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About calories

About calories

What is a calorie and do I need to count them?

In simple terms, a calorie is the amount of energy in food.

Do you need to count them?, well I’m going to stick my neck out here and say NO!, not quite! I bet that’s a relief for some of you. However I’d recommend you become calorie aware by reading the quick lesson on food types below. Actually not wanting to play down the calorie part, you really do need to become calorie aware, too many calories are the biggest problem in obese people and fat lose. There are other factors, that I have also mentioned in the three areas of fat loss article which I recommend you read after this one.

Why I don’t like calorie counting: 

It’s not simply a case of calories in and calories out (unless you are obese – this part needs to be highlighted again, you must simply do everything in your power to reduce your calorific intake). The reason it is not as simple as calories in and calories out for some of us, it’s because your body uses calories from different sources in different ways for instance and in its simplest terms, calories from protein are more thermic than calories from carbohydrates, i.e. your body burns more calories digesting protein than it does carbohydrates. There’s much more to these types of processes and it will be discussed further on in this article.

One aspect of calories that people tend to have rammed down their throats is that you must consume 3500 less calories to burn a pound of body fat. While it may be true that 1lb of body fat equals 3500 calories, this is just too simplistic and to suggest that eating 500 fewer calories a day will see you lose 1lb of fat in a week is even more simplistic. There’s no mention of water loss or muscle loss in this equation. Even mild dieting plans are simply not workable for most. Remember you want to lose fat not weight and certainly not muscle. You want to keep or even build muscle and also keep your body hydrated, not losing water unnecessarily and by following a balanced and nutritionally thought out plan will help do this. People need to understand this, but most don’t and this is why restricted calorie dieting has a limited time period of workability. I’m not saying there aren’t people who haven’t  lost weight and are able to keep it off with these diets, but I can guarantee you there are many more times these people who haven’t and have actually gained more than they started with.

To add to this is that most food labels are not accurate and can be quite misleading, that goes for the internet also and even weighing food can be difficult, because you simply don’t know the water content/density of the food, making it almost impossible to be accurate to the calorie. And lastly, do you really want to weigh, measure and calculate everything that goes in your mouth?

Does the types of food we eat affect what happens to them in the body?

The short answer is yes.  The saying ‘if you consume less calories than you require then you will lose weight, consume more then you will gain weight’, isn’t 100% true, it isn’t as black and white as that. Let me explain, while it may be true that energy cannot be destroyed, therefore a calorie is a calorie and excess energy can be stored as body fat, all our digested foods are actually used, stored and processed differently. Sugary foods are more easily converted to fat when your glycogen stores are full. They also create hormonal affects that raise insulin levels, which can lead to excess body fat and type 2 diabetes. Also Some foods burn a lot of their calories when consumed and have a thermogenic effect when digested (protein) and some can even take more calories to digest than they supply (some fruit and vegetables). This is where people fall over in my opinion with calorie counting, not all calories are equal once digested. For me the best way to keep track of my food intake is to have a worked out nutrition plan that you can monitor and track, then I take my weekly weight and measurements and then adjust my food intake/portion size where necessary. It’s not rocket science, but some people like to make it difficult to understand.

For your information:
1 gram carbohydrate  = 4 calories
1 gram protein =  4 calories
1 gram fat  = 9 calories

Return to the nutrition plan main page.