What is a Calorie?

So, what exactly is a calorie? A calorie is the amount of heat required to heat 1 liter of water by 1 degree; basically a measurement of energy. In reference to food, calories are the amount of energy that food will provide. For example an orange is 45 calories and therefore will provide you with 45 units of energy. We all need calories to fuel us for daily living, but calorie needs can vary based on the individual.

How do you determine your calorie needs? Calorie needs are affected by many factors such as height, weight, metabolism and activity level. There are many equations that can help you estimate your own individual calorie needs and the Mifflin St. Joer equation is commonly used by doctors and dietitians.

What does calories have to do with weight? The body is very effective at managing emergency situations that put your health at risk. If you consume too many calories the body will convert those extra calories into fat so that is can be stored away for future use. If you maintain a normal weight you probably fluctuate from overeating to under eating all the time; the body is continually using and restocking fat stores. However, the body has no limit on the amount of fat it will store away. Therefore, consistently exceeding your calorie needs are going to cause your weight to climb.

How to lose the weight? The trick is to start cutting calories slightly below what you need so that body will utilize your fat stores. It is recommended to determine your calorie needs and then reduce by 250-1000 calories to start losing weight. A safe rate of weight loss is about ½-2 lbs per week. It can be tempting to go very low in calories to lose weight quickly, but this very hard for people to maintain long enough to lose the weight. You also want to be eating enough calories so that your body can function at its full capacity as well. It recommended to not go below 1200 calories when trying to lose weight.

What are some ways to cut calories to lose or maintain weight? Try eating nutrient dense foods like fruits and vegetables. The foods pack a lot of nutrition for little calories to help you stay full while cutting calories. Reduce high fat foods which can cause your calories to add up quickly. You can also use sugar substitutes like Stevia, to cut out calories and extra sugar.

Get started reducing calories today and check out the low-cal/low-sugar recipes using Stevia, like this one for peanut butter cookies!


Carolyn ReynaudCarolyn Reynaud, MS, RD, LD is a licensed registered dietitian. She received her BS in nutrition from Michigan State University and her Masters and Certificate in Public Health from Georgia State University. She has experience working in several avenues of health care including corporate wellness, clinical disease management, research, and health promotion. She has been working as a health coach specialist for close to 6 years, where she counsels patients on preventative healthcare and helps them meet their health goals. Follow her on Twitter @ReynaudCari.