Why Calories Don’t Really Matter

Susan Patterson

Are you stick stuck counting calories every time you eat? Do you worry that you are eating too many calories so do your best to choose the lowest calorie foods possible? While this may seem like the right thing to do for your health, it is becoming clear that it is not actually the calories that matter but rather the nature of the calories. In other words, where is the food energy coming from and how good is it for the body.

When you shift your focus away from the actual calorie and think quality over quantity – it is a lot easier to keep track of what you’re eating. This is a big relief for many people who spend countless hours pondering over just how many calories they’re consuming.

Many people obsess over calories without even actually knowing what they are. A calorie is simply a measure of energy – like a volt is a measure of electricity and a mile a measure of distance and a pound a measure of weight. In the technical sense,  a calorie is how much energy it takes to change the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius.

A simple formula is used to to find the amount of energy you consume each day:

Daily energy needed = amount your body needs + amount your body needs to do extra things

Your body needs energy to make your heart pump, fill your lungs with air, keep you warm, grow hair and nails, digest food etc.  No matter what extra activities you do – your body needs energy to do these things first. This is what is known as the basal metabolic rate and it varies from person to person and accounts for 70 percent of your calorie burn. The rest is determined by your activity level.

Your personal metabolic rate (the rate at which you burn energy efficiently) is determined by a number of things including age, body type, stress levels, hormones, nutrition, sleep and more. In addition, this rate can vary from day-to-day.

Calories Are Not Accurate

Counting calories is often tough because it’s difficult to get an accurate measurement. This could mean that you consume way too many or way to few calories by the end of each week – this could spell disaster for your waistline over time.

Quality of Quantity

Although you may have the phrase “a calorie is just a calorie” resonating in your mind, it just isn’t true. Just like your car requires fuel, so does your body – however, the quality of the fuel is really the most important thing. Your car would not be very efficient if you put fruit juice as opposed to gasoline in the tank. In the same fashion, your body is not nearly as efficient when we eat junk food over real food.

The body uses more energy to break down beans than a bowl of potato chips. Diets high in simple carbohydrates like those in bread and pasta will not provide lasting fuel and are quickly converted into fat versus diets high in complex carbohydrates found in vegetables, quality protein and healthy fats from coconut oil, nuts and seeds, grass fed meat, free range eggs etc.  In fact, protein has been shown to boost metabolism (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6347500) more than any other macronutrient.

Never underestimate the power of a healthy diet to reset your metabolism and keep it on track. Keep in mind that no matter how many calories you are consuming – they must be quality to really make a difference.

Calorie Counting is Loaded With Stress

Hands down, counting calories is stressful. While it is important to be careful not to over consume in relation to your activity level, trying to count every single calorie puts an unnecessary burden on you that just creates stress – which in turn is hard on your body. Stress releases cortisol (www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306453000000354) – a fat storing hormone – this defeats the whole purpose of counting calories in the first place. When you stop counting calories you have a much healthier relationship with food and reduced stress levels.

What it Means to Eat Mindfully

The most important lesson in maintaining a healthy body weight is to eat mindfully. Many times we eat just to eat or because everyone around us is eating. Think of food as fuel that you can enjoy eating. For many changing their thoughts from living to eat to eating to live does the trick.

Sources for this article include:

  • www.webmd.com/diet/features/dos-donts-counting-calories
  • articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/03/09/weight-watchers-finally-recognizes-calorie-counting-doesnt-work.aspx
  • www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306453000000354
About the Author: Susan Patterson is a natural health writer with a passion for living well. Her writing includes regular contributions to some of the most visited health and wellness sites on the internet, e-books, and expert advice sites. As a Certified Health Coach, Master Gardener and Certified Metabolic Typing Advisor, Susan has helped many people move towards a better understanding of alternative health options. Susan practices what she writes and is an avid fitness enthusiast, whole foods advocate and pursuer of sustainable living. To read more articles by Susan, please visit HolisticCarePros.com.
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