What Is A Calorie?
A calories isn’t some scary thing. To keep it simple, calories are just a measure of energy. Anything that has energy has calories, even non-food.
Calories are the necessary and required fuel for your body to live, survive and thrive. To keep it short and sweet: You need calories (energy) to function. Even if you didn’t leave your bed all day, you still require calories!
While calories are demonized in the environment we currently live in, they are not evil or bad. They’re just energy, plain and simple. The calories we generally intake are from food and drink. The calories we expend normally happens through exercise, daily activity, bodily functions, thinking, etc..
Don’t overcomplicate it: energy in = food and energy out = activity, body functions, exercise, thinking and all the other stuff our days are made of!
What The Heck Is My Caloric Intake?
We’ve nailed calories now, but you’ve probably also heard of a caloric intake. So what the heck is it? Again keeping things simple, a caloric intake is how many calories are consumed in a specified time. It could be a week, a day, or any other time frame. Generally when caloric intakes are discussed it is over a 24 hour period.
Different caloric intakes lead to different outcomes, it isn’t one size fits all. Your caloric intake will be extremely different to the next person, and that is OKAY.
Let’s check out what the different variations of caloric intake are:
Caloric Surplus: When calories in (food, drink) are greater than calories out (exercise, activity, body function, etc.). Being in a surplus for an extended amount of time can lead to weight gain. This can be intentional or unintentional.
Caloric Maintenance: When calories in equal calories out. This causes no major shift in weight, but remember day to day weight fluctuations are totally normal!
Caloric Deficit: When calories in are less than calories out. Being in a deficit for an extended amount of time will lead to weight loss. If the deficit is too aggressive and is used for too long, it can be unhealthy and lead to both short and long term consequences.
None of these are inherently unhealthy or healthy. It comes down to your goals, what is suitable for you as an individual, and what your diet consists of (foods, minerals, vitamins, etc.).
What Does My Caloric Intake Depend On?
We’ve crushed caloric intakes, but why are caloric intakes so individualized? Caloric intakes depend on a couple major factors.
Gender: Men can generally consume more calories than women (of the same age and size) due to their biological make up and hormones.
Height and Weight: The heavier and taller you are, the more energy you require to exist. Therefore, the higher your maintenance caloric intake will be.
Activity Level: This is a big factor, the more active you are the higher your caloric intake will need to be. You will require more fuel to replace the energy you are using during your activity and exercise.
Age: Your age can influence your caloric intake too. Things such as puberty, menopause, and general life cycles can all require an increase or decrease of caloric intake.
Aside from the above factors, there are other medical conditions and issues that can impact your caloric intake. If you are concerned about these, always talk to your doctor or a dietician. If you feel like something is ‘wrong’, get the right educated help.
How Do I Know How Much To Eat?
Fancy Word Alert: BMR And TDEE. Who doesn’t love a good anagram? We’ve got two here that are used to talk about more caloric intake stuff.
BMR - Basal Metabolic Rate: Ugh, that’s a lot of information. Let’s strip it down, your BMR is the daily amount of energy a person’s body requires to basically stay alive in a temperate environment. This does not include exercise or activity.
If you laid in bed all day, didn’t drink or eat or get up to do anything (even flick the buttons on the remote), this is the amount of calories (energy) you need to just be a human.
TDEE - Total Daily Energy Expenditure: As most of us are moving humans doing life, we can’t base our caloric intake off our BMR, we would be horrifically under-fueling ourself that way. Our TDEE is the TOTAL amount of energy that you use (or expend) in one day. This includes all the energy you use sleeping, exercising, eating, any bodily functions and anything else you do during the day. Your TDEE includes your BMR.
If you were hell-bent on calculating your maintenance calories, you would need to find your TDEE. There are plenty of apps and websites out there but a lot of them (I’m looking at you My Fitness Pal) underestimate by quite a bit. Things like the Harris Benedict Equation will give you an estimate based on your physical factors and your activity level. But that really is what it is, an estimate. In labs and medical settings, there are tests and equipment that will give you a more specific number. All these calculations really only matter if you are underweight or overweight or for a sports specific purpose. If your body is feeling happy and healthy and maintaining a healthy weight, tracking calories is unnecessary. Again, before you go and jump into weighing every piece of food you eat, checking in with your doctor or dietician about concerning weight changes is strongly advised.
Pay more attention to your physical response to your diet and nutrition. Listen to your body and what it is telling you. Are you putting on weight? Decrease your eating slightly and see what your body does. This IS NOT saying cut out most of your meals and food groups. Just focus on eating whole and good foods. As always, if you are worried about your weight - find educated help. Don’t just jump on some fitspo’s 1200 calorie plan because it looks pretty on Instagram.
