We throw the word calorie around a lot but I’m betting a lot of us don’t actual know or understand what it actual is?

Are all calories equal?

Is fat loss just down to calories in calories out?

Diets don’t work!

These are big debates in the nutrition world.

So what is a calorie?

A calorie is a unit of energy.  More scientifically a calorie is defined as the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of 1 kilogram of water from 0 to 1 degree Celsius.  Way to complicated eh!

So are all calories equal?  Well, yes in terms of a measurement.  100 calories of chocolate is the same as 100 calories of broccoli.  Just like 1kg of feathers weights the same as 1kg of sugar.

Are all calories equal in how they are broken down in the body? No they are not. It’s just not that simple. 

Let’s start with the thermic effect of food.  This means the energy required for digestion, absorption and the disposal of ingested nutrients. 

Protein for example has the highest thermic effect of food, 25-30% of the calories of protein are lost as heat when it metabolises in the body.  Carbs is only 6-8% and fat 2-3%.  This is one reason why higher protein diets are favoured by some for fat loss.  However it’s not such a big difference over the day, some studies have shown that high protein diets boost metabolism by 80-100 calories per day. So interesting!

 I could go on about protein a little more but I think it deserves its own post so I will do that at a later date.  I’ll try to stay on track talking about calories.

Fibre!  We all know what this is but did you know that it is not absorbed in the body?  Fibre is a type of carbohydrate that helps us to feel full without contributing to calories because it doesn’t digest.  High fibre foods are not fully absorbed, for example it’s said that the energy content of an almond is over estimated by 32%.  Great news!  Let’s eat more fibre! It will make our gut happier too!

Is fat loss just down to calories in calories out?

In principle yes.  This has been proven over and over again in studies. The principle of fat loss is that you need to burn more calories that you take in.  The method is the diet choice you make for example if you track macro’s or you do a low carb diet all of which create a calorie deficit.

The other view point is that calories in calories out doesn’t take into consideration hormones imbalances, insulin resistance, PCOS and other health problems.  This view point claims that certain diets help with their health condition, let’s say some believe that a low carb diet helps with insulin resistance.  Again all these methods create a calorie deficit.

So you see, it is about creating that calorie deficit for fat loss and this deficit can vary depending on each individual.  Taking into considerations such as activity levels, your energy you burn at rest, the energy you burn by metabolizing food, calories absorbed through your food quality and hormones. They all matter but if you want to lose fat you still need to be burning off more than you consume.

So do diets work? 

Yes they do if they are creating an energy deficit and you can adhere to that method.  You need to find the right method.  Why would you do low carb if you love bread?  Why would you skip breakfast if you wake up starving and hangry?  Why would you stop eating gluten if you are not intolerant or have celiac disease?  People tend to set themselves up for failure with extremes.  Extremes are not necessary for fat loss.

So yes, calories in calories out is an oversimplification as you need to factor in many variables but the principle for fat loss, weight maintenance or weight gain is scientifically proven.

I will do another post specifically on fat loss soon but I think it’s important to understand the not so simple calorie to begin with.  

I felt this blog was difficult to write as there is so much more to say and it would be very easy to make this post the size of war and peace so I hope I picked out what I think we need to know and understand.  I hope the takeaway is that we are all very different in what works for one and that the quality of food matters.  There is no needs for extreme diets that you cant stick to because they are unrealistic and not sustainable.  You just need to find the deficit that works for you and your lifestyle.

Emma x

10 thoughts on “Calories

  1. Great post Emma. It’s so good to have the information researched and then explained for me. I like the length of the post, makes it easily digestible and I also understood it which is saying something!

    I like the idea of creating a calorie deficiency that best suits you individually. The rule of calories in and calories out is accurate but there are different ways to approach that. I never thought of it that way. Really helpful.

    Looking forward to the next posts. I’d like to hear your take on specific diets at some point down the line. What the theory is behind them and your opinions.

    Well done,
    Claire xx


  2. aha! found it..thanks Claire. will be following also. Emma, lots of points i agree on here. I spent much of my 20’s & 30’s as a personal trainer and nutritional counselor as well. many of the basics still stand. but the waters have gotten muddied so much in my lifetime . I’ve noted that with the introduction of the internet as such an easily accessible source and indeed the onset of social media, now more than ever, there is a world of nutritional advice that has become so distorted and confusing, it’s no wonder people have such a tough time. Top that with the complete lack of factual information in the mainstream concerning hormonal changes and shifts that occur in a woman lifetime specifically , and the recipe for disaster is set! thank you for taking on this topic, i have been addressing it as well and am looking forward to reading your posts! Namaste!


    1. Thanks so much Lovie. I actually found it quite hard to write as people have different levels of knowledge and I wasn’t sure who the target audience was. However writing these post is largely for self development for me and to hopefully set the record straight 🙂 One of the reasons I started studying nutrition was for that exact reason, all the confusion out there and that everyone thinks they are an expert. Instagram being the worst culprit for so called “experts”. Would love to hear your views and feedback along the way as I’m trying to be unbiased in my posts and not push my personal views through and deliver the proven facts mixed with my own experiences. Emma x


      1. i think you have a lot of great info there already…nothing i would disagree with. and i am curious as to your ideas and takes on things as well…i no longer do anything with training or counseling and its been almost 2 years so we do have more information now. Thanks so much ..its nice to have a good nutrition blog to follow!

        Liked by 1 person

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