If you're trying to lose weight, then taking the time to learn about how calories affect weight loss can be very helpful to you in achieving your goal. It seems that there is a new diet plan every day, and a new website every minute trying to sell weight loss books and plans. In doing so, these sources of information often give conflicting and confusing information. So, let's take a look at what calories are, and why we gain and lose weight.

What Is a Calorie?

A calorie is nothing more than a measurement of energy. Humans, like all other animals, need energy to move and function. We receive this energy from the calories that we get through the foods that we eat, and the beverages that we drink. The most important thing to know is that calories aren't bad for you, and that they are necessary for you to survive.

If calories aren't bad, then why do you need to restrict them to lose weight? Well, much like just about anything in life, too much of something is usually not good for you. You have to remember that having food readily available to us is a relatively new thing for people. When food was scarce, our ancestors would eat as much as they could when they could. Our bodies learned to take any excess calories, and store them as body fat. Even though this isn't necessary for most of us today, our bodies aren't going to stop doing this any time soon just because we want to look good on the beach. So, we need to accommodate our bodies, and watch our caloric intake.

Good vs Bad Sources of Calories

The three sources of calories that we consume are carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Carbohydrates and proteins each have 4 calories per gram, while fats have 9 calories per gram. Over the years people have received a ton of confusing information from various diet plans as to what to eat, and what to avoid. Basically, you don't want to completely avoid any of these nutrients because they are all essential to having a healthy body.

We've heard of the diets that say to avoid carbohydrates, and focus on eating only proteins and fats. The thought behind these diets is that the body will go into a state of ketosis, and burn body fat instead of carbohydrates that we consume. The reality of this notion is that there are many negative side effects, such as kidney failure and possibly cancer, that far outweigh the benefits of losing a few pounds.

Fat calories are more than twice as dense as protein and carbohydrate calories, so the amount of calories from fat should be restricted if you hope to lose a couple of pounds. This doesn't mean that fats should be completely cut out of a diet. Just keep in mind that 100 grams of fat equals 900 calories, whereas 100 grams of carbohydrates or proteins would equal 400 calories.

Our muscles are made of protein, so an adequate amount of it is necessary to a proper diet. Many suggest that the correct amount of protein to consume in a day is around .7 to 1 gram per pound of lean body mass. I believe that the lower end of the spectrum (.7) is more than enough to supply the needs of most healthy adults. Also, too much protein can be as bad for you as no carbohydrates.

The Best Diet for Weight Loss

So, now that we know what a calorie is, and what nutrients we obtain our calories from, what is the best diet? Basically, the most efficient diet is one that is well balanced. This means that you need to consume just below enough carbohydrates, proteins, and fats to fulfill your daily energy needs. By having a slight caloric deficiency your body will use the energy stores (fat) that you already have.

For example, if your body needs 2500 calories a day to maintain itself, then try cutting back to 2000 calories. As long as you have a portion of carbohydrates, a portion of proteins, and enough fats for each meal to remain healthy, your body should begin taking calories from your fat stores.

Generally speaking you want to have a portion of carbohydrates, a portion of vegetables, and a portion of proteins for a balanced meal. Your fats will usually be included in your protein source, so you will not have to seek these out. A recommended portion size is about the size of your clenched fist.

Calories and Weight Loss Conclusion

Ultimately, losing fat takes time. I wish that I could tell you that you can lose 30 pounds and have the coveted six pack in 3 weeks, but it probably isn't going to happen. And if you do lose that much that quickly, it isn't healthy, and can be dangerous. Don't try to rush it, because all that will happen is you will probably become weaker, and still have that stubborn fat that refuses to go away.

Be warned that cutting calories too much will lead your body to go into starvation mode, and muscle will be used for energy instead of fat. It's a delicate line, and you need to stay healthy above everything else.

And one final note. Exercise is important for any diet to be successful. If you burn 500 calories while exercising, you can still eat 2500 calories worth of food a day and still lose weight. You don't have to be a muscle-head, but you should definitely strive to be active.