Calorie Counting: What Actually Matters?

Calorie Counting: What Actually Matters?

The Myth!

Ever wonder why so many people starve themselves, workout all the time, and fall far short of their goals? Stressing out the body by over-exercising and being misinformed about nutrition are certainly contributing factors, but chasing the calorie ghost is a major proponent of failed weight-loss.

Eat fewer calories, or burn fewer than you eat, and you’ll lose fat, right? possibly not?

There are many books out there from experts™ claiming one extreme (calories matter!!) or the other (they don’t mean anything!!) but it isn’t that black and white. The idea that you can keep track of your total daily caloric consumption, simply reduce it slightly regardless of what you are eating, and lose weight over time is a complete farce.

The Science!

Total energy intake absolutely does matter, there is no denying that: If you consume only 1000 calories per day and it’s all oatmeal (Ye et al., 2012), you will definitely lose weight, but you’ll lose muscle and feel drained, quite the opposite to the healthy feel you thought you’d get from losing weight. If you consume 8000 calories per day and it is all good fats and proteins, you will certainly gain weight, but it will mostly be muscle, even with average levels of activity.

It is absolutely essential to make sure that the body is satisfied, meaning that enough nutrients and total energy are consumed every day. Starving yourself is not clever in any which way and causes physiological stress, which leads to all sorts of problems, most prominently hormone imbalances (Shi et al., 2013). Those hormone imbalances cause insulin resistance, which is one reason why diabetes rates have soared recently. This is not a good place to be with your health! It is far better to be consuming too much food and needing to exercise a bit harder in order to lose that last stubborn fat, than it is to be a stressed-out shell of a human being!

The Counterpoint!

If you consume a stupid amount of calories, you will gain weight. If you throw 500kcals of butter into your morning coffee without changing the rest of your routine, you will suffer. That said, If you do not eat for days, yes you will lose fat. Chronic calorie deficits WILL result in long-term weight loss, but they must be done carefully and are often, on their own, less effective than simply changing the content of your meals!

The Takeaway!

If you are sedentary OR a super-elite OR weight category athlete who needs to fine-tune and exact details, track exactly what you eat…but keep in mind that calorie-counting methods (both intake and expenditure!) are not very reliable and can be more effort than it’s worth. If you eat the right foods, eat till satisfied, sleep well and exercise regularly, you will have a lean body and high functioning mind. Going really strict on energy intake to mask inadequacies in one of the above categories simply won’t help! Don’t chase the calorie ghost and wonder why all your math and equations aren’t giving you results. Don’t try and reinvent the wheel, people! It’s simpler than you think!

We hope you enjoyed this short insight into the Well Traveled Wellness Blog, be sure to keep an eye on us for future blogs and e-books that will build on topical myths in Exercise Physiology and Nutritional Health!

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