Why Calories Don't Really Matter

 

Many still believe that losing weight is simply about reducing calories eaten, and increasing calories used (exercise). In fact in Canada, restaurants are now required to list total calories of items on their menus. While many applaud this move, I worry it enforces the old belief that all calories are equal.

 

If our bodies are simply a math equation based on physics and thermodynamics, why does the weight and obesity crisis continue to get worse? It is estimated that 99% percent of the “Calories In vs Calories Out” model diets FAIL.

 

Do you know that there is no system or receptors in the body that can count or even recognize calories in food? That’s correct – our bodies are not measuring our calories. So why are we?

 To refresh memories, the thermodynamic model refers to the theory that if your “Calories In” is less than your “Calories Out” (basal metabolism - the energy it takes run our organs, generate heat, etc.  - and your energy output during the day - exercising) you will lose weight. If “Calories In” exceeds your “Calories Out”, you will gain weight. This calculation sees 2 paths where ingested calories can go. Either burned for fuel or shunted into fat storage.

 

But that isn’t the way the body works. Every single process in our body is highly regulated. The piece missing in the calorie calculation is that fat can go in and out of storage and the thing that controls this decision is the hormone INSULIN.

 Insulin’s role is to take the energy from food we just ate and aren’t using and store it as either glycogen or fat.

 

As we eat, insulin goes up. Some foods raise insulin a lot and others not so much, and this doesn’t have anything to do with calories. It has to do with the hormonal response our body is having to the food we just ate.

100 calories of broccoli, or an apple, will affect insulin levels far differently than 100 calories of Coke, or even whole wheat bread. 

 When we stop eating, insulin begins to fall, and it’s the first sign to the body to stop storing food energy. As we continue to go without food, for example during the night while we are sleeping, our bodies move energy back from storage to power our metabolism.

 

It’s not the amount of calories we need to control to lose weight, it’s the kind of foods we choose in order to lower our insulin levels which will release stored fuel and result in weight loss in the form of fat. 

 The Standard American Diet of processed foods, sugar, refined flours, and snacking, has resulted in us being excellent sugar burning machines. This results in chronically high insulin levels, which tell the body to store fat, or at the very least, not to burn it. It is like we have an I.V. of glucose strapped to our arms all day long, keeping our insulin levels high.

 Our bodies are complex amazing systems! Simplifying our food intake into a math equation is not only outdated, it disempowers us from creating the level of health we want. Beginning to understand the effects of different foods in and on our bodies, can shift how we look at calories, food, and weight.

 

 In the next few weeks I will talk about this more and delve deeper, so that you can work with your body’s physiology, not against it to optimize your health, and find a way of eating that is right for you.  And of course, all in a way that encourages a healthy relationship with food and your body :)