories is-

  • 2000 calories for women/ day
  • 2500 calories for men/ day

However, the amount of calories every person requires depends on their metabolism and thus can vary accordingly. The most common factors on which calorie requirements depend are-

  • Age
  • Weight
  • Sex
  • Lifestyle
  • Genetics
  • Dietary habits
  • Physical activity level
  • Energy expenditure

Understanding The Relationship Between Calories and Weight Management

The science of calories and weight management is not that hard. There are three basic concepts you need to know when it comes to your calorie intake.

Weight Loss- Calories In < Calories Out

Ideal Body Weight- Calories In = Calories Out

Weight Gain- Calories In > Calories Out

So, you need to balance the number of calories you are consuming in terms of input and output. That way, you would be able to maintain a healthy body weight.

Tips to Maintain Your Calorie Balance

To maintain an effective calorie balance, it is important to make certain lifestyle and dietary changes. Here are some quick tips which can help you maintain a healthy weight and also balances the calories-

Stay Hydrated

We said it before and we will say it again- staying hydrated is the key to good health. There is no substitute for consuming optimum amounts of water to maintain your calorie balance. It promotes satiety and also helps you burn extra calories.

Cut Down on Refined Carbohydrates

Time and again carbohydrates are considered enemies of weight. But the real deal settles with the type of carbohydrate you consume. Eating refined or simple carbs like sugars, candies, pasta, rice, etc. can lead to weight gain so you need to cut down on those.

Exercise Regularly

This cannot be stressed enough but exercising every day helps in burning off extra calories. It also increases the metabolism and helps in achieving the optimum energy balance. Slight to moderate activity of 30 minutes every day is ideal for eight management.

Take Proper Sleep

A sound, peaceful and timely sleep is very important for weight management. Lack of proper sleep leads to an increase in the 'hunger' hormone which causes you to eat more. As a result, calorie intake increases leading to weight gain. It is advised to take at least 7-8 hours of peaceful sleep every day.

Keep a Track of What You Eat

If you are on your path to losing weight, it is good to keep a log of whatever you are feeding to your body. Be it a food journal, daily tracker, or any app, being aware of what and how much you are eating is important to keep track of your calorie intake.

Bottom Line

Following a healthy diet is not rocket science. You need to be clear and fair about your weight management goals and that is why understanding your specific calorie requirement is important. The best approach is to modify your diet, do regular physical activity, and stay positive about your progress.

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