Every day, millions of people put a great deal of effort into regulating what they eat. In order to shed excess body fat, many of them studiously record the calorie count of every morsel that passes between their lips. This is time-consuming hard work, but it is viewed as an essential requirement in order to stay on the right side of the calories-in/calories-out the equation.
But is it really?
In this article, we’ll discover the truth about calorie counting to lose weight. Well find out whether you need to be doing it and, if not, what you should be doing instead to get rid of that unwanted body fat.
What is a Calorie?
Most people know about as much about calories as they do about the carburetor in their vehicle. The word is familiar to them and they have some vague notion that it helps their engine perform better, but start getting to specifics and they hit a brick wall. If you have any intention of changing the way your body looks, however, you have simply got to get schooled up on calories.
You need to know exactly what calories are, how they’re stored in your body and how to make sure that you’re getting the right kind of calorie to optimally fuel your body. In short, you need to get calorie smart and you need to do it quick.
A food calorie is the amount of heat needed to increase one kilogram of water one degree Celsius. From this, we see that a calorie is no more and no less than a measure of heat energy. This energy is released by food when it is consumed. So, foods with more calories will release more energy when they are digested. We also use the word calorie to refer to how much energy is stored in the body as a result of the foods we eat. That’s why the display panel on your exercycle calculates the number of calories that you are burning off by working out.
The excess calories that we consume and don’t utilize are stored as fat, much the same way as the money we bank and don’t use increases our bank balance. One pound of fat contains 3,500 calories.
The energy from food comes from three sources. These are the macronutrients protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Scientists used a measurement called the Atwater system to calculate how many calories are contained in each of these macronutrients as follows:
Protein = 4 calories per gram
Carbohydrates = 4 calories per gram
Fat = 9 calories per gram
The only other compound that provides calories to the body is alcohol which delivers 7 calories per gram.
The Calorie Balance Equation
According to the law of energy balance, calories in and calories out are a key determiner of our body weight. The law states . . .
If you wish to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you eat.
The converse, of course, is also assumed to be true. To gain muscular bodyweight you need to consume more calories than you burn. From a mathematical standpoint, this seems to make perfect sense. Put in more energy than you use up and the leftover will remain in your system as stored energy.
However, millions of people have been counting calories for years to make sure they stay in negative calorie balance – only to keep getting fatter!
Something’s not adding up here.
Calorie Type Counts
There is no doubt that the total number of calories that you consume plays a part in how much you weigh. But it doesn’t play the main part. It turns out that the type of calorie that you consume is more important than the number of calories that it contains. That’s because not all calories are equal. Consider the macronutrients . . .
Proteins are large, complicated substances. They are made up of smaller units called amino acids. The body can break down proteins and then reuse the amino acids, stringing them together like beads on a necklace in many different ways, to make new proteins. The body can make some amino acids, but not all. The ones it can’t produce are essential for health, so it’s important that you take in plenty of calories in the form of lean protein in your food and drink.
Protein is an extremely satiating macronutrient. It makes you feel fuller for longer so that you are less prone to snack throughout the day.
Carbohydrates are your body’s preferred energy source. The two main carbohydrate types are starches and sugars. Starches and sugars are chemically related. Sugars are referred to as simple carbs because they come in small units and release energy into the bloodstream very quickly and give you an energy rush. Starches, or complex carbohydrates, contain fiber and, unlike simple carbs, provide a steady flow of energy over a sustained period of time. In addition, they allow you to feel fuller and are more nutrient rich.
Grains, starchy vegetables, and fibrous vegetables are all complex carbohydrates. Starchy carbs come from such plant sources as potatoes, cereals, bread, rice, and pasta. The fiber found in complex carbs acts as your body’s natural cleanser and protects against gastrointestinal disease and colon cancer. Fibrous carbs are also a great fat loss aid.
The key health difference between types of carbs comes down to whether the food is natural or refined. If it came out of the ground or off a tree or from a plant, then you can rest assured that it’s a worthwhile energy source. The more touched by humans, however, the less beneficial a carb will be. Worst of the worst is refined sugar product. Reducing your intake of refined sugar will see immediate overall health benefits.
When you consume processed carbs, they are quickly converted into sugar in the body which causes an immediate spike in insulin levels. Insulin is a fat storage hormone that directs your cells to pull in calories from the bloodstream. This makes you feel hungry, even though you have just eaten. As a result, you’ll crave more processed carbs. This sets up a cycle of eating, feeling hungry and refeeding that is the underlying reason that most people are overweight.
Fats, like carbohydrates, are excellent energy providers. A gram of fat contains 9 calories, whereas one gram of carbohydrate provides only 4 calories (proteins also contain 4 calories). There are three main types of fat:
- Unsaturated Fats: These fats are mainly found in fish and some plant products. Some contain the essential fatty acids Omega-3, which is vital for good health.
- Saturated Fats: These fats are found in animal products such as meat, lard, butter, cheese, and cream. Eating large amounts of this type of fat can cause diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
- Trans fats: These fats are found in some margarine and processed foods. Although trans fats extend the life of foods, many experts believe they are unhealthy.
Because they contain more than twice as many calories as proteins and carbohydrates, many calorie counters cut way back on their fat content. However, healthy fats have been shown to be an ally in the fight to defeat body fat. Unlike processed carbs, fats will not cause a spike in insulin levels.
Studies have shown that people who follow a diet high in healthy fats, such as the Mediterranean Diet, lose more weight, and keep it off, than those on low fat, high carb diet.
Is Calorie Counting Counter-Productive?
Oftentimes, people count calories in order to keep to a reduced daily caloric total. However, when we reduce our caloric balance, the body reacts in order to preserve energy. The main way it does this is by reducing the metabolism. Over time this will result in weight gain, even though there may be some immediate weight loss.
A study, published in the Journal of Obesity in 2016, followed 14 contestants from the TV show The Biggest Loser for six years after their appearance on the show. Only one of the contestants, who had lost an average of one hundred pounds each, was able to keep the weight off. Researchers found that the contestant’s metabolisms had slowed quite dramatically. As a result, they were burning 600 fewer calories per day compared to other adults of the same weight. All contestants also had very low levels of the hunger-regulating hormone leptin.
Be Calorie Aware
While calorie counting is not necessary for successful weight loss, we still need to be calorie aware. After all, eating too much of anything will put weight on your body. So, it doesn’t matter how healthy a food is, if you overindulge in it, you will put on weight, mainly in the form of fat. Even an excessive amount of protein will be stored as fat if it is in excess of the body’s requirements.
Often people choose the right foods in the correct ratios and eat them at the right times, yet they still see their scale weight creeping up. The reason is simply that they are eating too much. The Western diet is way too calories dense. Our portion sizes are exorbitant. In fact, the size of the average American dinner plate has virtually doubled in the past 50 years. By slowing down, noticing how full your stomach feels and not stuffing yourself you’ll, not only be able to enjoy your food much more, you’ll be doing your cardiovascular system a huge favor.
Calorie Counting Conclusion
Counting every calorie is not necessary to win the weight loss battle. That’s because not all calories are created equal. In order to optimally fuel your body, make sure that the calories that go down your throat primarily consist of complex carbs, lean proteins, and unsaturated fats. Slow down, enjoy your food and stop when you feel full. Do this consistently and you will lose weight.