Understanding Calories and the Role they Play

Understanding Calories and the Role they Play

For many, hearing the “C” word, or “calories,” brings unwanted feelings of anxiety and shame. This can be especially true for those of us managing our weight and keeping close tabs on our overall health through nutrition and exercise.

Unfortunately, calories all too often get a bad reputation. Most commonly, they’re associated with images of scales, tape measures and numbers that define our self-control. For that reason, a true understanding of the term “calories” and the role they play in weight management is necessary.

What Are Calories, Exactly?

Simply stated, a calorie is defined as a unit of energy that comes from the food you eat. When you look at a food label and search for nutrition facts, the calories you see are presented in units of food calories or kcals. Essentially, this number indicates the amount of energy your cells are able to extract from processing nutrients in the food you eat.

Calories and Your Body: The Role they Play

While calories are specific numbers, it’s important to understand that everyone’s body is different. Therefore, the amount of calories per day your body requires for fuel and energy varies for each individual.

For example, an athlete who trains multiple days per week will need more calories to sustain his/her lifestyle than someone who is more sedentary. This is because we consume fuel through eating foods, but burn that same fuel through metabolism and exercise. Similarly, someone with more of an active lifestyle is more likely to metabolize food faster and burn more calories through their day-to-day activities.

Rather than being afraid of the word “calories,” let’s see them for what they really are – a source of fuel to keep our bodies moving and grooving! Calories play a role in your day-to-day energy levels, overall body function and ability to perform necessary tasks. We need them to survive, so it’s time we change the dialogue!

Assessing Your Caloric Intake: What to Consider

With that said, calories do affect your weight management journey by influencing weight gain, weight-loss and weight maintenance.

In other words, if you’re looking to make the most out of your health, the food you eat is important. Here are a few key things to look for when assessing and adjusting your daily calorie intake:

  • Balance – You will have achieved a caloric balance when the number of calories you consume equals the number you burn through metabolism and exercise. Excess calories contribute to weight gain, while a deficit contributes to weight-loss.
  • Fuel Source – The food you eat offers more than just calories. It’s also your source for essential nutrients such as proteins, fats and carbohydrates. Rather than consuming “empty” calories from food that offers no real nutritional value, aim for food sources that are higher in quality (i.e. fruits, vegetables, lean meats, whole grains and low-fat dairy).
  • Proportions – A healthy, well-balanced diet is needed to support your weight management goals and overall health. Assess your body’s need for protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, etc. Then, determine the proportions of each nutrient you need.

For additional tips on crafting the right nutrition plan for you, please CLICK HERE.


The weight management journey isn’t easy, and neither is understanding all of the factors at play. If you’re still unclear on how to craft a nutrition plan that meets your specific needs, consider talking with your doctor or a Registered Dietitian who can help you make informed choices. The more you learn, the more tools you have in your weight management toolbox!

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