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For most of our lives we have been told that the key to losing or maintaining our weight is to monitor calories in vs. calories out. As long as we are in a calorie deficit, then we will lose weight. As long as the calories we eat matches the calories we burn, we will stay the same.
In addition, we are told that we can exercise to burn additional calories and therefore put ourselves in a calorie deficit. This causes us to count calories and do mental math all day every day and yet we still don’t lose weight.
The problem is that this kind of calorie in vs. calorie out thinking is flawed. It’s not as simple as a math equation to determine whether we should eat something or not. The real keys to losing weight are much more involved.
What is a Calorie?
According to Wikipedia, a Calorie is defined as the heat energy required to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius.
Originally, a bomb calorimeter was used to determine the energy content of food by burning a sample and measuring a temperature change in the surrounding water.
Today this method has been replaced in the US by calculating the energy content indirectly from adding up the energy provided by energy-containing nutrients of food (such as protein, carbohydrates and fats). The fiber content is subtracted to account for the fact fiber is not digested by the body.
The idea of a calorie was invented by scientists in the 1800’s. Already that should tell you that there have been many scientific developments since that time and this idea of how the body burns calories may be flawed.
While today we aren’t burning food in the middle of water and then testing the temperature of the water, the number of calories associated with each macro-nutrient is based on this method.
The thing is, there isn’t some pilot light in our bodies sitting there burning calories all day. Our bodies use different calories in different ways and for different functions. Plus, each body is different, and so the way I burn food may be different from the way that you do.
This whole system doesn’t take into account what our bodies are able to digest, what we don’t process, what we use, and what we don’t use. We are each unique and therefore what our bodies do with the food that we eat is also unique.
Plus, there is a common sense side to this that we seem to ignore. When we think about it, we know that 100 calories of cookies and 100 calories of greens aren’t used by our bodies in the same way. Nor is a McDonald’s burger the same as a grass fed, grass finished burger with lettuce and tomato on an artisan bun.
Therefore, it doesn’t make sense to just be counting calories to determine whether or not we should eat something. There is a lot more to nutrition than just calorie counts.
Now don’t get me wrong, there is a place for calories in our view of our health and wellness, it just shouldn’t be the most important factor to consider.
If you are eating a healthy diet, low in sugar and processed foods, and you are not seeing the scale budge nor are you experiencing any other health benefits, calorie intake may be one of the things you may want to look at as well as your gut heath, and your intake of inflammatory foods.
On the other hand if you are looking to start your journey to better health, it’s better to look at the quality of the foods you are eating than to start counting calories.
In most cases, if we are eating the right healthy foods and we are listening to our bodies, our bodies will let us know that we are satiated before we ever have to bother counting calories.
Have you ever counted calories religiously and maintained a deficit only to continue to stay the same weight? Yeah me too! I feel your pain. But there is a better way! Check out the 131 Method to see how you can live a healthy lifestyle that works for you!