What is a calorie? How do calories relate to weight loss?

What is a calorie? How do calories relate to weight loss?
  • PublishedJune 11, 2020

Calories are a great concern in many diets with many diet plans encouraging counting and restricting calories. There are many myths concerning calories with some people taking calories as a big deal in whatever they eat. Calories aren’t your enemies if you understand how they work and what they are.

In this article, we are going to learn what calories are, what calories do in our bodies, calorie counting, the downsides of calories, and how calories connect to weight gain.

What is a calorie?

A calorie is the amount of energy or heat it takes to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius. Also, we can simply define calories as the energy we get from the food we consume or the energy our bodies burn to function properly.

Almost all foods have got calories and the measure of calories in a particular food shows how much potential energy the food possesses.

A gram of carbs has 4 calories, a gram of proteins has 4 calories and a gram of fat has 9 calories. Therefore, if you know how many carbs, proteins, and fat present in any given food, you can tell how many calories that food contains.

Calories aren’t anything like how you may refer to nutrients but rather they are just a unit of measurement. They are a unit of measurement of how much energy a certain type of food or beverage poses.

From the food we eat, we get energy for our bodies to function and this energy is measured as calories too.

Healthy foods provide calories and nutrients for the body to stay healthy and function. However, some foods provide empty calories which are unhealthy. Empty calorie foods refer to those that provide huge amounts of calories with zero nutritional value.

Difference between calories (Cal) and Kilocalories(kcal).

On food labels, you will most times find ”Kcal” with a figure indicating how many calories that food contains. Yet on the definition, calories (Cal) are small units of kilocalories (Kcal)

Is there a difference between the two? let’s break it down.

  • A calorie is the amount of heat that raises the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1-degree Celsius.
  • A kilocalorie is the amount of heat required to raise 1 kilogram of water by 1-degree Celsius. It is equivalent to 1000 calories.

However, while counting food calories, the term calories refers to kilocalories. This means that food labeled 200 calories will in fact have (200,000 calories)

To make it simpler, in a nutrition setting, 1 Calorie will be equivalent to 1 Kilocalorie.

For instance, a 250-calorie chocolate bar contains 250,000 calories.

Calories and kilocalories are interchangeably used to mean the same thing. Therefore, it is acceptable to use calories when referring to kilocalories, and infarct it will make more sense to the diet world since everybody is used to such.

What do calories have to do with my body?

what is a calorie
Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

Calories provide energy to the body.

For the body to function properly, it needs a source of energy to drive it and this energy is from food.

The body needs fuel or energy to drive all body process and functions such as movement, breathing, growth, and more.

The body uses calories from the food we eat and converts it to energy by a process called metabolism.

Eating enough calories ensures that your body has enough energy to fully function and work properly. Metabolism will however range from person to person due to factors such as age, gender, weight, and physical activity.

How do calories connect with weight gain or loss?

what is a calorie

Balancing the number of calories you consume and what the body burns through metabolism and physical activity can keep your weight stable. At this point, you won’t lose or gain weight.

However, consuming more calories than you burn can cause weight gain as your body will store the extra calories as fat.

How to use calorie counting for weight maintenance, loss, and gain.

Weight maintenance: To maintain your current weight, you need to balance your calorie consumption and calories burned through metabolism and physical activities. This means that if your required calorie consumption is calculated to be 2000 calories, then those calories should be fully burned to prevent weight gain.

Weight loss: many dieters advise a calorie deficit to lose weight. This means that you must burn more calories than you consume. Let’s assume if you need around 2,000 calories to maintain your weight, consuming 500 calories less can get you losing about 1 to 2 pounds every week.

Weight gain: to get more pounds onto your weight, you must create a calorie surplus which means eating more calories than your body needs. For instance, to gain weight slowly, an increase of 300-500 calories can get you that weight.

To gain weight much faster consume an addition of 700-1,000 calories per day.

Are calories bad for you?

In every food we eat, there are calories. One of the main strategies of weight loss is limiting calorie intake. Does this make calories bad for your health?

To begin with, our bodies use calories for energy, and for this reason, they can’t be bad for our health. However, calories can be harmful to your health in some circumstances as we are going to discuss below.

  • Empty calories

Many nutrition experts discourage the consumption of empty calories. Many foods especially those that are packaged contain empty calories. This means that they are high in calories yet very low in Nutritional value.

These types of foods usually have a lot of added sugars and solid fats which can lead to weight gain and nutritional deficiencies.

