If only this was true, I remember like it was yesterday. I was finishing my degree program of Human Performance and Sport with a minor in Nutrition. I was working at a health club and decided to take the tools I had been taught and apply them to the members of the club. At the time my knowledge consisted of the FDA food guide pyramid, which now looking back and seeing the current state of our health in America might not have been the best recommendation for food. Along with that a simple calorie-based calculations to illicit weight loss or weight gain.
The calculation was so simple. For example, when it came to weight loss, typically the recommendation is 1-2 lbs per week. It takes 3500 calories to lose 1 pound of body weight. Therefore, if you wanted to lose 1-2 pounds per week a simple calculation would show that you would need to be in a total calorie deficit of 3500-7000 calories over the course of the entire week. Wow, so simple. Why is this so difficult for people understand, it’s just math, right?
There are quite a few reasons as to why it’s not this simple and why this method can leave you more frustrated then when you initially started.
To start, most calorie counts are inaccurate and completely ignore the complexity of the digestion and absorption process, which by the way is as individual to you as your fingerprint.
The digestion process or better known as the thermic effect of food, requires the expenditure of energy. From chewing, to swallowing, to producing stomach acid and digestive enzymes, to the churning of the food and moving through your digestive tract, to mobilize the cells in your small intestine to pull the nutrients from the food, to move the nutrients to their required places throughout the body, and to ship out all the metabolic wastes. Simply put this is the digestive process.
However, did you know the types of foods you eat also determine the net calories you end up with at the end of this process?
Of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, it is generally accepted that protein takes the most energy to digest. In fact, it takes approximately 20-30 percent of the total calories in protein going towards the digestion process. Carbohydrates are next with 5-10 percent going to digestion and fat only requires 0-3 percent.
So to help explain this. If you eat 100 calories of protein. Your body will require 20-30 of those calories just to digest and absorb it. So even though the package or the app you’re using says 100 calories you may only be receiving 70-80 calories from the 100 calorie you consumed.
So what does all this mean? You’re saying counting my calories is pointless? No, I’m not saying they are pointless. Yes, if you’re eating excessive amounts of calories and food and not expending or moving enough, you’re going to end up with issues. However, personally I want you to be able to see nourishment from a different and broader lens. Understand that even though the body is complex, food can be simple. We have some exciting thigs to come and I can’t wait to share. But in the mean time I hope this helps expand you understanding of calories.