Why Calories Count
With so many fad diets promoting instant results, losing weight in a safe and healthy way can seem almost impossible. The key to healthy weight loss is actually a simple concept: calories in should be less than calories out. The calories you consume are your “calories in” and the calories you burn by exercise and daily activity are your “calories out”. This is often referred to as energy balance and depending on your goal (weight loss, weight gain, or weight maintenance) you will have to adjust between the two:
Weight Loss = Calories In < Calories Out
Weight Gain = Calories In > Calories Out
Here are some tips that can help:
1. Understand Calories
Calories are the energy that fuels your body much like gasoline fuels your car. All of the food you eat is made up of
protein, carbohydrate, and fat. Per gram, fats contain more calories than proteins and carbohydrates. This explains
why certain foods that are higher in fat, like cheese, nuts, and oils, are higher in calories than low-fat foods that are
mainly comprised of carbohydrates or proteins. However, it is still important to include healthy, unsaturated fats like
oils, nuts and fish in your diet as they provide the “good fats” that are needed to support certain bodily processes.
Keep in mind that they are still higher in calories. Watch portion size and enjoy them in moderation.
2. Know Your Calorie Needs
It is important to be aware of how many calories your body actually requires each day. Calculate your calorie needs by visiting the MyPyramid website for your personalized pyramid plan:
http://www.mypyramid.gov/mypyramid/index.aspx. The calculator will give you the amount of calories your body
needs to maintain your current weight. If weight loss is your goal, you will have to either consume fewer calories and/or burn more calories through physical activity.
For weight loss, subtract calories from your diet or burn them with exercise:
- 250 calories a day to lose ½ pound per week
- 500 calories a day to lose 1 pound per week
*1 pound of fat is equal to 3500. Do not go below 1200 calories per day. Eating too little calories can be counterproductive by slowing down your metabolism and making it more difficult to lose weight.
3. Log It
Keep track of how many calories you consume and how many calories you burn by logging this information in a food
diary. Read labels to learn how many calories are in the foods you eat. Some foods do not have labels, like fresh
produce, meats, and seafood. For these, use an online calorie calculator (try MyPyramid Tracker on
www.mypyramid.gov) or a reference guidebook like The Calorieking Calorie, Fat, and Carbohydrate Counter.
For exercise use an Activity Calorie Calculator found at http://primusweb.com/fitnesspartner/calculat.htm. Simply log
in your weight in pounds and the length of time you want to exercise and you will be given a calorie breakdown of
various activities from high impact aerobics to everyday activities like ironing and cleaning!
REMEMBER: Always speak with your doctor before starting a calorie-controlled diet or exercise plan.