If you're constantly cutting and counting calories, make sure you know how they affect your body weight

Everything you read about nutrition and weight loss invariably discusses calories, but what exactly is a calorie?

Well, a calorie is a unit of measurement that refers to the heat output (or energy) produced by a food.

To maintain a healthy weight – without gaining or losing – you need to eat the right amount of calories (energy) based on how much energy you expend.

Consuming Calories

You can calculate your own basic caloric needs using a formula called the Harris Benedict Equation, which factors in your age, height, weight, gender and activity level. (Google “Harris Benedict Equation” for the tools you need to estimate your calorie needs.)

An average adult man needs approximately 2,500 calories per day; an average woman needs about 1,900.

Counting Calories

The relationship between eating too many calories and weight gain is obvious. If you eat more calories than you expend, you gain weight; conversely, if you eat fewer calories than you expend, you lose weight. However, diet math isn’t always that straightforward.

For example, a person might actually not eat enough calories and still gain weight if those calories are of poor quality and consumed mainly in the latter part of the day.

When it comes to calories there are two key considerations: eating the right number of calories and eating the right quality of calories.

Choosing nutrient-dense foods containing high-quality calories (fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meat) and spreading them evenly throughout the day, together with regular exercise, remain key factors in managing your weight and staying healthy.

Originally published in Wellness Matters, Canada Wide Media’s quarterly newsletter on health and wellness.