Do calories matter when it comes to weight loss? This is the question of the day, of late. There are varying opinions on the topic and most claim to be backed by science. If you’ve read my blog then you know my position on scientific evidence is that it is subjective, in a majority of cases. In the best scenario, that of a well conducted clinical trial, a single question is being tested for. The outcome might seem straightforward but the application of these results in real life practice are anything but, especially when it comes to our bodies.
The human body is comprised of complex systems that when working in concert is nothing short of miraculous. It is this complexity, however, that makes it so very challenging to study. There are many factors to consider when trying to understand how the body works, including metabolism, cellular function, hormones, the gut microbiome, the lymphatic system, the brain and, and and…
We don’t know what we don’t know. Period.
I say all of this because if you are reading this article conventional wisdom has failed you in some way. I am not here to convince you one way or the other but simply to provide you with additional points of consideration as you work to improve your overall health and well being.
Calories are everything, right? This is the age old thinking. When it comes to weight loss, it is all about expending more calories than we take in. It makes sense in the most simplistic terms. Scientifically, we can measure the energy content of a calorie but this is done in a vacuum, literally. While this statement remains true to this day, it is a childlike view of how calories impact weight loss. Why? In short, because it is but one factor in a series that impact our ability to gain and lose weight. To think that weight loss is all about calories is naive.
The trending position
More recent positioning around how to lose weight is that it is not about calories at all. Instead, it is about the nutrient density of the food consumed and how our bodies react to it (or the combination thereof). Weight loss (or gain) is about macro nutrient ratios, the hormonal response to the types of macro nutrients, overall metabolic rate and even stress.
For instance, when eating a diet loaded with high glycemic carbohydrates, blood sugar is raised and insulin is released to bring blood sugar back in line. What many do not know about insulin is that it is a fat storage hormone meaning that when it is high, the fat cells will not open to allow this stored energy to be accessed. In fact, high insulin levels will only allow the cell “door” to open to accommodate the storage of more fat.
Metabolic rate plays a role in weight loss in the sense that it is a factor in how much energy a body needs to maintain it's current state. Several things impact metabolism including activity levels.
Chronic stress produces a protein, Betatrophin, that is thought to slow fat metabolism. It’s like fighting the current. Managing ongoing stress is an absolute necessity if your goal is weight loss.
The reality - Do calories matters?
If you want to lose weight, the reality is, it all matters! All of the above and much, much more. I have only gleaned the surface of the factors that drive our ability to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Calories matter because, at the end of the day, your base metabolism needs x amount of energy to maintain. Your body doesn’t care if the energy comes from an outside source (food) or from stores and this is where is reducing food calories comes in handy. This is especially true if you are eating a low carbohydrate diet and/or are extremely active.
We live in a polarized world and opinions in the realm of diet and nutrition are no exception. It seems we all want to sit on one side of the isle or another. It is my opinion, however, that we would all be much smarter if we focused more on listening to each other than on being right.
Take care and, as always, stay healthy!
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*Remember to check with a healthcare professional before making changes to your diet, including the introduction of supplements.
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