And I get it, depending on who you talk to these days you’ve probably heard some of the following:
- A calorie is a calorie ” it should not matter what I eat because I work out “
- Paleo diet is the best. Meat, veggies, and nuts are all I need
- If I eat fewer carbs, high fats, and high proteins, I’ll lose a ton of weight
- Ice cream fits my macros ( wait, what is a macro?)
Whatever you’ve heard before, you are not alone. AND unfortunately for you, it never gets much easier.
To make things even more confusing, social media and other major publications make it extremely difficult for people to figure out the best way to eat.
But do not worry, I’m going to give you information that you can start using right away so that you never have to go on a diet again.
If you want to skip all of this stuff and get right into eating healthier click here for your FREE 5-day Nutrition course.
What Exactly Is A Calorie?
The Webster Dictionary Defines a Calorie as the amount of heat required at a pressure of one atmosphere to raise the temperature of one gram of water one degree Celsius that is equal to about 4.19 joules —abbreviation cal — called also gram calorie, small calorie
In the most basic form, a calorie is a measure of energy. A weight change occurs when there is a negative balance between energy in and energy out. Eat more food and you pack on size, eat less and you lose weight.
I’m willing to bet you already know that, but really want to know things like:
- If you eat 2000 calories of pizza and burgers all day and workout is that the same thing as chicken, steak, and veggies
- Is it as simple as energy in and energy out and do calories matter?
These questions are perfectly normal to wonder about, so let us begin.
Why A Calorie Is Not Just A Calorie
I want to set the records straight, there is not a single thing you can do to lose weight if you eat horribly.
Let me repeat that, you cannot out exercise a bad diet.
Sure, you might see those few lucky people that claim to eat whatever they want and be in great shape, but that is not what happens to the majority of most people.
If it does, those people are rare freaks of nature and I want to shake their hand.
Let’s say you are a typical American who likes to eat on the go and your everyday food log consists of pizza, bagels, sandwiches, pasta, soda, pastries, and drinks from Starbucks.
You’ve recently decided that you need to lose some weight. You started to exercise twice a week, cut back on the amount of food, but don’t really make any changes to the food because of your busy lifestyle.
After about two weeks you noticed that the scale went down a few pounds and think maybe this weight loss thing is not that bad.
Then it happens, the scale goes back up and you become completely frustrated.
Hmm. Maybe a calorie is not just a calorie after all.
The reason why you tend to lose weight at first when you cut out some extra calories and workout is that you have created a negative energy balance compared to what your body was previously consuming.
Eat less, move more and you’ll lose more. Eat more, move less, and you’ll gain more. Yet it is never that simple when it comes to eating.
Processed foods are designed to get you to eat more without even knowing it. It’s an addiction, and one of the many reasons that a calorie is not just a calorie and why people struggle with weight loss.
You are not alone.
So what can you do?
The team at Precision Nutrition conducted a thorough review of studies on whole foods vs processed foods and here is what they found.
You can eat processed foods and still lose weight. But, not all food is created equal
No wonder why people struggle with portion control when it comes to eating processed foods.
On average a person can use about 10 % of their energy to process and digest food. Protein takes the most energy to digest(20-30%), followed by carbs(5-10%), then fats(0-3%). That means if you had 100 calories dedicated to protein, you’d be left with 70-80 net calories after digestion. A carb-heavy meal would leave you with 90-95 net calories and a fat meal would leave you with a net of 97-100 calories.
What all of this is saying is that processed food takes less energy to digest and absorb compared to whole foods, and the body will react to foods in different ways.
Processed foods tend to be calorie dense, less filling and make you crave more food even when you feel you have eaten enough calories for the day. Whole foods are packed with nutrients, have fewer calories and leave you feeling less hungry throughout the day. Which is why it is easier to continuously lose weight when you have a diet packed with quality food.
Sure you may lose some weight if you are eating less, but if don’t change your eating habits nothing will happen.
Understanding the difference will give you a better idea of how your body reacts to certain foods.
Wrapping It Up
In hindsight, a calorie may seem like a calorie, but when it comes down to the science of it all, what you eat and how much you eat truly does matter.
While some people may argue that calories do not matter, research shows just how different calories can be.
If you are trying to lose weight, eat more whole foods, watch your portion sizes and be consistent with exercise. If you are trying to gain some pounds, adding in some processed food from time to time could help you reach your goal.
Bottom line is that while you don’t have to count calories to lose weight, the quality of your food does matter.