With obesity rates rising, more and more people are trying to lose weight not simply for esthetical reasons but for health reasons also.
The idea of losing weight by creating a calorie deficit could be one of the most ridiculous "truths" that nutritionists have been circulating. Different foods act in different ways within our metabolic systems. In addition, each type of food has its own effect on the hormonal system in charge of appetite. So it is actually more important to look at what foods we are eating than to worry about the overall calorie count.
What Is A Calorie?
A calorie is simply a measurement of energy. More specifically, it is a measurement of how much energy is needed to raise the temperature of a single gram of water by a single degree Celsius. Energy itself is measured in Joules. A kilocalorie translates to roughly 4.184 joules. What we are actually looking at are kilocalories but we have simplified the term. A kilocalorie - otherwise known as a dietary calorie refers to the amount of energy necessary in order to raise the temperature of a kg of H2O by a single degree.
Energy, in turn, can be looked at as the ability that a specific system has when it comes to getting work done.
Every cell of the body needs energy - none of the bodily processes can function without it, right down to and, in fact, most importantly, at the molecular level. Each process is an intricate balance of chemical interactions - all of which need energy and that is why we need to ingest calories.
What Does Traditional Dieting Wisdom Say About Calories?
Traditional thinking was that it is simply ingesting an excess amount of energy that causes weight gain. According to this theory, the food eaten makes little difference other than in terms of the amounts of calories that they contain. And it goes a step further, encouraging you to create a calorie deficit by increasing activity and eating less. The theory is that to lose one pound in fat, you need to create a total deficit of 3500 calories by, say, taking in 500 fewer calories a day over the course of a week.
As long as you cut the calories, it really makes no difference what you eat. If we look at this from a simplistic perspective, there is no fault in the logic. The problem is though that the body is not a simplistic machine but a very complex one. Studies have shown that foods have different properties and are dealt with in different ways by the body.
What Does 'Excess Calories' Mean?
What really matters is not just the amount of energy that we eat but also how much we use. According to thermodynamic theory, energy is a constant - it changes format but is never destroyed. What that means is that if we do not use as much energy as we take in, it needs to be stored - and in the body, it's stored in the form of fat - and we pick up the pounds. If, however, we use more than we actually ingest, the body has to turn to its stores and weight loss is a result. This is a fact but really gives us no idea as to what is behind this process.
What we need to understand is why people are eating increasing amounts of food. Is it as a result of a decision made by the person or is it a function of the body's internal systems? Either way, what is behind this behavior?
When it comes to eating we don't make as many of the decisions as we like to think we do. A great many of our actions are actually as a result of activity in the neural and hormonal systems. These are very strong drives - much stronger than "willpower". Therefore it makes no sense to say that people who are overweight are, by nature, slothful or avaricious. It is more accurate to try and identify the biological causes behind the conditions.
Foods That Have Their Own Unique Impact
Foods contain differing levels of macronutrients and so are processed in different ways. Take protein and fructose as examples.
The digestive process required when it comes to digesting protein is quite intense - the body will use around a third of the calories contained in the protein just to digest it. So, only around 70 calories per hundred actually make it out of the digestive system to start with. In addition, protein is likely to make you feel fuller and can stoke up your metabolism. The higher levels of protein tend to be utilized in the building of muscles. This, in turn, kicks up the metabolism even more.
After fructose has made it out of the digestive tract, the liver converts it to glucose for use or to be stored as glycogen. Should the liver's stores of glycogen become full, fructose is then converted to fat. This fat is either stored in the liver or released into the bloodstream. Eat too much fructose and your body will not be able to cope - possibly resulting in insulin resistance and increased levels of insulin which itself prompts the body to store more fat. Fructose is very different from glucose and the body handles it differently. It does not contribute to helping you feel full and will not reduce the levels of ghrelin in the bloodstream - the hormone that drives those hunger pangs.
Digesting fructose also requires little energy so most of it makes it out of the digestive system. That means that every calorie of fructose that you eat can help to raise insulin to damaging levels and to increase the levels of ghrelin over time. Your appetite increases and so a vicious cycle starts.
So, just from this quick look at how the body handles protein versus how it handles fructose we can see that calories are definitely not all created equal.
There are those that will say that excessive consumption of anything is bad for you. Well, the truth is that it is very difficult to overeat some types of food. How many eggs can you eat in one sitting, for example, before feeling too full to eat? Now, look at ice cream, for example - how much easier is it to overeat ice cream?
