The five things to know about calories, exercise and weight loss

We often hear people talking about the importance of calories, including discussions of diets, how to burn them, when to eat, etc. So what exactly is a calorie? What does it do? Below, we’ve compiled the five things you need to know about calories and how they are connected to weight loss and gain.

1. Defining calories

Let’s begin with an English dictionary definition of the word.


A unit of heat, equal to 4.1868 joules (International Table calorie): formerly defined as the quantity of heat required to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1°C under standard conditions. It has now largely been replaced by the joule for scientific purposes

That probably doesn’t help us very much especially as we are not scientists. Put in a less scientific way, calories are the units of energy contained in the food and drink we consume. Calories are either burned to produce energy or, if excess to requirements, stored as fat. From that we can deduce that a calorie is a measurement, which can help us when we want to do physical exercise or conversely lose weight.

Nearly every food packet offers up information about a product’s calorie count and nutritional value. The figure referring to calories will be marked usually by Energy the Kj (see note at the end)+ a number.

2. How many calories do I need?

Recommended daily calorie intake varies from person to person, but there are guidelines for calorie requirements that you can use as a starting point. The UK Department of Health Estimated Average Requirements (EAR) suggests a daily calorie intake of 1940 calories per day for women and 2550 for men. How many calories are needed each day can vary greatly depending on lifestyle and other factors, including your age, height and weight, your basic level of daily activity, and your body composition.

If you plan on including more physical exercise in your schedule, you will need to consume more calories. For example, if you walk 6 km, you will need 250/300 calories more. However, if want to lose a kilo a week, you need to burn between 800-1000 calories. In order to maintain your weight, you need to consume more or less the number of calories your body needs each day

3. How do I burn my calories?


You burn calories to provide energy for three main functions:

Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)

This is the amount of calories you burn just by being alive – even when you are lying down, doing nothing. BMR accounts for approximately 60% of the calories burned for an average person.

Burning Calories for Activity

This is the energy used during movement – from lifting your arm to operate the remote control to cleaning the windows. This accounts for approximately 30% of the calories burned by an average person.

Dietary Thermogenesis

The ‘thermogenic effect’ described as meal-induced heat production – the calories burned in the process of eating, digesting, absorbing and using food.

4. Calorie counting, exercis and losing weight

Calorie Counting is a process used when people want to lose weight but it is also useful in helping to control your weight especially when you do physical exercise. When you finish doing something that uses up a lot of energy, there is often a temptation to eat more so it’s important to watch your calorie intake to help control your weight. According to the British Nutrition Foundation, “To lose weight, the energy intake from food must be less than the energy output”*. This is why calorie counting is the most effective weight loss method. It is a relatively easy method that goes to the heart of the problem and does not require you to put your life on hold.

Added benefits of calorie counting include:

  • raising your awareness of what your body needs;

  • educating you about what’s in what you eat,

  • and helping you learn how to eat healthily for life.

However, you must remember that you need calories to do physical exercise. Therefore knowing the calorific value of the foodstuffs you eat plus the calories you need for a particular exercise will help you keep control of your body weight.

5. How to count calories

First you’ll need to work out how many calories you need each day to maintain your current weight, and how many if you want to lose weight.

Next, you need to keep track of how many calories are in the foods and drinks you consume each day, to make sure you have a negative calorie balance.

Calorie King is a very good site to check values and it includes a very extensive overview of most foods so it’s worth exploring. You may shock yourself

You can also find information at

To work out how many calories you need or burn during physical exercise, visit Health Status this site.

Or more information can be found at

When you go shopping, get into the habit of checking the information on the labels. You may not understand everything but look at the part that says Energy Value.

Here you will see two values. One will show a number +Kj and another will be a number +Kcal. It is the second one that interests us. The values are usually shown as per 100 grams or 100 millilitres so it is fairly easy to work out how many calories you are eating.

Another point to remember is that not all healthy foods are low in calories. For example high quality extra virgin olive oil is an incredibly healthy ingredient. However, one tablespoon of oil (14grms) is nearly 120 calories, so be careful.

The reverse is true with certain light products. Just because it is low in calories, does not mean it is healthy.

Enjoy your shopping.

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