10 surprising facts about calories you need to know

Recently I asked my Facebook community  “What’s the first thing that pops into your head when you hear the word… CALORIES

There were some scary and emotional answers..

  • Fat
  • Counting
  • 1200
  • 🙁
  • Yuck
  • Uuuggghhh




I knew right then that I had to do this post to breakdown the facts. Let’s take some of the negative emotions away from the topic.

10 surprising facts you need to know about calories


1 . Calories are NOT the enemy, not evil and not out to get you.

The term “calories” is a unit of measure. It measures the amount of energy contained in the foods and drinks we consume. It also measures the amount of energy that we burn up each day.

Calories are contained in all most foods and drinks. (Water contains no calories)

Healthy foods, not so healthy foods, sauces, vegetables, fruits, oils, flavourings, milk in your coffee, alcohol, broken biscuits, food eaten off other peoples plates, food (or drinks) consumed when no one is watching. (I’ve heard all the stories)

Viewing calories (or food) as evil makes about as much sense as viewing the fuel you put into your car as evil.   Granted, we don’t want to put in more calories than we use up, but we need calories to fuel our body. We need calories to live.

Whilst you view calories as the enemy, you will never have a healthy relationship with food or your body. 


2.  The amount of calories (quantity) tells half the story.

The nutrients contained in our food and drinks (quality), tell us the other half of the story.

There seems to be 2 different camps.

  • 1) Calorie counters, Weight Watchers etc. are mostly about quantity and can sometimes ignore the fact that the nutrient content is just as important .
  • 2) The clean eaters, paleo, low carbers are all about quality and can sometimes be in denial that quantity matters too.

This is a huge generalisation of course, but its important to note that both quantity and quality of calories are important. Most of this blog post will touch on quantity of calories.

As a rough guide and to keep it simple, I recommend to take notice of how full you feel after a meal / snack.

Example – 500 calories of rice crackers (low quality) wont keep you anywhere near as full as 500 calories of a large serve of chicken, rice and vegetables (high quality) even though they contain the same amount (quantity) of calories.

We discuss this in much more detail in my coaching program.


3. Weight loss or weight gain is a result of calorie balance


  • Burn 2500 calories – Consume 1800 calories (calorie deficit) = weight loss.  – *Even if eating junk food
  • Burn 2500 calories – Consume 3000 calories (calorie surplus) = weight gain – *Even if eating healthy food
  • Burn 2500 calories – Consume 2500 calories (calorie balance) = weight stable

7000 calorie deficit = 1kg weight loss (approx.)

No wonder its so bloody hard to lose weight !!

** See also – How to lose 1kg per week. A step by step guide


4.  We are burning calories all day long

Sally (small female) burns approx. 1000 – 1200 calories each day simply to stay alive. This is commonly known as our Base Metabolic Rate – BMR.

**Imagine if Sally was hooked up to a hospital bed and couldn’t move. She would burn up to 1200 calories just to breathe and keep her heart and organs functioning.

Sally’s BMR = 1200

Sally burns extra calories when she moves around throughout her 16 waking hours each day.

Extra calories burnt via daily movement = 450

(More daily movement = more extra calories burnt and vice versa)

Sally burns even more calories when she moves with intensity (exercise). We have limited time available for exercise. Approx. 3 – 7  hours per week. (Exercise is such a small piece of the fat loss equation)

Extra calories burnt via exercise = 400

Sally burns a small amount more calories to digest her food and to regulate her body temperature each day. Its a small amount, but worth noting.

Sally’s extra calorie burn (other) = 150

Sally’s TOTAL daily calorie burn = 2200

See lesson  – How many calories do I burn each day?


5. Calorie counting ???

Let me tell you a little secret…  The amount of calories we count both IN and OUT is an estimate at best.

  • The amount of calories that are contained in our foods and drinks (Calories IN) = estimation.
  • The amount of calories we burn up (Calories out) as measured step trackers, heart rate monitors, cardio gym equipment, calorie calculators = estimation

It is so important to acknowledge this. Strictly counting every single calorie out and in can drive you crazy and its not even totally accurate.

I do however believe in becoming calorie AWARE (not obsessively counting).


6.  You probably don’t need to go as low as 1200

1200 calorie diets are commonly thought of as the weight loss magic number. (Which drives me nuts to be honest)

How did this theory start?

As you learnt in fact number 4.  A small female burns approx. 1000 -1200 cals just to stay alive. Heart beating, organs functioning etd. (not moving, not exercising).  BUT.. Just because you can go as low as 1200, doesn’t mean you should and it doesn’t mean you need to.

** Us humans love an all or nothing mentality don’t we?

If you burn 2500 calories per day and you consume 2000 calories per day, you are creating a calorie deficit and weight loss will happen. (example only)

The amount of calories you burn each day differs greatly from person to person depending on height, weight, age, health and the amount of activity you do each day.


7. Kilojoules

Australians labels and guidelines use kilojoules, not calories.   I should get with the program.  I am old school. (Sorry, not sorry)

1 calorie = 4.2 kilojoules.


8. 8700.com.au

You may have heard of an Australian Government initiative  –  8700.com.au.

In my humble opinion this campaign does more to confuse than to help.  It implies that us Aussies should consume 8700 kilojoules per day. (2070 calories per day)

This is like saying all cars need 80 litres of fuel per week.


  • What about the size of the car / person?
  • What about how many km’s it drives / how much daily activity?
  • What about the size of the engine / how much muscle?
  • What about if the engine needs repair / illness, stress, hormones?
  • What about if its a racing car and the engine gets revved a lot / exercise ?



9. It takes a long time to burn OFF extra calories. It takes minutes to consume extra calories.

It doesn’t seem fair does it? But I guess it is a system that has kept us humans alive for 1000’s of years in times of famine etc.

Case in point – THIS brilliant and funny video showing a treadmill vs pizza.


10. Us humans are terrible estimators at calories IN and OUT

A recent study asked a group of people to workout (hard) for 1 hour and asked them to estimate how many calories they had burnt. The same group of people were then taken to an all you can eat buffet with the instruction to eat back the same estimated calories that they thought they burnt during the workout.

Guess what happened?

They consumed more than 3 times the amount they burnt.

This is really normal and common human behaviour and happens to us all. Myself included.

Accidental weight loss

Just like most people gain weight (calorie surplus) without ever counting or knowing anything about calories, the same is true for most people who lose weight. They accidentally achieve a calorie deficit by following a routine that they enjoy and can sustain long term.

I think this is great.  Sometimes focussing too much on calories is like trying to NOT think about a Pink Elephant. We can drive ourselves crazy with it all.

However a little awareness and knowledge goes a long way.

Personal note from Chriss.

I seem to get a lot of pushback when I mention to a client to become calorie aware and check some (not all) calorie contents before choosing a food or drink..

“Its obsessive”
“It takes all the enjoyment out”
“It will give me an eating disorder”
“It stresses me”

All of those thing can happen… IF you choose to associate those feelings and thoughts with calories and food.  There is no need to think that way of course. 

I would love it if you could have the same emotional response when checking a food label as you do when checking the price of an item before you decide to buy it.

Lets say a lipstick for example.. (as I just bought myself a new one yesterday)

Ask yourself…
* How much you love it?
* Can you afford it?
* Is there a another option at a better price?
* How much use will you get out of it? (how full will it keep you)

Simple objective questions.
Lets take some of the negative emotion out.


Want more help achieving your health and weight goals?

I would LOVE to help you.