Appetite Fluctuates With What you Eat
The number and type of macronutrients in the food you eat can also have an impact on your appetite. This is best illustrated when you look at the results of research into diets that are low in fat and those that are low in carbohydrates. The major difference is in satiety levels - a diet that is high in fat and protein is a lot more filling than one that is low in fat. The chances of overeating are thus reduced and weight loss becomes a lot simpler.
Research has shown that a diet low in carbs can help with controlling appetite and makes it possible for you to drop the pounds with no need to worry about portion controls or how many calories you eat. The studies showed that the low-carb group lost more weight even though they did not restrict calories. This happened naturally because the diet is more restricted.
The results are in - calorie counting is a waste of time, as long as you eat the right kinds of foods.
Food Can Alter Your Metabolism
You also need to remember that you can permanently reduce your metabolic rate by dieting constantly. Your body is designed to run as efficiently as possible. It quite soon adjusts to the calorie deficiency and starts to burn fewer calories overall and weight loss stops. You then have to reduce your calorific intake once again.
Your body wants to hold onto its fat stores - it is a survival response. The body does its best to its "body fat set point". You cannot change this set point without a change in your diet. Should your weight drop under this set point, the body goes into survival mode in an attempt to conserve energy.
We Might have the Wrong End of the Stick
What if the weight gain is not a result of increasing the intake of calories but rather the cause of it? Look at teenagers, for example. Boys especially seem to eat a lot as teens when they go through growth spurts - are they mostly overweight? Nope. Those extra calories are used up by the body. This is an example where growth is not the result of more calories but, rather, the growth actually drives the need to increase the number of calories ingested.
Who is to say that the same cannot be said of obesity?
It has long been shown that drugs, such as birth control and antidepressants, that have an effect on hormones, can cause an increase in weight. The pills have no nutritional value but can change the chemical responses of the body and weight gain is often a result.
Eating is Mostly a Subliminal Decision
All would be well if we could objectively make the decision to eat the right foods by weighing the consequences in terms of optimal health, etc. Humans, as you may have noticed, are not always objective. We don't just eat because we need to, we eat because we want to and we enjoy it. For the most part, logic plays only a small role when it comes to what we eat. It simply is not always possible to change behavior simply because it is the logical thing to do. Try it out yourself - vow to never eat chocolate again, or to never hit the snooze button.
For me personally, it's chocolate that illustrates this principle best. I like chocolate but I don't need to eat it daily - I only crave it occasionally. When I decide to go on diet and ban chocolate, the cravings come thick and fast and can be overwhelming - generally, this resolve fades quite quickly. A similar thing happens when you start to reduce your calorie intake. Initially, you get your way but, as time goes by, your body starts to get the upper hand again and it becomes even more difficult to diet.
It takes an incredible amount of willpower to be able to override these urges - amounts that are typically not at the disposal of most people and certainly not there for the people who tend to be on the overweight side.
Look at other processes that are controlled by the subconscious - take breathing for example. You do not have to think about breathing, your body handles it. You do have some control over it when you concentrate but your body is very quick to get breathing back to normal again when you are distracted. Whilst this may seem like an extreme example, it is wise to remember that eating is under the control of a similar process in the brain.
There are those who are successful dieters and who are good at counting calories. The downside? To maintain the weight loss in this manner takes a lifelong commitment.
Should You Be Worried About Your Weight?
There is more to overall health than simply ingesting the right amount of calories, however. We need a range of foods to maintain good health. Trans fats, as an example, have been proven to be a real villain - they can cause insulin resistance, inflammation and a ton of other problems as well. Fructose is another baddy. (Note here I am referring to added sugar that is consumed excessively, not naturally occurring sugars in fruit). The more you eat, the more likely you are to have some serious health problems in addition to being overweight. Supplements can also help balance weight such as Garcinia, Forskolin, CLA, Green Coffee and more.
Another thing to consider is that being slim and being healthy does not necessarily go hand in hand. Despite the fact that those people who battle with their weight tend towards some metabolic issues, there are some who are healthier than their lean counterparts. Being lean is not a true defense against developing metabolic problems. To live a healthy life, you need to look at more than just what the calorie count is.
What It Boils Down To
The old tried and true formula for weight loss - eating less calories than you burn - is a dangerous oversimplification and should be dismissed. The issues of how the food is processed by the body and what potential effects it could have on our hormone and neural systems must also be accounted for.