Counting calories: Get back to weight-loss basics
Your weight is a balancing act, and calories play a big role. Find out how calories determine your weight and ways you can best cut calories from your diet.
By Mayo Clinic Staff
Despite all the diet strategies out there, weight management still comes down to the calories you take in versus those you burn off.
Fad diets may promise you that avoiding carbs or eating a mountain of grapefruit is the secret to weight loss, but it really comes down to eating fewer calories if you want to shed pounds.
Calories: Fuel for your body
Calories are the energy in food. Your body has a constant demand for energy and uses the calories from food to keep functioning. Energy from calories fuels your every action, from fidgeting to marathon running.
Carbohydrates, fats and proteins are the types of nutrients that contain calories and are the main energy sources for your body. Regardless of where they come from, the calories you eat are either converted to physical energy or stored within your body as fat.
These stored calories will remain in your body as fat unless you use them up, either by reducing calorie intake so that your body must draw on reserves for energy, or by increasing physical activity so that you burn more calories.
Tipping the scale
Your weight is a balancing act, but the equation is simple: If you eat more calories than you burn, you gain weight.
Because 3,500 calories equals about 1 pound (0.45 kilogram) of fat, you need to burn 3,500 calories more than you take in to lose 1 pound.
So, in general, if you cut 500 calories from your typical diet each day, you'd lose about 1 pound a week (500 calories x 7 days = 3,500 calories).
It isn't quite this simple, however, and you usually lose a combination of fat, lean tissue and water. Also, because of changes that occur in the body as a result of weight loss, you may need to decrease calories further to continue weight loss.
Cutting calories doesn't have to be difficult. In fact, it can be as simple as:
April 11, 2015
- Skipping high-calorie, low-nutrition items
- Swapping high-calorie foods for lower calorie options
- Reducing portion sizes
See more In-depth
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- Colditz GA. Healthy diet in adults. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed March 1, 2015.
- Hall KD, et al. Quantification of the effect of energy imbalance on bodyweight. Lancet. 2011;378:826.
- 10 healthy eating tips: Choose my plate. U.S. Department of Agriculture. http://www.choosemyplate.gov/healthy-eating-tips/ten-tips.html. Accessed March 5, 2015.
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 24. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. http://ndb.nal.usda.gov. Accessed March 5, 2015.
- Flavored latte. Starbucks Coffee. http://www.starbucks.com/menu/drinks/espresso/flavored-latte. Accessed March 5, 2015.