Calorie counting is a fad. Yes! That’s right. If you’re someone who’s obsessed with how many calories you’re eating or how many calories are in each ingredient you purchase, then it’s time to listen closely.
First off, who really knows what a calorie actually is? We attach so much meaning to arbitrary numbers like how many calories there are in our food, we forget to think through what we’re actually saying. Here’s a list which might change your eating habits and help you move closer towards your health and fitness goals.
Truth #1 – Calories are estimates not exact calculations
A calorie is the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water to 1 °C. Back in the day, the original method used was to place a food item “in a sealed container surrounded by water–an apparatus known as a bomb calorimeter. The food was completely burned and the resulting rise in water temperature was measured.”
As the years progressed, food manufacturers don’t actually go through this process to label the number of calories in our food anymore. “According to the National Data Lab (NDL), most of the calorie values in the USDA and industry food tables are based on an indirect calorie estimation made using the so-called Atwater system.” The Atwater system uses pre-determined average values of the amount of protein, carbohydrates, and fat in food to determine the total number of calories (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-do-food-manufacturers/).
A difference in a few hundred calories is as significant as the difference between a 100 meter dash compared to a 1 kilometer run.
Truth #2 – Not all calories are equal
The same idea which applies to bad fats (like the bad fats from fried foods) versus good fats (like the good fats from salmon), applies to the number of calories in food. Eating 100 calories worth of ice cream versus eating 100 calories worth of avocadoes is a drastic difference in the nutritional value you’re adding to your food intake.
According to Dr. David Ludwig, a professor of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, “your weight is regulated by a complex system of genetic factors, hormonal factors, and neurological input, and not all calories affect this system the same way.”
Yes, what you’re eating matters more than the number of calories it’s adding to your diet.
Truth #3 – Not all humans are the same
To place a generic metric on the amount of calories you should be eating if you’re a certain age, of a certain height, and of a certain body mass composition is arbitrary based on the basic understanding that no two humans are exactly the same (unless you’re a clone).
Genetics have a much larger role in determining how much energy you use throughout your day or when doing certain activities, than people think. For example, some people from birth have higher metabolic rates than others or based on genetics have higher muscle density than others. These specific differences matter in the context of how many calories you’re actually burning and how many calories you actually need.
New research is starting to move away from the dated notion of calorie counting, as researchers have discovered the ineffective results of calorie counting in relation to weight loss. It’s not about the calories, it’s about the quality and value of what you’re putting into your body.