Calories Versus Food Quality
You may now be wondering about how many calories you should eat, or whether you should be counting calories. Well, I don’t believe in calorie counting, especially for the average person who is trying to lose weight.
Here’s why: Calorie counting does not differentiate between healthy food and unhealthy food. It’s just a numbers game. Let’s say you are supposed to consume 2,000 calories per day in order to maintain a healthy body weight. Do you really think you will be healthy and maintain that healthy weight in the long-term if you eat 2,000 calories of sugary, carbohydrate-rich foods instead of 2,000 calories of nutrient-rich fruits, vegetables and complete protein each day?
Maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle involves many factors besides numbers of calories.Consider the case of someone who starves himself or herself throughout the day in order to have a high-sugar, high-calorie latte and pastry in the afternoon. This clearly is not the road to all-day energy and well-being. Yet this is the type of behavior that continually stems from calorie-counting diets. The time and energy you waste on counting calories can (and I argue, should) be invested into something more productive in your life.
Although I do not advocate calorie counting, it is still important for you to understand how calories relate to fad diet programs and weight loss. An understanding of calories can be a useful tool; herein we will discuss how this can best be used in your quest for health and weight loss.
Calories are units of energy. More specifically, a calorie is the amount of energy (in the form of heat) it takes to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit).
When is a Calorie not a Calorie?
However, the calories listed on food packages are technically measured in kilocalories or kcal (1000 calories = one kilocalorie). When we discuss the calories of foods, it is an understood convention that “calories” refers to kcals. For this reason kcals can also sometimes referred to as “food calories” or “dietary calories.”
It definitely looks better to the consumer to see that he or she is consuming 100 calories (actually 100 kcal) instead of 100,000 calories. Isn’t it interesting to learn how we are duped right from the beginning when it comes to defining calories? But for the sake of simplicity, I will stick to the conventional use of caloric measures used on food labels today and refer to one kilocalorie in layman’s terms as one “calorie.”
Energy In versus Energy Out: The First Law of Thermodynamics
The number of calories in a food is a measure of how much potential energy that food possesses. A gram of carbohydrates contains four calories of energy, a gram of protein contains four calories, and a gram of fat contains nine calories.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Today’s fad diets are primarily based on the first law of thermodynamics,which states that energy can be changed from one form to another, but cannot be created or destroyed. In scientific terms, this means that the change in the internal energy of a system is equal to the amount of heat (energy) supplied to the system, minus the amount of work performed (also in terms of energy) by the system on its surroundings.
The first law of thermodynamics, when applied to weight gain or loss, is expressed as calories in versus calories out: that is, energy you eat versus energy you expend in everyday activities and in just keeping your bodily systems alive and functioning all day and night. This principle means that if you consume more calories (energy) than you expend, you will gain weight. This is because unused calories will be stored, typically as fat tissue.
Conversely, if you use more energy than you consume in calories in a given time period, you will lose weight. This is because your body will make up for your caloric (energy) shortfall by retrieving stored forms of energy in your fat tissues. This, in theory, is what is responsible for decreasing your dress size. But let’s examine why this may not work out so precisely in practice.
Theoretical Accuracy in Caloric Measures
One pound of body fat contains roughly 3,500 calories of energy. Let’s say you consumed 25 calories more than you expended, every day, for one year. According to the first law of thermodynamics, you would gain a little over 2.6 pounds of body fat annually (25 calories per day, times 365 days in a year, divided by the 3,500 calories in a pound of fat equals 2.6 pounds of body fat).
So how much is 25 additional calories in your diet? Here are some of the items that contain 25 calories: less than half an apple, a small bite of a cookie, a bite of a banana, or one raw tomato. So, according to the “calories in versus calories out” theory you will gain 2.6 pounds of fat in one year if you have a small bite of a cookie or eat one tomato beyond your required daily calorie intake.
I don’t know about you, but to me this just doesn’t add up so precisely in the practical, real world we live in. Why?
Our bodies (and not hypothetical calorie counts) are the final determiner on how these units of energy are used or broken down. Everyone has a different metabolic rate (the efficiency by which food is broken down for energy). Outside of having access to complex equipment in a physiology research lab, you cannot know your resting metabolic rate with 100 percent accuracy. The calories your body “should” use in one day – as listed in diet books and internet sites – can only ever be an estimation, typically based on your age and gender. There is no real-world way to know the true, exact amount of daily calories your body requires. As with all physiological traits, everyone is very different in this regard.