More Fancy Words: Macronutrients and Micronutrients!
Now we know all about energy and the nitty gritty around intakes! So what is our food actually made of, and does it matter?
Macro, think big picture like macroeconomics. Macronutrients are the ‘big 3’, the three main components of our food. You have probably heard of them; we’ve got protein, we’ve got fats, and last but definitely not least, we’ve got carbohydrates. All of these macronutrients are seriously important for our bodies and our ability to function as human beings.
Protein: Makes us big and strong right. Protein is our own personal builder and repairman. For muscles of course. This slick macro is used by our body to build muscle and repair muscle (especially after exercise). They also speed up important reactions in the body and transport important things throughout the body (like oxygen molecules)! It helps regulate your body’s pH and helps keep ya immune system happy and healthy. Per 1 gram of protein there are 4 calories. It is a necessity in your balanced diet. Protein works hard for us in many ways!
It has a lot of complex roles in your ability to stay functioning, but remember it isn’t the only macronutrient out there.
You are probably already thinking of some protein sources in your own diet. Food such as red meat, poultry, seafood, fish, and eggs are all great places to find protein. If you are vegetarian or vegan; foods such as beans, chickpeas, lentils, soy and other legumes are a good protein source too.
Fats: Fats DO NOT equal gaining fat. Let’s get that straight from the get go. Fats are a key macronutrient as they help with energy and vitamin storage. Fats also help with insulation and
Fats are the most concentrated source of energy as 1 gram is 9 calories! A bit more than protein or carbohydrates. You might be familiar with being full for a while after a big heavy fatty meal. As fats are calorically denser, they can keep you fuller for longer.
We find fats in a number of places, there are good fats and not so good fats. Saturated fats are not a fat that you want to have heavily in your diet. An excessive amount of saturated fat can lead to high cholesterol among other health issues. Foods such as butter, animal fats, lard, and other dairy products can be high in saturated fat.
Carbohydrates: Carbs! Lately this super important macronutrient is getting some undeserved hate. When out grocery shopping you might find yourself drawn to the bright labels of food boasting low carb. How healthy, how exciting… but is it really?
Specific medical conditions aside, carbohydrates are our body’s preferred source of fuel. Carbohydrates help us be functional humans. Like protein, per gram of carbohydrates there is 4 calories. Our body requires carbs as energy for muscles, tissues, and the brain. These awesome macronutrients help with our brain function, basically they keep us going and thinking! Ever tried to take a math test on an empty stomach? It probably didn’t go so well… carbs help us use our brain. So give your body what it wants and needs.
Carbohydrates are necessary for both energy production and energy storage. Your body knows how to convert the carbs you take in to energy, so let it. Before you let your mind wander, no carbs do not make you fat. As above, if you eat more energy (calories) than you expend, you will gain weight. Carbs are an important part of a balanced diet. Unless your dietician or GP has recommend it, don’t cut out a food group.
Carbohydrates come from a variety of foods (the delicious ones). Foods such as breads, grains, kumara, sugars, potato, sweet potato, pasta, and oatmeal are all sources. Carbs are GOOD for you, but try to eat more whole grain and less processed foods.
When we think about micronutrients, we think smaller. Our food is definitely made up of the macros above, but what else is in our food? Micronutrients are key vitamins and minerals that our bodies require to function well. They each have vital and unique rolls in your ability to be a human, but they are all important. Micronutrients come from a variety of food, which is why a balanced well rounded diet is really important. Lack of variety in your diet, and/or not eating enough can lead to micronutrient deficiencies which can make you feel pretty terrible. Some micronutrients are not created in your body and must come from food. Eating whole foods, a good amount of fruit and veggies and avoiding heavily processed foods will give your body the most micronutrients. There are many different micros, but here are a few of the major players in your body and diet!
Eating a balanced diet is the best option for most people, and to have a balanced diet you should have each of these macronutrients AND micronutrients in it. What your day to day diet looks like will be unique to you. Extreme crash diets are not the way to go. If you want to make changes, do so responsibly and sustainably. If you recognize there are issues with your eating or you recognize you would like to make some sort of weight change, remember it takes time! Be patient with yourself and your body, don’t rush things. Use the information in this article to help you make informed decisions, and if you are still confused or worried about your health find EDUCATED help. I can not stress this enough, your friendly Instagram influencer who is preaching skinny tea or a cookie cutter diet plan is not the place to turn to. Listen to your body, and treat yourself with the respect you deserve. Nutrition and your diet don't have to be scary things, fuel your body with the energy it needs.
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