The Truth about Calories...

One of the questions I hear often is: “how many calories should I consume per day?” It’s tough for me to answer that question. Not because I don’t know what it should be, but rather because I don’t agree with the concept of calorie counting.

I spent years living on a calorie restricted diet; I was probably consuming less than 1000 a day; so about 200 less than needed, if not more, since I was very active at the gym. Yet, my weight would not shift; if anything I was gaining more and becoming frustrated for it.

In order to eat less, I was regularly drinking Coke Zero, thinking that, because it had no calories, I would not put on weight. I would then not eat for a whole day and then crave starches and sugar in the evening. I resisted the urge quite a few times; but I succumbed to it eventually and binged at least once a week.

So what is it about calories that I don’t particularly like? The main point for me is the fact that once you start counting and you set a limit, you feel restricted, and as anyone who has tried a diet knows, restrictions lead to failure. Opportunities and intelligence, however, leads to success.

I realized that all the money spent on low calorie products or weight management products was not only affecting the number on the scale negatively, but also my health.

The truth about calories is that, their source will dictate how our body will react and whether or not we will metabolize them correctly. The biochemical reactions within our system are extremely complex; hence not every calorie will be the same.

Here are a few points that always come up in conversations about calories and weight loss:

1. What is a calorie?
A calorie is the energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water through 1 °C. Calories are not really tangible though, so that is probably one of the reasons why we get it so wrong.

2. Are all calories the same?
Not all calories are the same; calories associated with a pack of crisps are not the same as those from 1 kg of kale, for example. When you eat kale, it is not just about the calories, but the way we metabolize them. Crisps come with trans-fats, high levels of sodium, added sugar and chemicals, which cause havoc in the body. Kale comes with a vast array of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and fiber, which give the body what it needs to stay healthy. Kale will not impact glucose and insulin levels in the bloodstream and you would need to eat a lot more kale than you could possible manage to get the same amount of calories found in a packet of crisps.

3. Can you lose weight if you simply cut calories?
As above, not essentially true. Studies show that people who go on calories restricted diets, struggle with their weight more than people who don’t count them at all. Eat real and wholesome foods and stay away from junk.

4. Are low calorie products healthy?
Just as we faced the “fat-free” craze that made people fatter, we are seeing the same issue with “low calories” food making people eat the wrong things. Eating low calories does absolutely not mean weight loss or health. As per my previous example, I used to drink Coke Zero. It was supposedly sugar free and zero calories. But those sodas made me fat. I recently spotted an ad for chocolate candy that “only” contains 180 calories and the ladies in it were ecstatic about that! But what about the sugar and chemicals in them?

5. Can a low calorie diet extend your life

When we speak about low calories in this context, we are referring to the quality of the calories. If your calories (at least 90%) come from natural foods, such as vegetables, natural forms of protein, wholesome grains and healthy fats, then your calories will be of good quality and a lot less than what most people eat; you will have a nutrients rich diet and feel completely nourished and satiated; which means you will not overeat, hence by definition, will have relatively “low” calories diet.

From personal experience the truth is that: if you eat a diet filled with nutritious food and stay away from processed junk, you will inevitably ingest the sort of calories your body needs to do its work. The body uses a huge amount of them digesting, repairing and building tissues and organs, so we do actually need and use quite a lot of energy.

Beyond calories, we have to really consider how our body reacts to what we eat. If what we eat is far from what nature indented, no matter how low the calories are, then we will face harsh consequences with our health. Things like diabetes, obesity, hormonal imbalance and even cancer will take place and they are not calorie dependent.

If you are a person who counts calories at each meal, may I suggest you take a break for a week? Choose a majority plant based diet, wholesome grains and lean protein, and stay away from anything that comes into a pack and has a very distant expiration date.

Eat that way for a week and see how you feel. You will be the best judge of this theory and will be able to really see that not counting calories, but eating the right kind, will help you reach your goals. Bonus? You will eat without anxiety or having consumed too many calories “today”.

Thank you Chantal for sharing! Chantal is a Certified Holistic Health Coach, Author and founder of Live Lean Health and Live Lean TV. She graduated from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in NYC, and as yoga teacher from Aditya Yoga School.Image by WeHeartIt

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