Acknowledged Errors in Physiological Measurements
The measurement of human function and physiological processes (such as your exact temperature or metabolic rate) is limited by numerous practical and theoretical factors. As does your body temperature, your metabolic rate can fluctuate quite a bit based on lifestyle and environmental factors.
Even top scientists with complex lab equipment have to make certain theoretical assumptions (which may or may not be accurate) to measure biological markers. This produces known sources and ranges of error in any scientific measurement of human physiology.
Key Concept: Mass-produced charts about physiological targets such as caloric intake or maximum heart rates – while good estimations – can never be 100 percent accurate when it comes to the unique nuances of how your body works. When it comes to calories, worry about quality before quantity.
How does this apply to your weight loss? Although resting metabolic rate charts exist for different ages, weight and gender groups, no chart can tell you the precise metabolic rate that exists in your unique body in your unique circumstances. In short, there is no way to know the exact “magic number” of calories you “should” eat every day for absolute energy balance. The best you can do is come to a pretty good estimate – but that’s as close as you can get. This means the “calories in versus calories out” equation, while helpful as a general guideline, is not something to be religiously followed as the only answer to your weight loss equation.
Calorie counting, in real life and outside of a research lab, is far from an exact science. Our bodies, when fed natural healthy foods, will determine “energy in versus energy out” regulation through various chemical processes. I don’t eat the same amount of calories every day and my weight is almost always within 0.5 percent of its normal range. This is primarily due to consistency in my diet and exercise habits: I eat healthy, natural foods when I’m actually hungry. There are no gimmicks and no tricks on the road to health!
Different Bodies, Different Reactions
Remember, no two bodies react in the same way to eating the same amount of calories. Hormones and enzymes also control how much fat we store – it’s not just about the calories. Plus, refined carbohydrates are the main catalyst behind the fat-storage process.
How can we know that fat storage is hormonally-controlled? Consider the contrast between the body shapes of men versus women. If the “calories in versus calories out” dogma was absolutely true and independent of any other factors, then the body shapes of both men and women would be almost identical! Yet men mainly store fat around their waists, and women mainly store fat around their hips, rear, and thighs. This indicates that it is not only the quantity of calories consumed that controls fat storage, but also confirms it is hormones and metabolism that mainly control where and how much fat storage will occur.
Drastically cutting calories rarely leads to a healthier and leaner body. The body responds to large caloric deficiencies (when you “burn” more energy than you consume) by reducing the release and production of fat-burning enzymes. At the same time, your body increases its release of fat-storing enzymes. Once this happens, your body alters its hormonal output to slow your metabolic rate because it essentially thinks it is starving when faced with extreme calorie restrictions.
It is therefore a dieter’s mistake to continue to eat nutrient-empty processed foods and solely focus on reducing the overall number of calories consumed. Instead, he or she should concentrate on consuming nutrient-dense, natural foods until comfortably satisfied. If you consume a nutritionally deficient diet and then cut calories (quantity) instead of improving the quality of foods you eat, you will only become even more nutrient deficient, and your body’s intuitive suspicion that it is starving will become fact!
Key Concept: The longer you eat insufficient calories, the slower your metabolism becomes, and more sluggish and unhealthy you feel. This is why starvation diets never work in the long term. You must eat well to be well!
Caloric Quality versus Quantity
One thing is clear when it comes to calories: Natural foods almost always have far fewer calories than highly processed foods of equal (or more likely, of inferior) nutritional value. For example, one serving of Nacho Cheese Doritos (which is merely one ounce of chips) contains 140 calories. You would have to consume almost a pound of raw carrots in order to consume this amount of total calories.
Persons eating a 2,000 calorie per day diet would only have to eat 11 ounces of Doritos to meet their calorie-quota, but they could have eaten 8 pounds of carrots in order to receive the same caloric result. Plus, I’m fairly confident there is no argument anywhere that says Doritos are nutritionally superior to carrots. Quality over quantity is key.
Moreover, why consume your thoughts with calories every second of the day? “How many calories have I eaten today?” “How many more calories do I have left to eat today?” “Oops, I exceeded my calories for the day and it’s not even 4 pm… I guess I won’t eat tonight!”
I know of these thoughts first hand because I’ve been a victim of the calorie theory.
Key Concept: Counting calories is tiresome and time-consuming. Instead, worry about the quality of your food, and invest the rest of your time in something much more enjoyable.
The good news is that you will not be counting calories on this program! I have included a chart of different physical activities and their related caloric expenditures at the end of this program. Remember this is not for calorie counting, but to use as a tool to see how activities relate to energy output.
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