Is the Calorie Broken?
Contrary to claims of many diet books and weight loss products & programs, relying solely on reducing calorie intake rarely leads to sustainable weight loss. Yet a third of the U.S. population is restricting their food intake in an effort to lose weight—only to find that it doesn’t work, and when it does, putting the weight back on is almost inevitable. But it’s not your fault that your success is only temporary: as it turns out, counting calories may not be the best way to slim down.
Mosaic Science recently explained why “the calorie is broken,” and they shared some interesting tips for true, long-lasting weight loss. Here’s why it’s time to change the way you think about the calorie.
The problem with measuring calories is that there are many unique factors that determine the impact of each food and how our body processes it—and these factors aren’t considered when creating food labels.
Do calories count?
We’ve long been taught that the keys to weight loss are cutting calories and exercising more. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts it, “to lose weight, you must use up more calories than you take in.”
The problem with measuring calories, simplistically defined as energy our bodies use, is that there are many unique factors that determine the impact of each food and how our body processes it—and these factors aren’t considered when creating food labels. How a food is prepared, its nutritional and fiber content, our genetic gut microbes, and how our bodies metabolize the food at a given time of day all contribute to how calories impact us. The fact that no two people are identical further complicates things. In fact, the way we process food in our bodies is so complex that there are no systems that can measure the true impact of a given food on our weight and overall health.
Thus, relying on caloric information on food labels to lose weight doesn’t consistently work because it is an overly simplified understanding of the impact of calories.
While lessening your intake of rich, processed foods and sticking to a regular exercise routine are great ways to become healthier, be sure you are gauging what foods to eat in ways beyond their advertised calories.
So, should we cut the calorie? Not quite…
Even given all the information above, the answer is no. The calorie is still useful as one factor to consider when choosing foods. However, for weight loss success, you need to consider a number of additional factors. Here are some key items:
Is the food processed, and to what degree? For instance, a highly-processed bag of low-calorie “diet” chips may have quite a bit more impact on your body than the number of calories listed would imply.
Is the food naturally rich in vitamins and/or fiber? For example, raw nuts are very calorie-dense but are high in fiber and nutrition—and participants in recent studies absorbed around a third fewer calories from almonds than was expected.
What time of day are you consuming the food? In another recent study, researchers found that mice fed between 9am and 5pm gained 28 per cent less weight than mice fed the exact same food across a 24-hour period.
So while lessening your intake of rich, processed foods and sticking to a regular exercise routine are great ways to become healthier, be sure you are gauging what foods to eat in ways beyond their advertised calories.
At our Rancho Cucamonga weight loss center, we think about the bigger picture and work with our patients to develop a healthy relationship with food. It’s not just about the calories; it’s about the types of food we’re putting into our bodies.
To read more about why the calorie is “broken” and ways to improve your understanding of how food and calories affect you, read the full article here.