What is a calorie?

When I began my nutrition journey I felt I knew everything about calories. But in a much more real sense, I knew nothing about calories (thanks, Michael Scott).

I knew that calories count, and that I should probably count calories. I knew that too many calories often caused weight gain, and consuming a low amount of calories often caused weight loss. I knew where to find the caloric value on a nutrition label, and I knew how to add up the foods I ate in order to see how many calories I consumed.

But one day the thought hit me… what is a calorie? And why do calories really matter?

Well, the answer is pretty simple. A calorie is a unit of energy. Calories matter because we need to consume energy in order to exert energy. Our amazing bodies are able breakdown food and use their calories to keep us going (kind of like the energizer bunny)!

With that said, our bodies need different amounts of calories to meet different standards. Here are a some noteworthy acronyms that depict these categories: BMR, NEAT, EAT, TEF, and TDEE.

BMR stands for Basal Metabolic Rate, NEAT stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, EAT stands for Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, TEF stands for Thermic Effect of Food, and TDEE stands for Total Daily Energy Expenditure.

  • BMR is the amount of calories a body burns for all vital functions - heart beat, breathing, brain function, etc.

  • NEAT is the amount of calories a body burns through daily movement outside of distinct exercise, such as folding laundry, dusting, or mowing the grass.

  • EAT is the amount of calories a body burns during planned exercise, such as going to the gym, taking a workout class, going for a run, etc.

  • TEF is the amount of calories a body burns when breaking down, using, and storing the food that it has consumed (aka metabolism).

  • TDEE is the total amount of calories a body burns in a day (the sum of BMR, NEAT, EAT, and TEF).


All of the above categories are highly impacted by a person's gender, height, weight, life-style, and genetics. To calculate your personalized baseline amount, use this BMR calculator (

It can be challenging to calculate the values of NEAT, EAT, TEF and TDEE; but, thankfully with today's technology, a lot of these calculations can be automatically made with smart watches and smart phones. Nevertheless, the accuracy of these devices may not be precise, so just be mindful when using them for guidance as to how much you should calorically consume.

The approximate breakdown of our TDEE is as follows -

EAT 5%

TEF 10%

NEAT 15%

BMR 70%


I must say, when I initially discovered this breakdown I was quite surprised by the results! Here’s a few reasons why -

Firstly, only 5% of our daily caloric "allowance" comes from working out. This means what we decide to do with the rest of our day is statistically more impactful than how we "crush it" at the gym.

Secondly, NEAT is one of the most important areas to take note of - the calories we burn by doing daily tasks. Do you have a bathroom that needs scrubbing or a floor that needs sweeping? By completing these tasks you are not only cleaning your space, but you are adding value to your NEAT and TDEE! Who knew chores did more than give us a list of things to do?

Thirdly, the values above also show us that BMR is a big contributor to gaining or losing weight. In order to lose weight one must be in a caloric deficit or caloric surplus. 3,500 calories is equivalent to one pound. Therefore, to physically alter one's structure, a consistent caloric deficit or surplus must be implemented to be successful. This is why dieting often does not work - even though a dieter may be in a significant deficit for a couple of weeks, as soon as a diet is over the dieter will probably indulge in their restrictions and end up unraveling all of their hard work in just a matter of days.

What is the solution? A lifestyle change. It's not easy, and does not happen over night. But small changes partnered with consistency make the biggest and most lasting impact.

I hope as these blog posts roll out it will become easier to identify where these small changes can take place. Today I encourage you to simply calculate your BMR and focus on doing a couple of more chores - it may not seem like a lot, but these basic elements can make a BIG difference! (Also, feel free to fill out the forum or contact page if you have any questions!)

Now that we have taken a lot of time and brain power to learn about calories, how about we enjoy consuming some?? Below are some meals full of nourishing calories to help enhance your TEF ;)




  • 2 eggs

  • 2 tbsp milk of choice

  • Dash of salt

  • 1 tsp butter

  • 1 small mushroom, sliced

  • 1/2 slice of onion, diced

  • 1/8 cup cheese of choice

  • 2 tbsp diced ham

  • 1/4 avocado


  • 1/4 cup grapes

  • 1/4 cup blueberries

  • 1/2 small apple

  • 1/2 orange

  • 1/2 small banana

  • 1 strawberry


  1. In a small bowl whisk together eggs, milk, and salt

  2. Spray a small pan with nonstick spray and place on medium heat

  3. Add butter to pan

  4. Once butter is melted pour in egg mixture and cover with lid

  5. Let cook until the top is longer jiggly with liquid

  6. Flip omelette and sprinkle toppings (mushroom, onion, ham, cheese)

  7. Cover with lid and wait until cheese is melted

  8. Fold omelette in half and lightly brown both sides

  9. Add omelette to plate and top with avocado

  10. Add fruit to plate and enjoy!

Nutritional Value:

Calories 501

Total Fat 28.2g

Cholesterol 351mg

Sodium 500mg

Total Carbs 50.6g

Dietary Fiber 10.2g

Total Sugars 32.4g

Protein 17.2g

Taco Salad


Taco meat

  • 1/4 lb ground turkey meat

  • Salsa

  • Packet of taco seasoning


  • 2 cups lettuce of choice

  • 1/4 cup broccoli, chopped

  • 1/4 bell pepper, chopped

  • 5 cherry tomatoes, cut in half

  • 4 baby carrots, chopped


  • 1/4 avocado

  • 2 tbsp shredded sharp cheddar cheese

  • 2 broken up tortilla chips

  • 1 dollop of sour cream


  1. Brown the meat in a skillet on medium heat

  2. Remove excess fat (pour into a disposable cup)

  3. Add in salsa and seasoning to taste

  4. Leave on low heat

  5. In a large bowl mix together chopped lettuce, broccoli, bell pepper, tomatoes, and carrots

  6. Top salad mixture with taco meat

  7. Add avocado, cheese, tortilla chips, and sour cream

  8. Enjoy!

Nutritional Value:

Calories 561

Total Fat 18.5g

Cholesterol 125mg

Sodium 2191mg

Total Carbs 51.5g

Dietary Fiber 14.2g

Total Sugars 21.7g

Protein 53.3g

Turkey Burger



  • 1/4 pound ground turkey meat

  • Salt


  • 1/4 sliced onion

  • 3 sliced mushrooms

  • 2 leaves of lettuce (used as the bun)

  • 2 slices tomato

  • 1 tsp mayonnaise

  • 1 tsp ketchup

  • 1/2 tsp mustard

  • 1 tsp relish (or slices of pickle)


  1. Roll and pat thawed ground turkey into a patty

  2. Brown patty in a skillet on low medium heat, cover with lid

  3. Flip patty every couple minutes to cook evenly

  4. Once fat from the ground turkey starts to release, add in mushrooms and onions to sauté until caramelized

  5. Once cooked through (no pink inside), transfer turkey patty onto one leaf of lettuce

  6. Top with mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, relish, tomato, sautéed onions, sautéed mushrooms, and the other leaf of lettuce

  7. Partner with side items (baked potato and roasted vegetables pictured)

  8. Enjoy!

Nutritional Value (for entire meal pictured):

Calories 458

Total Fat 23.6g

Cholesterol 127mg

Sodium 488mg

Total Carbs 31.7g

Dietary Fiber 6.4g

Total Sugars 9.1g

Protein 37.6g

Turkey Sandwich



  • 1 slice of bread

  • 3 slices of deli Turkey meat

  • 1 leaf of lettuce

  • 2 slices of tomato

  • 1 tsp relish

  • 1 tsp mayo

  • 1/2 tsp mustard

  • 1/2 slice onion


  • 10 thin pretzels

  • 1 apple

  • 1/2 cup blueberries


  1. Toast slice of bread

  2. Cut bread in half

  3. Assemble sandwich with all sandwich ingredients

  4. Plate sandwich and partner with side items

  5. Enjoy!

(I wasn’t as hungry for lunch this day, so feel free to double the recipe to make for a more fulfilling meal!)

Nutritional Value (for entire meal pictured):

Calories 339

Total Fat 4.7g

Cholesterol 20mg

Sodium 813mg

Total Carbs 62.4g

Dietary Fiber 6.5g

Total Sugars 26.9g

Protein 13.4g


Components of Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). BMR ...

“Home.” Free Online Calculators - Math, Fitness, Finance, Science,

“Metabolism.” Metabolism - Better Health Channel,

Trexler, Eric & Smith-Ryan, Abbie & Norton, Layne. (2014). Metabolic adaptation to weight loss: Implications for the athlete. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 11. 7. 10.1186/1550-2783-11-7.

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