Counting Calories for Weight Loss

Are you counting calories for weight loss? If so, you are going to want to read this article!

A Calorie Isn’t Just a Calorie

Counting calories for weight loss can be a hefty task to keep up with, but there are better ways to do it that can be healthier for you! If you have tried everything and need something to help, try this!

When doing the tidy little illusion of calorie math, no. People treat calories like currency, whether you use coins, bills, or silver bars you can always come to the same total.

But still, is a calorie really a calorie, no matter the form or source? Under all conditions to all individuals at all times? We tend to think this way, but the science differs.

What Is A Calorie?

A calorie is a measure of how much energy something releases when it’s combusted in a closed system (known as a bomb calorimeter)

One calorie is the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius. The calories listed on food labels are actually kilocalories.

What does this mean for your healthy eating? Let’s break it down!

Numbers Can Lie

I’m sorry to tell you, but the calorie counting we have been come to depend on over the last 50 years are Food LabelFLAWED. If you have struggled to lose weight while trying to count calories then this might make sense.

There is a database of food items provided by the USDA, which tells how many calories are in the specified food. The scientists who perform lab analyses’ to determine the calorie content of foods recommend the public treat these numbers as estimates at best. The numbers reported are NOT EXACT measures, because they are tested in a closed system where energy cannot be created or destroyed. 

To add a food item to the database, a food manufacturer can either perform its own bomb calorimeter testing (expensive and time-consuming) or use existing ingredient data from the USDA database to extrapolate the data to their product (quick and dirty). To control the costs and make the most profit, what would you do?

When reporting final calorie counts for food labels, these values need to be within 20% of actual measures. In reality no one really checks this before a product reaches the shelves of a store. When researchers investigate commercially prepared foods, the calorie accuracy is all over the place. A more truthful name for the 100-calorie packs would be around 80- to 120-Calorie packs.

To make things worse, many free calorie-counter apps get their data from the huge USDA database and allow their users to create custom foods for other users to select from. This means your calorie count is only as accurate as some random persons interpretation or best guess of the food. Crazy!

The best thing to do to change your nutrition behavior is be aware of what you’re eating and how much you’re eating. I think it is also very important to keep a food journal of some sort to raise awareness (written, on an app, photo records, etc.).

Sadly, even if you have the best intentions by trying to track your calories accurately, your 1500-Calorie plan could really be supplying anywhere from 1200 to 1800 calories! Changing your food choices based solely on calories is NOT the best idea anyway. Let me explain.

Different Calorie Sources Produce Different Outcomes

 Meal Plan

When you eat different foods, your body actually expends different amounts of energy digesting, absorbing, and metabolizing the nutrients. It’s called the “Thermic Effect” of food. The macronutrients (e.g. carbs, fats, proteins, and alcohol) also trigger different hormonal responses. A calorie is NOT just a calorie once we eat it.

Of the main food sources (excluding alcohol), protein-rich foods have the greatest Thermic Effect, and they seem to suppress hunger better than ANY other macronutrient. 25-30% of the calories in the protein you consume are spent just digesting the protein

This means a 100 kcal (kilocalorie) amount of protein (3-4 oz) will only produce about 75 to 80 kcals for your body. Protein also tends to trigger the most helpful hunger-managing hormones, which increases satiety. Compared to the high Thermic Effect of carbohydrates (6-8%) and fats (0-3%) it seems that eating protein with every meal should be a main focus of everyone who wants to stimulate metabolism and manage hunger.

Certain types of carbohydrates (simple sugars: e.g. glucose, fructose) and refined grains are sneaky at eluding our sense of fullness. They have low Thermic Effect and are low in fiber, which decreases their Thermic Effect even further compared to high-fiber carbs like veggies, fruits, or whole grains. 

Researchers have found that unprocessed meals need nearly 50% more energy to digest and absorb than processed meals containing the same amount of calories!

Fructose is most likely the worst source of calories for us to consume. This now-abundant, super sweet, super cheap form of added sugar is known to follow much different metabolic pathways than other carbohydrates, induce altered nervous system signaling, and bypass hunger hormone responses. The amount of fructose we now consume even seems to be a main driver of the development of insulin resistance and its progression to diabetes.

The bottom line is in order to keep your metabolism up, manage your hunger, and prevent fat storage, you have to eat lots of vegetables, an ample amount of protein, and wholesome sources of starchy carbs. You also need to minimize your intake of processed grains and added sugars.

But more evidence suggests we can’t stop there! 

You Are What You Eat, Digest, and Absorb

Everyone eats food, NOT calories. We digest proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, NOT calories! We absorb nutrients and metabolize energy, NOT calories. The amount of energy absorbed and metabolized can be expressed as Calories, but that’s not what we eat, digest, and absorb.

What you absorb, and what the bacteria living in your digestive tract absorbs, can determine a lot about your weight. 

The different types of bacteria living in our colons have a great effect on how many calories we take from our food, making calorie counting useless unless you know which bacterial pattern you have.

The types of bacteria living in the gut may also play a role in preventing metabolic syndrome and diabetes. Our genes determine which strains of bacteria thrive and which struggle. This is different for everyone, but our food also plays a role. Even those with ideal bacterial balance may be subject to harmful bacterial balance shifts if exposed to high enough doses of artificial sweeteners. 

In the end, all calories are NOT created equal. There is plenty of evidence to suggest not counting calories for weight loss or making it your primary focal point in your health pursuits. Turn your attention to the QUALITY of foods you consistently choose, and everything can regulate themselves!

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