Sunday, August 26, 2012

Calories... Unwrapped

Welcome back!  So, let's pick up where we left off.

What's next on the Nutrition Facts panel? - Calories

Have no fear, calories are a fancy word for energy.  We all need energy.  Like a car can't run without gas, we can't run without calories.  Now, think of calories like a seesaw.

If we take in more calories than our bodies need or more calories than our bodies use during the day for everyday activities, exercise, etc., then our bodies gain weight.  This is important of course for growing children, bodybuilders, as well as underweight persons.

We don't necessarily have to focus on our calorie intake to gain weight though.  If we reduce our activity, for example if a highly active construction worker takes time off from work, but maintains his/her normal diet, then he/she may gain weight.

On the flip side, if we consume less calories than our bodies need and use, then we lose weight.  This is the key to weight loss.  Consuming less food or calories is not necessary for weight loss, however.  We could consume our normal diet, but increase our physical activity to end up with a calorie deficit for weight loss.

So, how much do we need?  This answer is not so easy.  We assume that the average American needs 2,000 calories per day, although this number varies largely from person to person due to age, gender, physical activity, as well as someone's height and weight.  Short statured, elderly women who do minimal physical activity may need as few as 1,000 calories, while highly active, growing teenage boys may need as many as 3,500 calories.

A doctor, nurse practitioner, or registered dietitian are good resources that can help you determine your individual energy needs.

Where do we get these calories from?  We get energy from food and drinks that contain calories.  Despite what you may hear from the media or others- a calorie is a calorie, no matter its source.  To exaggerate, whether you eat 3,000 calories of lettuce or 3,000 calories of cheeseburgers in one day and you only need 2,000 calories each day, then you may gain weight.

Can calories equal pounds?  In the scientific world of nutrition, 3,500 calories is equal to 1 pound of body weight.  This means that if every day for one week you eat 500 calories less each day or use up 500 calories during exercise, then you have a 3,500 calorie deficit for the week (500 calories x 7 days), equal to 1 pound.

An easier method for some may be to split the calories in half and cut out 250 calories from food/beverages and exercise to use up 250 calories from one's normal routine each day (for a total of 500 calories each day).  Again, we would be short 3,500 calories for the week to ideally lose 1 pound per week.  The same occurs with weight gain.  Remember, we never eat to our exact calorie needs each day and we don't know precisely how much energy we use every day unless we're in a lab or the hospital, so we have to give ourselves some leeway with this goal.

So, does that help?  Maybe just a little?  Let me know what you think.  As always, if you have any questions, ask away!  Until next time at the table... thanks for meeting!

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