Calorie counting, does it really matter?
I rarely watch TV, but I recently saw a commercial that was hilarious and depressing. It was a commercial for Healthy Choice meals and the woman was discussing her struggles with dieting and said, “I used to hate the laughter of children, but then I realized I was just hungry.” How sad, right?! I can’t believe that people are still obsessing over food and calories. Psychologically, you’re going to eat like a cow and have a million cravings if you are depriving yourself and counting calories all the time! The cure to all this madness is really quite simple.
A few years ago a study was published concluding that all calories are calories; and that no matter the composition of a diet, your weight is dependent solely upon the quantity of calories you consume. The purpose of this study, in my opinion, was to attempt to disprove some of the fad diets, in particular the Atkins diet. People were seeing results after cutting carbs out of their diet. The results were real, because essentially, with this diet, you break down all of your sugar stores, the primary source of energy for the body. As a result, you lose water weight and start to break down muscle and fat, which results in losing inches (and looking flabby). The problem, however, is that this diet is not sustainable. The body needs carbohydrates to function properly, and that’s a fact.
Despite the results of this study, I do not believe that calories are just calories. The calorie, if you get technical, is a metric unit of energy. A food calorie is the energy needed to increase the temperature of 1 kilogram of water by 1 degree Kelvin. No matter what the food is made out of, the calorie will be determined by these means. If you are working in a lab, then this is a great way to measure energy, but our bodies are way more complicated. We must take into consideration several different factors, when digesting and using the food as energy.
Take glycemic index (GI), which is a number that roughly represents how much a given food will raise insulin levels in your bloodstream. Insulin is an anabolic hormone secreted from your pancreas that causes our body to go into storage mode and pack on the pounds. If you eat a diet based on a low GI with the same number of calories as a diet with a high GI, physiologically it doesn’t make sense that you will maintain the same weight. Our body is conditioned to release different ratios of hormones depending on the food composition we consume. Simple sugars, such as cakes and cookies, for instance, will result in a large insulin spike, whereas complex carbohydrates, like sweet potatoes, will not.
Another important thing to note is the fiber content in foods. When calories are calculated and printed on a nutrition label, the fiber that goes undigested and excreted is still calculated in the total. So you actually won’t pack on as many pounds by consuming fiber rich foods (and you will have nice, regular #2 movements, but be sure to up your water intake so you don’t get constipated!). Consuming nutrient dense foods that contain the vitamins and minerals necessary to promote a healthy metabolism will be digested more efficiently and may end up resulting in a faster metabolism. Interestingly, we don’t know what all of those artificial chemicals found in processed foods do to our metabolisms, but I highly doubt it is what nature intended.
Personally, I do not weigh myself, count calories, or restrict myself. I eat close to nature, which naturally results in a nutritious, fibrous diet that keeps me satiated and happy. There is a psychological component to maintaining a healthy body, like reverse psychology, it may be hard to let go at first and you may even overeat to compensate for all the pressure you put on yourself, but trust that eventually you will have had enough and your body will find a natural rhythm. When we stop obsessing about calories and become mindful of our eating habits, we will enjoy our food much more, and the healthy body we strive to achieve will come organically, the way nature intended.
I just want to give a special thanks to my friends at SakaraLife for inspiring me to write this blog entry and for creating a beautiful concept of cleansing through food. Check them out!