Solid fats are fats that stay solid even at room temperatures with examples of butter.

Added sugars are the sugars that are added to foods during processing to give the food a sweet taste. Added sugars are linked to weight gain in quite many ways, for example, they increase hunger and desire for food and they usually have a lot of calories

Foods with empty calories can easily be identified by checking the labels. They will have large amounts of calories, added sugars, and solid fat.

Examples of foods with empty calories are
  • Packaged cakes, cakes, cookies, and donuts.
  • Soda, sports, and energy drinks.
  • Ice cream, cheese.
  • Candy bars.
what is a calorie
Photo by Nadi Lindsay from Pexels
  • When you eat too many calories.

Eating too many calories than your body needs and not being able to burn them through metabolism and physical activity can lead to weight gain.

The excess calories that the body does not burn through metabolism and physical exercises are stored in the body as fat.

When too much fat accumulates in the body, it increases the risk of obesity and overweight. This is when calories can be bad for you.

Do calories make you fat?

Calories will make you fat if you consume them in large quantities. This is true if the body processes don’t burn them. The body then stores the excess calories as reserve energy in the form of fat.

The type of foods you eat also influences your weight gain. Eating healthy foods will cause a healthy weight gain while foods with empty calories will cause unhealthy weight gain associated with many health risks.

Weight gain from added sugars is linked to increased risk of type 2 diabetes, risk of heart disease, high risk of certain cancers, and obesity.

It is therefore good to cut on the consumption of foods with empty calories and choose healthy foods with healthy calories.

You can find healthy calories from foods such as whole grains, lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables. To learn more about foods with healthy calories, read these articles about

Good carbs vs bad carbs

The most filling foods for weight loss

Weight loss-friendly foods. (breakfast, lunch, dinner)

You will find out that most foods with healthy calories are part of many weight loss diet plans. This is because these foods are usually low in calories yet highly nutritious.

How do we burn calories?

We mainly burn calories in two ways, through metabolism, and physical activities.


Metabolism means all chemical reactions of the body that take place in maintaining the living state of cells and all body functions. All body functions require energy and of which is got from burning calories.

Factors such as age, sex, weight, and physical activity influence the rate at which one burns calories by metabolism.

Physical activities.
Running for weight loss

All the body’s physical activities burn calories. This means for every activity the body does, you lose weight. This means when you talk, swim, and do exercises, your body burns calories.

However, a normal body activity such as walking, talking, and sitting burns few calories. That’s why activities such as cardio, running, and other workouts are necessary so that the body burns more calories.

Different exercises burn calories differently with some being able to burn up to around 1000 calories per hour. For instance, jumping rope can burn to around 1,600 calories in an hour.

To learn more about exercises that can get you burning many calories, read;

How to lose weight by jumping rope.

Swimming for weight loss.

Dancing for weight loss.

To learn more about calorie-burning exercises, read all articles about workouts under the Forever super slim workouts category.

What happens to your body when you eat too few calories?

People on a weight loss diet are advised to cut on calorie consumption.

However, restricting calories too severely can lead to a variety of associated health risks;

  1. It can lower your metabolism.

Eating fewer calories more often can cause loss of muscle mass forcing your metabolism to slow down. This makes it very difficult to maintain weight loss in the long term.

2. Eating fewer calories can cause nutrient deficiency.

Calorie restrictive diets often advise cutting some foods which have essential nutrients for the body. For example, not eating protein food sources such as meat, fish, dairy, and others causes muscle loss since these diets restrict bodybuilding foods.

Not eating enough calcium will reduce bone strength and increases the risk of fractures.

3. Eating fewer calories lowers your body immunity.

Restricting calories can lower the body’s immunity increasing the chances of getting infections and illnesses. This is due to reduced energy levels caused by fewer calories and nutrients from restricting food intake.

4.Hair loss.

Eating fewer calories can cause hair loss due to inadequate intake of calories and nutrients such as proteins, biotin, iron, and other nutrients.

5.Constant hunger.

Eating fewer calories will cause constant hunger and an increase in appetite and cravings. This is due to the body’s response to increasing appetite to save itself from hunger and calorie inadequacy.

The bottom line.

Counting calories is a smart way for weight loss, however, calorie-restrictive diets are not always healthy and won’t give you a long-term weight loss.

It is also important to note that choosing healthy foods will give you healthy calories while choosing junk foods will give you empty calories.

If you know somebody to whom this information would be useful, share this article.


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