They’re in everything we consume. And in fact, they’re an indication of the amount of energy in our food.
Most people count calories in an attempt to lose weight. However, eating less isn’t always the answer to weight loss. This is particularly true in light of research on fad dieting and how restricting calories often leads to long-term weight gain.
This article is an exploration of calories, how the body burns calories, why all calories aren’t created equal, and how you should monitor calories for weight loss.
The Basic Science Behind Calories and Weight Loss
Traditional science suggests that if you want to lose weight, you must consume less energy (calories) than the body uses. If you want to maintain your weight, you should consume roughly the same amount of calories you burn throughout the day.
Likewise, if you consume more calories than your body burns throughout your daily activities, you should gain weight. So with portion sizes now larger than ever, many adults gain weight because of this reason.
How the Body Burns Calories
Your body burns calories through a range of physical activities from walking to running, weight lifting, and everything in-between. Your size and age will greatly influence how many calories you burn, amongst other factors.
Higher intensity activities, like running, will burn more calories than walking. Many people increase physical activity levels and begin a diet to decrease their calorie intake and burn those that remain in an effort to lose weight quickly. But doing so often backfires, especially because the body craves balance.
By dramatically reducing your calories and increasing your activity levels, you will throw your body off balance. This can cause weight loss, but won’t lead to sustained weight loss over time.
Not All Calories are Created Equal, Either
At first glance, a calorie is a calorie, right?
New and existing research reaffirms the idea that certain food sources are better for weight loss and are easier to burn, helping people better reach their weight loss goals.
Here are just some of the ways calories differ from one another:
Different macronutrients are digested through different metabolic pathways, each of which has a different level of efficiency. For example, protein has a thermic effect of 25-30% whereas fat is just 2-3%. This means 100 calories of protein would be 75 calories whereas 100 calories of fat would be 98 calories as they’re digested.
Levels of Satisfaction
Certain types of calories are more satiating than others, reducing caloric intake. For example, protein reduces appetite, causing you to eat less the rest of the day while burning more calories due to the macronutrients you’ve consumed.
Refined carbohydrates, like sucrose and white bread, are low in fibre and as such, are digested quickly. This spikes your blood sugar and causes you to eat more.
High-quality calories come from nutrient-rich foods like high-quality meats, leafy greens, nuts, and avocadoes. Processed foods, sugars, and grains are unsatisfying and have the opposite effect.
As such, you should choose your caloric sources wisely.
So is Cutting Calories the Answer for Weight Loss?
Not really. In fact, calories make up just a small fraction of the equation when it comes to weight loss.
The human body strives to maintain your weight by regulating everything from appetite to metabolism. When you eat too much, your body compensates by burning more calories and lowering your appetite. Likewise, if you eat too little your body will burn less calories while increasing your appetite.
By cutting calories, you’re seeking a short-term solution to the underlying problem (i.e. there is a factor/are factors in play that are keeping you from slimming down). As such, it isn’t a magic number you should cut out (though calculators do exist to help with that exact purpose).
Instead, you should focus on adopting a healthy lifestyle complete with a balanced diet and exercise to rid your body of excess weight.
The Bottom Line About Calories and Weight Loss
If you’re consuming healthy, nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, protein, and complex carbohydrates, counting calories becomes less important. In fact, the body was designed to maintain weight and shed excess weight when necessary, provided that you’re exercising and fueling it properly to do so.
If a food is well-known as healthy, you can assume it is. When you eat only healthy foods and moderate your intake of less-than-quality options, you will naturally lose weight with proper portion control and daily activity.
When you are just transitioning to a healthier lifestyle from one of calorie restriction, achieving results can be difficult. That’s why many use supplements like PhenQ to burn stored fat, block fat production, and suppress appetite to control hunger as they make the switch.
Get smart about calories, but don’t worry about them as much as the foods you’re putting in your body. Switching your thinking in this fashion is the best way to change your lifestyle, lose weight, and keep it off.