All Calories are Not Created Equal

To lose weight the common advice is to cut calories.  This is misleading at best, and counterproductive at worst.  Certainly, you can lose weight by cutting calories.  (As this professor did eating only Twinkies) But ONLY counting calories will always lead to un-sustained weight loss and a misunderstanding of what constitutes a healthy diet.

The Law of Thermodynamics doesn’t apply

In case you slept through chemistry class in high school, the law of thermodynamics says energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only change form.  Basically, it means whatever you put in, you get out.

This is the idea behind eat fewer calories than you burn and you lose weight.  Which, mind you, isn’t an ENTIRELY wrong way of thinking.  But the law of thermodynamics doesn’t exactly apply in the human body.  We’re too complex.

Those wacky hormones

Hormones don’t just make us crazy teenagers.  They’re regulators of bodily functions from growth and appetite, to sex drive (you knew that one).  And, almost all hormones play some role in our body’s use of energy, ie calories.

For example, the hormone estrogen is why women tend to carry their fat cells around they’re thighs and buttocks.  As men age, testosterone levels drop and the result is more fat deposited around the midsection.

But the hormone that does the lion share of regulating how we use the energy in our food is insulin.  Insulin’s role is utterly paramount to understand how our body burns energy, and thus, how we maintain, lose, or gain weight.  Check back Friday for a full discussion on how insulin works.

Dr Adkins was right

Not that you should go to Burger King, order a whopper and throw away the bun.  But Dr Adkins was right in stating the main culprit for weight gain was the refined carbs in the bun, not the fat in the meat.

Refined carbs cause insulin to get out of whack by causing skyrocketing blood sugar.  When insulin gets out of whack it stores too much of the sugars as fat, causing you to gain weight.  And, cruelly, make you crave carbs.  Which causes more fat to be stored, which causes you to crave carbs, and so on. It’s a vicious cycle.

I’m not an advocate for the Adkins diet particularly because I don’t believe radical diet changes and the avoidance of whole food stuffs is a positive way to diet.  But, ultimately, Dr Adkins was right in determining the main cause of weight gain was the ingestion of refined carbohydrates.

As an aside, if you get a whopper as a cheat meal.  Enjoy it.  Bun and all.

Take home message

When making food choices, consider the type of calories you’re taking in before how many you’re eating.  As is always my rule of thumb, the more processed (i.e. longer list of ingredients), the worse it is for you.  Eat whole foods and avoid the refined carbs that are the driving force behind weight gain.

Ultimately, calories do count.  You just don’t have to count them.

To learn more, check out these books by Gary Taubes: Good Calories, Bad Calories or Why We Get Fat. (Why We Get Fat is written in more user-friendly, lay person style)

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4 responses to “All Calories are Not Created Equal

  1. Pingback: What The View Doesn’t Know About Calories | Essentials of Nutrition

  2. So glad I found your blog. Very helpful, demystifying info. I’m curious what you think about the somewhat recent wheat-causes-insulin-spikes craze?

    • Thanks for the kind words Saaron. Be sure to share us with your friends!

      I assume you’re referring to the processed-wheat-flour-spiking-insulin issue. I think without a shadow of doubt eating foods made from processed (aka enriched) wheat flour, as a lot of junk foods are, spikes our insulin levels and leads to weight gain and diabetes.

      Obviously there are many factors at play when it comes to weight gain and the development of diabetes, so I am I reluctant to assign blame to one food characteristic. But, you’re certainly improving your diet by avoiding foods made from enriched wheat flour.

      I hope that helps! Please let me know if you have any more questions!

  3. Pingback: Life, Diet, and Taxes: 4 Rules for Eating Right | Essentials of Nutrition

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