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Understanding calories

Posted by Aisling Murray on

One thing I notice from running the nutrition clinic is how many people are consumed about calorie content of food when they initially come to see me. I think being aware of the calorie content of your food is important and that why we have nutrition labels, it’s about educating yourself on the food you consume. There is nothing wrong with being aware of your calorie intake, however calorie counting becomes a problem when you obsess over it or it interferes with your day to day activities.

What are calories?

The Cause

The Effect

The Result

Calories In Beats Calories Out

Caloric Surplus

Muscle gain, fat gain, or both.

Calories Out Beats Calories In

Caloric Deficit

Fat loss, muscle loss, or both.

Calories In = Calories Out


Everything remains the same.

Calories are a measurement of energy in food just like a kilogram is a means of measuring weight. If you know how many calories are in a particular food then it can help you balance calorie in vs calorie expenditure. This is one of the key applications to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. When trying to lose weight it’s important to burn off more calories than you consume e.g. 3,500Kcal is the equivalent to 1 lb of fat. When we eat and drink we are putting calories (energy) into our bodies and this energy is used up when we do activity. The amount of calories you burn by breathing, walking around, having a generally sedentary lifestyle is calculated to be 1950Kcal for woman and 2500Kcal for men.

By this theory maintaining a stable weight should be as simple as the energy we put into our bodies being the same as the energy we use up by normal bodily functions and physical activity. On certain

days the calories in will be more then expended and vice versa this will lead to an overall balance in weight.

Unfortunately we all know that weight gain occurs when we eat more than we should, over time this excess energy is stored as body fat and thus increasing your weight.  In Ireland it’s now come to light that the majority of us are now eating more calories than we require and our waistlines are increasing.


Checking the calories content of food

Checking food labels in one of my biggest recommendations for anyone wishing to lose weight or just educate themselves on what they are eating. A lot of us can consume empty calories from foods like fizzy drinks, fruit juices, yoghurt drinks, alcohol etc.   We need to be more aware of what we are ingesting as all these calories will be converted to fat if not used up. On the back of your food packaging you will see the nutritional label this will indicate the “energy” present calories are given as Kilocalories (Kcals) and kilojoules (KJ).

The label will indicate per 100g or 100ml depending on whether it’s a food or drinks this allows you to compare calories in different products. Some labels identify the amount of calories in one portion of food (The manufactures idea of a portion). Your idea of a portion may be very different

Calories are everywhere

Restaurants are now displaying calorie and other nutritional information on their menus, this makes selecting your meals a little easier and calories are displayed as per portion or per meal.

All the information is provided to us about calorie content of foods it’s up to us to ensure we read labels, don’t over consume high calorific foods and keep our diet relatively balanced. The calorie information is provided to us on food and in restaurants we need to be more vigilant when it comes to what we eat.



Burning calories

How many calories you burn in a day depends on a number of factors including your age, height, weight, activity level the more active you are the more calories you burn off. Weight gain is due to eating or drinking more calories than you burn off.

Calorie in vs calorie expenditure

The most important part of any healthy nutrition plan is knowing your calorie intake and how much extra fat you may be consuming. Over consumption of calories is the biggest reason for weight gain.  If your calorie intake coming from your macronutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrates) is at its optimal percentage, meaning you are eating the right calories in the day. You will lose fat and/or build muscle (with exercise) this is why knowing the calories content of your Macronutrients is vital.


Calories in: All food and drink contain calories (except water) and contribute to our daily calorie intake. As these calories are consumed they are referred to “calories in”.


Calories out: Like previously explained calories are a form of energy and can never disappear or be destroyed instead they change form. Our bodies convert calories to heat energy, electrical energy, sound energy, and kinetic (movement) energy. If calories are not burned they are stored in your body as glycogen or fat to use at a later time. These compounds get stored in your liver, muscles and fat cells.  This is known as “calories out” the more activity you do contribute to your “calories out”.


Burning calories: You body burns calories everyday on its own just to keep us functioning properly like breathing, talking, making new cells etc. this is also “calories out”.


Calories in > Calories out = calorie surplus: This means there are calories which are unused and you are eating more calories than you burn in a day. If your body has no immediate use for these calories (no exercise etc.) then it will store them for later use as either fat or muscle.

The consumption of extra calories is not always a bad thing if you are trying to support muscle growth but not exercising can lead to weight piling on in the form of fat.


Calories out > Calories in = calories deficit: This means you have burned or used up more calories in the day, leading to insufficient calories. You have not fuelled your body with enough calories to support it. Your body will then look for an alternative energy source again being either fat or muscle.

Again reducing calories may seem like a great idea if you wish to lose weight however if not combined with exercise then you may end up breaking down muscle and be left with fat stores.


Calories in = calories out = maintenance:

This means there is no calorie surplus or deficit there, or no energy is stored (as muscle or fat) and there is no need to tap into stored energy (fat or muscle). This calorie maintenance means an individual can calculate exactly what their daily calorie intake should be when no activity is undertake



Whelehans Nutrition Service

Whelehans nutritional service is a private one to one advice service with our nutritionist Aisling Murray. Aisling’s areas of interest include weight loss management, nutrition education and food intolerance. Our nutrition service offers you the chance to change your life in a positive way by focusing on your overall wellbeing as well as the chance to follow up on your progress.

Whelehan’s Nutrition we are excited to inform you that we are expanding our excellent nutrition service to include more professional services such as food intolerance checks, heart checks (eg. Cholesterol, BP, diabetes, haemoglobin checks) as well as our great results focused nutrition advice.

Leading our new enhanced service is nutritionist Caroline Masters Nutritional Therapist (specialising in weight loss & nutrition advice)


Call 0449334591 to Book your initial Consultation for our expanded Nutrition Clinic


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