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What’s a calorie?

A calorie or kilocalorie, is a unit used to measure energy. A calorie, by definition, is the amount of energy needed to raise 1 kg of water 1 degree celsius. Calories in our diet come from macronutrients or energy-yielding nutrients, which include fat, protein and carbohydrate. Carbohydrate and protein each offer 4 calories per gram while fat is much more energy-dense, providing 9 calories for every gram. Alcohol is not a nutrient but it does contain calories, specifically 7 calories per gram.

The body uses energy, in the form of calories, to perform all of its functions. If you consume more calories than your body needs, the excess may be stored as fat – leading to excessive weight. On the other hand, if/when a food shortage exists, your body can break down stored fat for energy. Losing excess body fat successfully is achieved by creating a (calorie) energy defecit. You can do this by consuming fewer calories than you need daily to maintain your weight or burning off more calories than you take in daily. Eating less through portion control, behavior modification and eating low-caloire, filling foods while increasing your level of physical activity is the best strategy for losing weight.

Ask the Expert

Question: “I’ve hit a plateau in my weight loss program, what should I do?”

Answer: It is not uncommon to ‘hit a plateau’ during a weight loss program. You’re headed towards your goal, yet cannot seem to lose that last 10 lbs. There are several things you can do to get back on track. Be sure your weight loss goals are realistic. Are you already at a healthy weight? If not, make sure you are keeping up the intensity of your exercise program. Fitness experts recommend 30-60 minutes of exercise, most days of the week.

Talk to a fitness professional about adding weights and/or resistance exercises to your program. Aerobics burns fat but muscle mass burns calories while at rest, increasing your metabolism. Don’t get in a rut, change your routine every couple of weeks.

Also, make sure that your calorie intake is adequate. Many dieters fail to eat enough! This alone can trigger the weight loss plateau effect. Also, do not go too long without eating. This is not good for your metabolism/metabolic rate. For a woman, 3-4 hours without food is a reasonable maximum. And always eat breakfast!