Talk about a paradox: Calories are your weight-loss enemy and your weight-loss friend.

Eat too many and you’ll gain weight, too few and you won’t be able to lose weight. Find the sweet spot, and you’ll reach your weight-loss goals.

Calories are tiny units of energy (one calorie is the amount of energy it takes to raise the temperature of one liter of water by one degree). They’re found in everything humans eat, with the exception of water and diet sodas. Calories help bodies function properly. They provide energy that allows hearts to pump blood, minds to think and bodies to move.

Less Calories for Health

Yes, calories are a good thing; without them, people would cease to exist.

Where calories become confounding is where they’re involved in weight loss.

Obviously if you eat too many calories–without burning them off by exercising–you’ll gain weight. Equally as obvious is the fact that if you want to lose weight, you should cut your calorie intake. These facts are pretty obvious: eat fewer calories than you burn and you lose weight. Burn more than you eat, lose weight.

This fact is what can be frustrating: Cut your calorie consumption too much and you won’t lose weight (in fact, you might even gain weight by eating too few calories.).

Here’s why:

You need calories for two things: staying alive and physical activity. Any calories you eat over and above what you need to stay alive and move are stored as fat.

If you cut your calorie intake to a number that’s modestly below what you need to stay alive and move, you will lose weight. However, if you cut your calorie intake too much, you’re body will think it is starving and start to store every calorie you consume as fat. In a sense, you’ll go into survival mode, which means everything you digest becomes fat.

Not only that, but you’ll also begin to feel weak, meaning you won’t burn as many calories, and your blood sugar could fall, which means you won’t be thinking clearly.

So if you’re trying to lose weight, find your caloric sweet spot.