The REAL Truth Behind Counting Calories

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All calories are NOT created equal.

Counting calories has been a popular weight loss method since the establishment of health & nutrition as an education curriculum, but how effective can it really be? If you think that a calorie is a calorie—and it doesn’t matter if it comes from kale or cookies, then it’s time to rethink what you think you know about calories.

The average human diet (despite the unhealthy tendencies of the American race) is meant to consist of about 2,000 calories per day, and many of those hoping to enter into the realm of rapid weight loss via counting those calories wouldn’t dare allow themselves to reach 2,001.  Sure, counting calories before your meal and subtracting them after your workout keeps you in the calorie-intake-loop, but believe it or not, that process alone isn’t going to get rid of that extra weight you’ve been hoping to cut-loose.

Counting calories is a complicated business. Fat, carbs, protein, sweets — are all calories created equal, or are some better than others?

The Break-down

According to our friend Winnie Liong, a health & wellness advocate/fitness & nutrition graduate, not all calories are bad. Calories are only considered “good” or “bad” due to their nutrient content and the long-term effect they have on the human body in regular consumption. Monitoring your caloric intake of fruits & veggies won’t have the same effect as counting calories on you cheat day full of sugary sweets & fried foods.

Tracking every scrap that goes in your mouth may give you a feeling of control over your food but it doesn’t mean you’re getting enough of the nutrients your body needs. Take for example those who eat processed, portion-controlled, “diet” microwaveable meals. (You know who you are!)

Aside from being loaded with chemicals, GMOs, allergenic and inflammatory ingredients, these crappy excuses for food don’t deliver enough protein, fiber, good fats or even volume to make you feel full, much less healthy and vibrant. The result is that you’re hungry, mentally foggy, and malnourished, possibly setting the stage for a host of health problems down the line—but you do know how many calories you ate getting there. For what that’s worth.

But in all actuality, there is no such thing as “good” or “bad” calories.. technically.

Calories from nutrient-rich foods versus nutritionally-bankrupt ones from processed or refined carbs will have different effects on the body. Healthy, nutrient-rich foods will keep hunger at bay, help maintain stable blood sugar levels, minimize cravings, and enable your brain to signal your belly that it’s full. Nutrient-poor foods will have the opposite effect, wreaking hormonal havoc, spiking insulin, setting off cravings, dulling satiety signals and encouraging overeating. In other words: nutrient dense foods help keep weight in check naturally, no calculator required.

A calorie is a unit that measures energy, generally used to measure the energy content of foods and beverages. So in order to lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories than your body burns each day. So yeah, that’s the literally association between food and the calories they contain.. but only eating 1,999 calories of cake everyday won’t get you anywhere

What really matters is the content. According to Winnie, “Calories are labeled as “good” calories when their high nutrient content contributes to weight loss and provides you with some sort of healthy benefit. For example, 200 calories from a donut compared to 200 calories from 4 slices of wheat bread is different. You’ll get hungry quickly after eating the donut compared to the 4 slices of wheat, which will keep you full longer from the higher fiber content.”

Counting calories can be misleading to say the least, which is why Winnie suggests that people focus more on portion control than anything else. “You should pay attention to how much is one serving size,” said Winnie. “This gives an estimate of how much you should be eating at once. I personally pay most attention to the grams of sugar — if added sugar is one of the top ingredients, I try to avoid the food item and find an alternative.”

If calorie counting worked long term, America would be the thinnest country in the world. We are a nation of compulsive dieters and you wouldn’t know it looking at us. Turns out, the composition of what you’re eating isn’t as dependent on how many calories you eat and how many calories you burn. And in all honestly, most of us don’t have time or energy to calculate everything that goes into our mouths.