The internet is riddled with “advice” on nutrition, weight loss, diets, healthy living and the likes. However, the one thing in common right in the centre of all this advice, some good, most not very well researched or extremely generic, is simple CALORIES. Calories burnt, calories consumed, calorie counts, calories this, calories that etc.
This internet banality on calories throws up more ill-spread myths on what a calorie is and how it can be manipulated for you to lose weight and/or maintain a healthy lifestyle than any other poorly researched subject.
A] What is a Calorie?
To be able to debunk myths about calories with any source of authority lets first step back and try to understand what a calorie is.
P.S. it is not “the fuel for the body”.
A calorie is nothing but a unit of measurement. Contrary to popular and misinformed opinions, calories do not measure weight or length. A calorie is, in fact, a unit of energy. So, if a portion of food that you are soon to consume contains 50 calories, it is just a way to quantify how much energy your body will receive from consuming that food.
Calories in Relation to Food
The Calorie count that you see on your favourite packaged foods explains the utility and the importance of calories. This calorie count is a kilocalorie or a measure of 1,000 calories. A Calorie (kcal) is the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 kilogram of water to 1 degree Celsius.
This tells us that everything to do with calories is purely and subsequently also to do with energy. Which is why reducing your calorie intake is not a sure-fire or a healthy way to lose weight.
B] Common Calorie Myths – Things You Need to Know
Good Calories Vs Bad Calories
This one should be refreshing to hear for all the healthy eating types who follow this page. There have been studies conducted at Wake Forest University and Penn State University that have now sufficiently proven that a calorie gained from eating foods like saturated fats, for example, tend to add more weight to your body than calories gained from eating unsaturated fats.
This is an incredible and path-breaking revelation as it goes a long way to prove that eating a set number of calories is not enough. What you are eating also plays a huge role in your calorie count.
For e.g., nuts are a calorie dense food that contain a high volume of unsaturated (good fat). However if eaten daily in the right manner and quantity, they can aid weight loss and not weight gain.
Further reading: Fats – The Good vs the bad
Calorie Counts are Never Wrong
Now, this is one of the biggest myths that need busting as of yesterday. A calorie count depends on so many extraneous factors where even if one unit is wrongly mentioned, the entire count can go for a toss. The person’s height, weight, food intake and many such factors all play a definitive role in reaching an accurate calorie count.
All of the above are very easy to get wrong, and an incorrect input means an inaccurate calorie count.
Did you know? Even the calorie counts of foods on food packaging are allowed a 20% variance limit as per law in most countries, which means it is almost impossible to ascertain an absolutely accurate calorie count. Think about it; if a nutrition bar is said to have 250 calories in it, the 20% leeway rule means it could contain 300 calories instead.
Further reading: How to Read Nutrition Labels
Calorie Counting Helps Lose Weight
A recent study conducted at the University of California, San Francisco explains how calorie counting backfires and indirectly makes you put on more weight than lose any. According to this study, the stress of calorie counting before every meal, spiked cortisol and stress levels amongst those who undertook the experiment.
Cortisol is a hormone that heightens appetite, spikes cravings for fatty and sugary foods, and subsequently leads to weight gain, particularly belly fat. Also, stress-induced eating is a real phenomenon, and at some stage in our lives, we have all experienced the same.
This study is just one prime example of how calorie counting and restricting can lead to the inducing of physiological as well as psychological side-effects, which can be more detrimental to the human body and your weight loss process than a few extra kilos.
Burn 3500 Calories Weekly to Lose Half a Kilo
The formula of cutting 500 calories a day to lose a pound a week seems to be the magic calculation that everyone follows. Just to put another perspective to this, 10,000 steps a day is also supposed to roughly burn close to 500 calories. However, all of these calculations are subjective once again to body types, food consumed, and other parameters which may work for some but will not work for the others.
Another more biologically relevant factor is losing muscle mass as a result of eating less to hit 500 calories for a day. Losing muscle mass leads to slowing down metabolism, which in turn makes it much harder to lose weight and also easier to gain it back. Shudder, right?
What You Could Do Instead?
If you are baffled with the information overload by now, read on to see how you can work around your calorie count while staying healthy and meeting your fitness goals.
Instead of trying to figure calorie counts on food packaging, try to consume fresh food, or food as close to its natural state as possible instead. This does not mean that all packaged foods are bad for you. Nut Butters, for example, are a dietary revelation and can only be packaged in jars. The good kinds i.e. unsweetened and unsalted, contain only one ingredient. However, sugary drinks, candies, and packaged meats are not the best for you.
Further Reading: Plant-based foods that celebrities love
Balance is the Key
Losing weight and staying fit has no magical formula. There is no secret to sustain it across the long term. The human body is fittest when you eat the right combination of “good” carbs, lean protein and healthy fats to function optimally. Drastically reducing one or inflating another will throw your body out of balance and hinder the fitness process.
Think of your body as a device or a gadget that is permanently (always) in the run mode. For this reason, nourishing it regularly and correctly is more important than stuffing it with substance just once in a day. Eating smaller meals more often will show more positive intent on your body, than consuming the same calorie count only once in the day. Go here to read more about meals portion sizes.