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Weight Management: Understanding Calories

Sworkit Wellness

When it comes to weight management, it’s helpful to understand calories — what they are and how they work.

So, what exactly are calories? Calories are units of measurement, like inches or pounds, but for energy. In essence, calories measure the energy content of the food and drinks we consume. Simply put, calories = energy. When we talk about calories in relation to weight management, we’re talking about the energy balance equation.

Energy balance = energy in – energy out

Imagine your body as a bank account. The calories you consume are like deposits (energy in through food and drinks consumed), and the calories you burn through various activities are withdrawals (energy out required for rest, daily activities, and physical activity). If you consistently deposit more calories than you withdraw, you’ll gain weight. If you consistently withdraw more calories than you deposit, you’ll lose weight. If your calorie withdrawals and deposits are more or less balanced, you’ll maintain your current weight. 

Not all calories are created equal

Now, let’s talk about where those calories come from. Calories are found in the foods and drinks we consume. Water has zero calories, by the way! Staying hydrated is crucial, and it won’t contribute to your calorie count. Foods high in fat are most calorie-dense (9 calories per gram), when compared to protein or carbohydrates which are less calorie-dense (4 calories per gram). Foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and lean proteins are generally lower in calories when compared to oils, nuts, seeds, fish, pork, fatty red meats, and high-fat dairy products. Calorie-dense foods aren’t usually nutrient-dense, and sometimes even nutrient-dense foods can be higher in calories. For example, nuts, seeds, and olive oil are high in calories but also contain many nutrients. Whereas, butter, bacon, or soda are high in calories but don’t contain many nutrients. With that said, it’s important to strike a balance between the types of calories you consume for your overall health and any weight management goals. 

Portion size matters

Foods contain different calorie amounts, and varying portion sizes are responsible for those different calorie amounts. Being mindful of portion sizes can help you manage your calorie intake effectively. Here are some examples:

Food(s)Approximate caloriesNutrient-dense or calorie dense?
Large salad with 2 cups mixed greens + 3 oz grilled chicken + 6 cherry tomatoes + ½ cup cucumber + 2 tbsp light balsamic dressing~200 caloriesNutrient-dense
¾ cup blueberries + 6 oz nonfat greek yogurt~200 caloriesNutrient-dense
2 peanut butter cups~200 caloriesCalorie-dense
4 slices bacon~200 caloriesCalorie-dense
2 tbsp olive oil~200 caloriesNutrient-dense and calorie dense

As you can see, some foods are nutrient-dense (meaning they provide a high amount of nutrients relative to their calorie content), while some are calorie-dense (meaning they are higher in calories but may not offer as many nutrients), and some are both.

How many calories should you be consuming on a daily basis? 

Your daily calorie needs depend on several factors, including your age, gender, activity level, metabolic rate, health status, whether you are pregnant or nursing, and more. There are many online calculators that can help you estimate your daily calorie needs and give you a general idea, but consulting with a registered dietitian or healthcare professional would provide more personalized, reliable guidance. Contact a Sworkit Trainer to get a better understanding of how many calories you need. 

For a closer look at estimated calories needed based on age, gender, and physical activity level, check out the below recommendations from the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025:

Female Estimated Calorie Needs per Day
AgeSedentaryModerately ActiveActive
Male Estimated Calorie Needs per Day
AgeSedentaryModerately ActiveActive

The actual number of calories needed within each range depends on your height and weight. Additionally, people who are highly active or have certain health conditions may require different calories than listed above. Please note these estimates do not apply to those who are pregnant or nursing. 

In Conclusion

Calories are units of energy that come from the foods and drinks we consume. How many calories or energy you are taking in relation to what you need, will determine whether you gain, lose, or maintain weight. Managing your weight involves balancing the calories you consume with the calories you burn through daily activities. It’s not just about counting calories, but making smart choices and including nutrient-dense foods, while being mindful of portion sizes. Remember, it’s always a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian for personalized guidance on your weight management journey.

Sworkit Wellness

Sworkit is a digital fitness app that makes it simple for you to get (and stay) in the best shape of your life. Whether you have 2 minutes or 60 minutes, Sworkit's customizable strength, cardio, stretching, yoga, and Pilates workouts are designed to fit your life. Make fitness a habit with Sworkit.
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