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What is a Calorie and Why Should You Care?

March 24th, 2013
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Calorie is a household word, it’s heard around the office, at the gym, but if I ask the question, “exactly what does a calorie do” people have a hard time answering. In fact, most answer, “the thing in food that makes me fat.” Seems to me calories have gotten a bad reputation; are considered to be the enemy. Or it may be like many things in life…too much of a good thing can be bad. So here’s the question. How much do you really know about calories? (Yes, go ahead, take the quiz) Because, actually, calories can be your friend.

Funny…with all the talk about calories, few people truly understand what a calorie is and why it is so important to their bodies. Calories aren’t bad for you. Your body needs calories for energy. But eating too many calories — and not burning enough of them off through activity — can lead to weight gain.

By definition a calorie is a unit of measurement; the energy it takes to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water 1 degree Celsius. When you read that a food contains 100 calories, it’s a way of describing how much energy your body could get from eating or drinking that food.

Calories are energy that fuel our bodies; much like gasoline fuels our cars. Without sufficient calories our heart would not beat, our lungs would not function, and our brain would not work. Note: I am certainly not claiming that if you eat more calories you brain will work better.

On average, most adults need at least 1000 to 1400 calories to have enough energy to fuel their key organs. This minimum number of calories is called your resting metabolic rate (RMR) and it varies quite a bit depending on age, sex, weight, and muscle mass. In order to have enough energy to live your day and be active you need more energy than what’s required from your resting metabolic rate (RMR). About 400 to 600 additional calories per day is recommended. This is the energy needed to move versus just lying or sitting still all day.

It’s really quite simple math to understand why you gain or lose weight. If you exceed the number of calories your body requires each day you will eventually gain weight. For example, if your body needs 2000 calories a day to maintain its current weight and every day you consume 2500, in one week you would gain 1 lb. And by the way, one day of overindulging does not cause instant weight gain.

To lose weight you need to burn more calories than you consume. Example: If you eat 2000 calories a day, and are maintaining your weight, you would need to burn 250 calories (30 minutes high impact aerobics for a 150 lb. person) per day to lose a 1/2 lb. in one week. If, in addition, you decreased your caloric intake by 250 calories a day, you could then lose 1 lb. per week. But one note of caution…you can’t out-exercise a bad diet.

Research backs up the The Simple Secret Of Weight Loss: Eat Less, Move More

Yes, you should care. My advice: Know the content and calories of what you’re eating. Get up and get moving. Make sure your physical activity is enjoyable and you will stick with it!

Looking for a way to get active? Check out the many adult dance & fitness classes offered at Ballet Austin’s Butler Community School.

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