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Calorie counting has been a huge trend in nutrition, and is the focal point of many diets and eating plans. You may have heard that weight loss is a battle of Calories in vs. Calories out, and the subsequent prescription of "Eat Less, Move More." While technically true, it is a bit of an oversimplification. Unfortunately, simply counting Calories will not make all of your problems, and spare fat, disappear. And it definitely will not automatically make you healthier.

What is a Calorie?

Calorie vs. calorie

A calorie (lowercase c) is the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree celsius.

A Calorie (uppercase c) is the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by one degree celsius. It is this Calorie, also known as a kilocalorie or kcal, that we use as a food measurement. What does this have to do with food? The body uses food as an energy source through digestion. Calories are used as a representation of the energy contained in a portion of food in order to have a standardized method of measurement.

Should I Count Calories?

Calorie counting is one way to track what you’re eating. Whether or not it’s the best method for you depends entirely on your situation and your goals.  


With a weight loss goal and a need of portion control, Calorie counting can be very beneficial. Rather than using an abstract portion size, Calorie counts provide a standard of measurement across food types. Having a target calorie range and knowing the number of Calories in your food can help you choose how much to eat throughout the day.


While there can be benefits of using Calories as a metric, there are also flaws to the system. It’s easy to focus on how many Calories each item has, but Calories are only one piece of the picture. While 100 Calories is a standard number, 100 Calories of cookies affects the body differently than 100 Calories of kale. The nutrients in food matter just as much, if not more, to overall health. A great method is to choose nutrient dense foods which can lead to an overall healthy diet.

In and Out

If you do decide that counting Calories is the right method for you, remember that it is much more effective with context. Doing it in conjunction with tracking how many Calories you burn, can help you make sure you’re eating enough, while still maintaining a Caloric deficit in order to lose weight. To understand how many Calories you burn, you need to look at exercise and rest. While most of us know that you can burn Calories through exercise, fewer realize that you also without burn Calories while seemingly doing nothing. Normal body functions such as breathing, pumping blood, and digesting food all burn Calories too. This is known as the Basal Metabolic Rate. Calculating this will help you see a fuller picture of your Calories in vs Calories out.

Overall, knowing the Calorie content of the food you’re eating is beneficial. It leads to more awareness and knowledge of what you’re putting in your body, which can help you make educated decisions about your health. Calories can be used as part of healthy eating habits, as long as you remember that it’s only one piece of the nutrition puzzle.