It is a popular notion that weight loss is all about calorie counting – “calories in and calories out” – implying that being overweight is just a matter of eating too many calories, but did you know that no all calories are equal? Different types of food with the same number of calories affect our bodies in different ways.
The food we eat also has a direct effect on our hormones and our hormones control what time and how much we eat.
So what is calorie counting?
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A calorie is all about the measure of energy which the human body needs to move, sleep, awake, eat, wash and to pursue or engage in other activities. The energy is also needed for internal functions like repairing and building cells,
According to the calorie counting way of thinking, being overweight is just a matter of eating too many calories. It believes that weight change is not dependent on the macronutrient composition, so if you want to lose any weight you have to eat fewer calories and be more active.
The calorie counting way of thinking believes that all calories are equal regardless of the food. It is often justified by the laws of thermodynamics. The first law of thermodynamics states that the energy of an isolated system is stable, it doesn’t change so in a system, 500 calories of cucumber and 500 calories of coke cola would certainly have the same amount of energy.
It is impossible for the law of thermodynamics to apply to living systems because when you eat food, the isolated system doesn’t apply because the food interacts with the systems in your body and the food is transformed once it enters your body.
So is it better to count calories or balance your nutrition?
The macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein and fats) go all the way through non-identical metabolic pathways. 500 calories of protein will have a completely different effect on your body than 500 calories of fructose . Drinking a carton of orange juice will have an immensely different effect on your body compared to eating the same calories from oily fish.
A review published in 2004 in the Nutrition Journal stated that different foods have different effects on our bodies and they undergo varied metabolic pathways before they are turned into energy (1) suggesting that focusing on calorie counting and ignoring the metabolic effects of the food is an extremely faulty way of thinking.
A pilot study published in 2003 in the Obesity Research Journal, studied three groups of people: A low carbohydrate diet group, a low fat diet group , a third group consumed low carbohydrate with additional calories. The study found that the low carbohydrate group lost 23lbs, the low fat group lost 17lbs and the low carbohydrate group with additional calories lost 20lbs suggesting that weight loss is not about calorie counting but the metabolic effect of the food you eat and it is this that should be taken into account (2).
All calories are not the same. The food you eat doesn’t only contain calories, it is full of information. Every bite sends different signals to your body. Some signals are fattening, some are addictive, some are cleansing, some are healing, some are detoxifying and some are nourishing. So don’t just focus on the calories in food, it is better to balance your nutrition than calorie counting.
1) Feinman R D, Fine E J (2004) ” A calorie is a calorie” violates the second law of thermodynamics. Nutrition Journal, 3:9.
2) Greene P Willett W, Devecis J, A.Skaf (2003) Pilot 12-week feeding weight-loss comparison: Low-fat vs. low-carbohydrate (ketogenic) diets. Obesity Research, 11: A23
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