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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A calorie is a calorie is a calorie

I get quite a few emails every week that ask questions about calories.

First of all, I am in no way a dietitian or nutritionist, but I wanted to cover the topic of calories based on my experience. I've read a lot of literature about calories over the last year and from what I've read and what I've gone through...

a calorie is a calorie is a calorie!

To me there's no such thing as a 'bad' or 'good' calorie (read on before you write me off). A calorie is a form of measurement so how can there be a difference in one calorie and another. That's like saying an inch of string is different than an inch of grass. People, an INCH of anything is still equal to an INCH of a completely different object. The only difference between the inch of string and grass is the material that makes up the inch.

In this sense (the physical sense), an inch of string and an inch of grass are different.

Same goes for calories. Measurement-wise, one calorie of sugar still equals one calorie of lettuce, but there is a HUGE difference in the physical sense of each calorie. Now we're talking about empty calories (sugar, refined grains) vs. nutrient-dense calories (veggies, whole grains). Nutrient-dense basically means the nutrient to calorie ratio is high. Going back to our example, a calorie of sugar is far less nutrient-dense than a calorie of lettuce. Get my drift?

To lose weight (and to only lose weight) you have to consume less calories than you burn. It's that simple.

But to lose weight AND get healthy, you need to choose nutrient-dense calories vs. empty calories.

A person who normally eats 4000 calories/day will definitely lose weight if they ate 2000 calories/day instead... even if those 2000 calories came from only candy - or whipped cream like the picture! But do you think they'd be healthy? Probably not. Anyone's best bet to lose weight AND get healthy is to combine a calorie-restricted diet* while choosing nutrient-dense calories from fruits/veggies, whole grains, and lean proteins. Plus, from my experience, you get to eat a lot more and a lot more often if you choose these foods... ever try to eat 500 calories worth of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers and some balsamic vinegar? That's a whole lot of food!

*A calorie-restricted diet does NOT mean a less than 1200 calorie diet! A calorie-restricted diet means keeping your calories at a healthy minimum... for me, that's 1600 - 1700 calories and I'm only 5-feet tall. Some people who are much taller than me restrict their calories too low (read less than 1200 calories) and although you will loose weight, 1200 calories cannot maintain most healthy individuals. I'll save this topic for another post!


Lors said...

I am actually on a 1200 calorie plan on MFP. This takes into account the 500 calories deficit required to lose 1 lb per week. At times this can be quite limiting but I've noticed that I've been losing because I was stuck in a plateau for the longest time (even with a personal trainer).

But, I do try to balance my nutrients as best as I can. I also always will "eat" most of my workout calories and that typically will be an extra 400-500 calories. So, by being able to eat these calories, it forces me to work out more :-)

Mandie said...

Very well said girlie ;)

Kyle Gershman said...

Masterfully said and likely better than a nutritionist or dietitian. I tell people that I'm over-educated and under-practiced in the ways of fitness.

The Bodybugg (or any other calorie in/out enforced philosophy) really doesn't care about the make up of the calories either. Clearly, you get a lot more bulk to eat when the calories are healthy than when they are laded with fat and refined sugars. The great thing about calories in/out, though is that you CAN eat whatever you want, but it is truly better to eat healthful calories.

Boomer said...

Good post. I was a little worried at the beginning, but I faithfully continued to read on as you suggested. Then you made it very clear about consuming quality calories for good health. I would like to further add that it is wise to select the sort of calories that will provide good fuel for our workouts.

Annie, The Amazing Shrinking Girl said...

@Lors - Girl, if you're eating back your exercise calories, then your most likely consuming 1500 - 1900 so that's good! Some people don't understand the concept that 1200 NET calories is something that's acceptable to me. If you're talking NET cals, then yeah, I eat about 1200 too.

@Mandie - Thanks!

@Kyle - Very well said too.

@Boomer - Thanks for not writing me off before you finished reading! Yes, when you're working out as 'Insane' as you are, getting good fuel is always important. Good point.

Ladybug said...

GREAT Post...

Christine said...

I like your illustrators. And agree that health is a vital part of the successful weight loss process. If you don't feed your body you burn out! So mathematically, yes, a calorie is a calorie. But in practice those who nurish their bodies are much more successful at being able to maintain a calorie deficit for the long haul.