Calories: Embracing a New Understanding

"Calories in, calories out!"

"Reduce your calorie intake, lose weight!"

"Eat less fat, lose weight! Remove carbohydrates, lose weight!"

That is what we have been told and what we have always believed. However, we are now learning that the science behind losing weight is not that simple, and that our understanding of calories has been flawed all along.

What exactly is a calorie? Simply put, a calorie is a unit of measurement. Calories measure how much energy is needed to utilize the nutrition provided by carbohydrates, fat and proteins. We know that it takes 9 calories of energy to burn a gram of fat and 4 calories of energy to burn one gram of both protein and carbohydrates.

Our bodies need calories to survive. And, we need calories from all three energy sources. Understanding the metabolic processes of fat, proteins, and carbohydrates is key to weight loss and weight management. Each type of calorie is utilized in our bodies in a different way. It’s not just about restriction: It’s about balance and regulation.

Here are some facts about these three sources of nutrition:


* The purpose of carbohydrates is simply to provide fuel for the body. We need carbohydrates for energy exertion. Unused carbohydrates convert into stored fat (which leads to weight gain).


* The human body does not use protein for energy unless necessary. The main purpose of amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) is to build and maintain muscle and to fuel resting energy.

* Many low-calorie diets force our bodies to use our protein stores for energy, in effect under-utilizing their purpose. This can result in a diminished metabolism.


* Is a backup fuel source when carbohydrates have been depleted.

* Is necessary for the absorption of vital nutrients such as vitamins A, D and K.

* Contributes to satiety – helping you feel fuller longer.

* Promotes brain function, contributing to learning capabilities, moods and memory retention.

If you want to lose or maintain your body weight, it's not just about fewer calories, or counting calories: It's about the quality of those calories.

For example, a donut and an avocado may have the same number of calories, but the type of nutrients given to us by each are vastly different. A donut is sugar (a carb in its simplest form), and that's about it. There is little to no nutritional value in a donut.

Our bodies easily and quickly digest simple sugars. And, when we don't exert the energy to burn off that donut, the excess caloric energy turns into fat. You are also not providing your body the nutrients it needs to fight disease and keep you strong and healthy.

An avocado, on the other hand, is rich in fat, fiber, vitamins C&D, iron, and potassium. An avocado takes our bodies longer to digest, leaving behind little unused caloric energy.

If we adhered to the old mindset of plus and minus calories, then it wouldn’t matter if we ate a donut or if we ate an avocado. We can still apply a numeric value to foods, which is a helpful guideline, but the caloric number doesn’t tell the whole story.

One weight loss/management strategy worth exploring is Macro dieting. Macro dieting goes above and beyond a basic plus/minus calculation. It also factors in portions of different types of food and the quality of calories so that you can build your diet around the right proportions of fats, carbs and proteins.

The only way you are going to know what the right portion sizes are for your body is if you conduct a DNA test like Find My Skinny Genes. But, there are calculators online you can play with in order get an idea of what you need to do to reach your own goals.

To summarize: The time has come to adopt a new mindset and take better care and consideration of what we are eating. We should go beyond counting calories and pay better attention to balance and portion control. It may seem complicated at first, but there are tools and specialists who are standing by to help us navigate a new system. Your body and your health will thank you for it.