Calories, they sew your clothes tighter!

Updated: Sep 20, 2020

You must have heard “calories” so many times that you’re probably sick of it, but basics of healthy eating starts here so take one deep breath and start afresh while I try to simplify it. The scientific definition of a calorie is amount of heat energy needed to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius hence, it is a unit of energy (and not fat as you might think due its fattening nature). Now, to do any activity our bodies require energy which comes from the food we eat and its currency is calorie. The reason why calories make you heavier is because if you “eat” more energy in a day than is needed for your daily activities, the body stores the remaining energy in form of fat (like your savings in a bank) and if you consume lesser calories than required by your body to function then the remaining deficit is fulfilled by the stored energy that your body has kept for times like these. At this moment some of you might be think “but I’ve been the same weight for years now, how’d you explain that huh, coach?” well the answer is simple (sort of), you’re eating same amount of calories as your body is using for its daily needs. So, in conclusion the body can be in three caloric states:

  1. Calorie surplus: calories consumed > calories used for activities.

  2. Calorie deficit: calories consumed < calories used for activities.

  3. Calorie balance: calories consumed = calories used for activities.

Types of calories (... kinda)

Now you must be wondering how many calories a chocolate cake has so that you can eat it and balance out the rest of calories, right? Well you can put down that calculator as it’s not that simple. All calories are not same, if they were, you won’t see us nutritionists eating fruits and veggies at all. Foods are more than the calories they provide, the main reason we eat food is to get the nutrients they provide for our wellbeing. Although calories don’t inherently have a characteristic, the foods that provide them do due to their nutrition profile. Although there is no scientific segregation but to help you make better food choices, I’ll categories calories into three types:

  1. Good calories: The calories you get from wholesome and nutritious foods like fruits, veggies, meats, eggs, seeds, nuts, seafood, dairy etc.

  2. Bad calories: The calories you get from foods which are rich in unhealthy fats or are loaded with processed sugars such as fast foods, soft drinks, baked items, fried foods etc.

  3. Empty calories: these calories are found in foods which are highly processed and stripped of their nutrients, these are called ‘empty’ as they are deficient in nutrients but increase your calorie intake.

So if calories are the name of the game then why eat healthy? Well, as you can see all types of foods have calories but you have to be careful from where you are fulfilling your daily caloric needs. You can eat McDonald’s and still be able to lose weight like this guy did but your body will not be getting essential vitamins, minerals, fiber, healthy fats and good quality protein all needed for healthy functioning.


The takeaway box

I hope by now you must be clear on what on God’s green earth ‘Calories’ are and the food in you vicinity must have started resembling a certain number representing its calories, making you feel a bit anxious. Although calorie counting is an important instrument for making a journey towards healthy eating but being over cautious is just going to increase your stress levels which will further counteract your efforts. So focus more on quality rather than quantity of food to begin with and eventually you’ll get used to it.


References and further reading


Howell, Scott, and Richard Kones. "“Calories in, calories out” and macronutrient intake: the hope, hype, and science of calories." American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism 313.5 (2017): E608-E612.


Ludwig, David S., and Cara B. Ebbeling. "The carbohydrate-insulin model of obesity: beyond “calories in, calories out”." JAMA internal medicine 178.8 (2018): 1098-1103.


Mayo Clinic. 2013. The Best Ways To Cut Calories From Your Diet. [online] Available at: <https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/in-depth/calories/art-20048065> [Accessed 9 August 2020].


Mozaffarian, Dariush. "Foods, obesity, and diabetes—are all calories created equal?." Nutrition reviews 75.suppl_1 (2017): 19-31.


nhs.uk. 2019. Understanding Calories. [online] Available at: <https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-weight/understanding-calories/> [Accessed 9 August 2020].


Templeton, J., 2019. Understanding Calories Is Your First Step To Weight Management - Ask The Scientists. [online] Ask The Scientists. Available at: <https://askthescientists.com/understanding-calories/> [Accessed 9 August 2020].