Wednesday, 20 November 2013

A Calorie is not Just a Calorie

How many times have you heard that to lose weight you need to put in less calories than you burn? Well I used this philosophy for a whole year and lost nothing. I was eating around 1200 calories a day (according to my nifty little app) and I was monitoring how many calories I was burning at the gym. Everyday I was calorie deficient. So why was I not losing weight?

Unfortunately it's not as simple as calories in calories out when it comes to weight loss. It's actually a lot simpler - eat clean natural foods! Think about it, is eating 1500 calories from chocolate really going to have the same effect on your body as 1500 calories from meat/fish and veg? I think not. It all comes down to what the calorie is made up from. For a short definition of calories click here. Calories contain various nutrients and it's how the body uses these nutrients that will determine how your body copes with weight loss.

1. Different amounts of energy are used to metabolise fat, carbohydrates and protein. In order to digest and absorb the nutrients from foods the body must use energy, the amount of energy used depends on what is being digested. As a general rule it takes more energy to process proteins and fats than it does to process carbs. Also remember that carbs start to get broken down in the mouth, whereas fats and proteins don't get digested till much later down the digestive system. What this means effectively is that a 2,500-calorie day from a high-protein diet adds fewer calories to the body than a 2,500-calorie day from a high-carb diet.

2. As I have previously mentioned, calorie restriction can slow the metabolism. The fewer calories you consume, the fewer calories you will burn. Your body will start to run cooler to retain the reduced number of calories you’re eating, thereby effectively increasing the value of each calorie.

3. Can nutrients from certain calories help to reduce appetite? I think so, especially protein. So if you up your protein intake you will probably find yourself eating less throughout the day. Since I started eating a protein based breakfast I no longer need a morning snack!
'In a recent study from the University of Washington School of Medicine, 19 subjects were fed each of three diets sequentially. For two weeks they followed a weight-maintenance diet comprising 15 percent protein, 35 percent fat, and 50 percent carbohydrate. For the next two weeks they followed a high–protein diet of equal calories. The macro-nutrient breakdown of this diet was 30 percent protein, 20 percent fat, and 50 percent carbohydrate. Finally, the subjects switched to a high-protein diet with the same macronutrient breakdown but no calorie restriction—subjects were allowed to eat as much or as little as they pleased (or “ad libitum”). They stayed on this last diet for 12 weeks. The authors of the study reported that when subjects switched from the low-protein weight maintenance diet to the high-protein weight maintenance diet, they started feeling much fuller despite the fact that they were consuming the same number of calories. Even more significant, during the unrestricted high-protein diet phase, the subjects voluntarily reduced their daily eating by 441 calories per day and lost almost 11 pounds, including more than eight pounds of body fat, on average.'

4. Fiber is a form of carbohydrate and can contribute to satiety without contributing as many calories because not all fiber is absorbed into the body. So 100 calories from a high fiber food will reduce appetite more than 100 calories from a lower fiber food. So in the same way as protein, a person who increases his daily fiber consumption without making any conscious effort to eat less will wind up eating less anyway due to reduced appetite.

So no - not all calories are equal. Also sugar is what is called an empty calorie that provides the body with very little to no nutrients. Read more about sugar here.

If your looking to lose weight I would recommend a diet high in protein and fats, with added fiber found in fruits and vegetables and some natural carbs, such as potatoes, sweets potatoes, brussel sprouts and sweet corn (a more in depth list is here) instead of pasta, rice and bread.

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