Whether we're burning calories by sweating it out at the gym or resisting the call of the cupcakes, calories definitely affect our waistlines. Understanding the fundamentals of calories is about more than just reaching for the low-cal option. If you're watching your weight or looking to lose some, here's what you need to know about calories to keep you going
What's a Calorie? A calorie is just a form of energy. We burn calories all the time, whether merely breathing and sleeping or running a seven-minute mile. Metabolism is the rate at which our bodies use up this energy; the amount of calories we burn by simply existing is called our BMR, or basal metabolic rate (calculate your BMR here). Your BMR, age, and activity level are used to determine how many calories you should be eating in order to maintain your weight. If you want to lose weight, however, the formula is simple: burn more calories than you eat. But that doesn't mean it's easy. It can be hard, and all-consuming, to keep track of every single calorie you eat or burn.
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Calories In, Calories Out Having a calorie deficit means that you're burning more calories than you are eating or drinking, and it takes into account all the calories you've burned, whether you're sitting at your desk or pedaling away in a 45-minute Spin class. Once you've calculated your BMR, you'll know how many calories you should be burning or cutting from your diet. Many people find the most success in combining a diet with an exercise plan, but be sure to eat at least 1,200 calories a day; anything less can be unhealthy and can actually slow your metabolism. And remember that it takes about a 3,500-calorie deficit to lose a pound, so you'll start to see that result on the scale once your calorie deficit adds up if you exercise regularly and cut calories out of your normal diet. Here are some healthy ways to cut calories from your day:
- Track it: You can't know how many calories you're eating unless you know what's in your food. Fat is the most energy-dense macronutrient, clocking in at nine calories per gram, while each gram of protein and carbohydrates contain four calories each. If you want to lose weight, chances are you'll have the most success if you keep track of the calories you consume. It's all too easy to convince yourself that a little bite of something won't hurt too much, or that your two glasses of wine at dinner aren't really contributing to your bottom line. But once you start tracking the calories you eat (with an online tracking system or a food journal), you'll be more conscious of what you're actually eating.
- Pay attention: Be sure to check serving sizes; a recent study found that most people don't even glance at a nutrition label, even when they thought they did. And often times the only thing they look at is calorie counts, which are often misleading since a serving size may be smaller than you think. So before you happily consume a bag of chips thinking that you're keeping your snack calories under a certain amount, make sure that you're keeping in mind the actual portion sizes according to the label. When cooking, become familiar with how servings sizes should look; here's a guide on recommended serving sizes.
- Shave a few: Calorie-counting isn't for everyone. If you're trying to create a calorie deficit, try shaving a few calories from each meal by just making a few healthier choices. You'll barely notice that you made the lower-calorie choice, and you'll be saving hundreds of calories from your meals. Here are some tips on how to save 100 calories at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.