You may have seen on the news recently the government’s plans to help the public lose weight, fight obesity, and protect themselves against COVID-19. One of those measures is to make it a requirement to include the number of calories of meals and alcoholic drinks on menus. Clearly, their intention is a good one and it is a step in the right direction. However, people do need to be aware that counting calories to lose weight is like using a blunt tool.
That’s because not all calories are equal. Yes, looking at the food on your plate, a calorie is a calorie but, how your body uses that calorie from each type of food can change everything. Believing that our ability to burn fat and lose weight is based on a simple calorie formula: adding and subtracting calories from a pre-determined energy expenditure, is a complete misperception. It is not that black and white. When a calorie enters the body, it enters a complex system that runs thousands of biochemical processes that interact in all sorts of ways. These biochemical processes will utilise, store, and dispose of the calories we eat from food in many different ways.
The variety of nutrients in your food and, your individual biochemistry, determine how your body will express those calories: ultimately, IF the final outcome is fat burn or fat storage. What’s more important than calories is the nutrient density of your food. By eating nutrient-dense, often higher-calorie foods, it gives your body the nutrients it needs to run your metabolism efficiently. When your metabolism is working efficiently you are more likely to use fat for fuel. Nutrient-dense, higher-calorie foods take more work to breakdown into their individual parts inside the body and therefore, in that process alone, burn more energy.
That’s why if you eat high-calorie foods that lack nutrients, of course, you will put on weight but counting calories really is not the way to go. Unfortunately, this is already a very strong societal belief that is now being reinforced by government measures. It can also create obsessive tendencies when dieting which is a risk for those with eating disorders. By going for the lower-calorie options on a menu you are likely to be missing out on healthy fats. Fats that do not make you fat! Fats that you need to keep you fuller for longer, that support hormone and blood sugar balance, power your brain, keep your skin soft, and enhance the absorption of fat-soluble nutrients vitamins A, E, D, and K.
I myself have never counted calories and I do not encourage it with my clients. Calories are a rough guideline so no need to ignore them completely. Knowing which foods and food combinations are nutrient-dense and have less of an impact on blood sugar is key to weight loss.