With all the talk about calories being thrown around out there, do you actually know what the hell a calorie is? No? Well let me learn ya.
A calorie is “the energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 kilogram of water through 1 °C, equal to one thousand small calories and often used to measure the energy value of foods.” Calories used to be measured in food by literally placing that food in a sealed container with water, and burning the food until it was gone. The water temperature was then measured and the number of calories was defined.
Today, calories are measured using the “Altwar System” , which is a method where calories are estimated in food components, e.g. proteins, carbohydrates, etc., with the difference being that now they remove from the equation food components our bodies can’t digest, such as certain fibers. But they still use the old method to calculate the amount of calories in each food component before factoring out indigestible food.
I know, you didn’t come here to read a bunch of gobbledy gook science explanations. So what does all this mean? Well basically it means that the “science” behind how many calories are in food originates from how much heat it takes to destroy a food item. And by that science, if you consume less calories than you burn, you should lose weight. It’s a science everybody! It should work!
But our bodies don’t heat food to digest and they don’t literally burn fat off. I don’t know about you, but my body does not SET FOOD ON FIRE or heat water to a certain degree when I eat. If that were the case, I’d be a lot more awesome than I am now. So of course, when I discovered this information after struggling for months not losing weight, yet religiously following the calories in/calories out method, I began to question things. Then I tested things. And what I found out was will blow your pretty little minds.
My Learning Experience
Last year I joined a program called “Body by Frame”, which was an intense three-month program consisting of crossfit-style workouts and drastic calorie cutting. I was supposed to eat “clean”, eliminate alcohol, drastically limit fat and sugars, and aim for an average daily calorie burn of around 600 calories with the goal of losing 1-2 lbs. per week.
At first I was losing about a pound per week. Then it got to the point where I was killing myself and either barely losing weight, or even sometimes gaining weight. And I know what you’ll say, “Muscle weighs more than fat!” Well, studies have shown that the average woman can gain, at the most, .12-.25 lbs of muscle per week, totaling .5-1lb of muscle gain per month. So when I was seeing a 1lb. weight gain over a week, trust me, it wasn’t muscle.
Did I mention that during this whole time I hated the food I was eating, was starving ALL the time, and wanted to kill everyone?
So towards the end of my misery I started a new diet unbeknownst to my trainer. I ate food that I liked, and sometimes so much I couldn’t finish! I was never hungry, lost my sugar cravings, and…wait for it…was averaging .5-1lb of weight loss… PER DAY. I ended up losing more weight in the last month of the program than I did in its entirety.
Now prepare yourselves for some serious calories in/calories out debunking.
On the “Body by Frame” plan, my daily nutritional breakdown was the following and I was burning an average of 600 per day:
- Calories: 1300-1400 (although honestly I’d break down and actually eat, so it was more like 1500)
- Protein: 130g
- Fat: 29g
- Fiber: 25g
- Sugar: 30g or less
By the science, I was putting my body into an average weekly calorie deficit of 6,300-6,500 calories. Again according to the “science” I should have been losing 1-1.5lbs (a pound of fat is 3500 calories). per week. But was I? HELL NO.
How did I feel?
- Confused as to how I could never hit my protein goal without going over my fat goal, or never being able to hit my carb goal without going over my sugar goal.
- Wanted to brutally murder all chickens so I never had to eat a baked chicken breast or egg white EVER AGAIN.
On the new plan, I didn’t workout the first three days (after that I’d walk for 30 min or do yoga) and my nutritional breakdown looked like this:
- Calories: 2480-2600
- Protein: 63g
- Fat: 133g
- Fiber: 31g
- Sugar: 55g
How did I feel?
- Brain fog was gone
- Pooping like a champ
- Acne problems disappeared
I was consistently losing .5-1lb per day and feeling awesome by flipping science the bird. I was eating things like chicken thighs, scallops, goat cheese, dark chocolate, white bread, and drinking wine. I was consuming a ton of veggies with healthy fats such as olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, and fat from seeds and nuts.
So why did it work?
The idea behind this way of eating is that it isn’t so much the amount of calories you consume, but instead what you eat. Your body is not a damn furnace! If you remove inflammatory foods from your diet, lower your inflammation levels (which normally can cause weight gain, digestion issues, and even physical ailments such as skin disorders, headaches, and brain fog), and give your body the nutrients it needs to function properly, you will lose weight AND feel awesome.
The key is finding what is inflammatory to your unique chemical makeup, not what all the doctors and nutritionists are telling you everyone should eat. We are all unique and complex beings so one diet won’t work for all of us. For instance, a nutritionist might tell you to eat 75% whole grains. But what happens when you’re gluten intolerant? Or if you’re told to eat tons of healthy dairy like cottage cheese, yogurt, and low-fat milk when you’re lactose intolerant? You’ll balloon up and feel like crap, that’s what will happen.
Another “Fat” Rant
The other issue is that we’ve been told to eliminate certain foods that our body craves and needs. For instance, fat. Fat is the best thing for you if you want to lose weight and be healthy because it satiates you (keeps you full), helps you to digest veggies and process nutrients more efficiently, and makes your brain happy. You know the whole adage that you should drink tons of water because our bodies our 55-60% water? Well, our brains are about 60% fat and out bodies about 26% fat, so when you eat a low fat diet, you’re literally starving your poor body. No wonder I was cranky, depressed, and wanted to kill people! A skinny brain = an unhappy brain.
So I followed the idea behind eliminating inflammatory foods, introducing healthy fats and veggies, and presto! Weight loss galore, but more importantly, I felt better and healthier. I will be writing another blog post on the specifics of that diet hopefully soon, so don’t worry, you’ll be able to try it.
But for now the bottom line is this: Our bodies do not set food on fire or heat water to burn food. Therefore we should not put all our eggs in the “calories in/calories out” basket. Sure if you starve yourself you’ll probably lose weight, but do you really want to take that unhappy and tortuous road when there’s a glorious yellow-brick road paved with food and happiness available?