Is a calorie a calorie?
Ask any health or fitness professional and the answer is usually a resounding “YES.”
That’s because of the first Law of Thermodynamics (conservation of energy) is stated as a concrete fact as it pertains to the human body’s use of calories from food for energy, and it’s as simple as CALORIES IN EQUALS CALORIES OUT.
In case you’re unfamiliar to the Law of Conservation of Energy, it states that “energy cannot be created nor destroyed just transformed or transferred in some way, in a closed system.”
As an equation, it can be stated as: U = Q – W.
“U” is the internal energy of the system (or body-weight), “Q” is the heat supplied by the system (the calories eaten in a day) and “W” is the work done by the system (the calories burned by your body for any given action or metabolic processes in a day).
In other words, a calorie is a calorie in our system (our bodies) and will always equal the same no matter what. For instance, if your diet consisted of 1500 calories from all simple carbs and sugar sources, like bread, potato chips, cookies, candies, etc., it would EQUAL THE SAME CALORIES AND CAUSE THE SAME EFFECT from a balanced diet of meats, veggies, good fats, and slow digesting carbs.
Using the first Law of Thermodynamics this statement is true. It doesn’t matter what food you eat as long as you’re eating the right amount of calories to either gain, lose, or maintain your body weight for a given energy expenditure. In other words, the classic saying “Calories in equals calories out” remains true based on the first Law of Thermodynamics.
Weight-gain is, essentially, the result of poor behaviors and ultimately down to “personal choice.”
On the surface, this makes complete sense, but recently there has been new evidence challenging this statement.
What if the first Law of Thermodynamics did not fit our diet completely? What if our biological chemistry firstly dictates how the calories we consume interact with our bodies based on our current physiology, resulting in different ways certain macronutrients are processed, or expressed, in our body system?
This, I think, is a question that should be further investigated because, as a population, more people are overweight now, yet we’ve heard for years that it’s as simple as cutting your calories and exercising more.
Don’t you think if it was that easy that more of us would be in shape?
Just food for thought (pun intended).
And do not get me wrong…
I understand that this calorie balance is the first step in any weight-loss endeavor. The majority of Americans sit for longer periods of time more than ever today, and have access to an abundance of food at their fingertips. Put that together and it’s no mystery that we’re so fat.
BUT, IS THAT IT?
Is there nothing more going on in this story of obesity and being overweight?
I can’t say for sure that there is or not, but given the circumstances, I think there must be more to the story then just to say, “people are lazy, cheetoh hungry slobs that just don’t care.”
I believe that may be true to a degree, BUT I think the majority of people who are overweight DO CARE about losing weight and TRY, but do not get very far because the story of calories in equals calories out is incomplete.
Many lose some weight in the beginning with more exercise and calorie reduction in their diet, but soon after that progress stops and they are left discouraged after weeks of no progress. No matter what they try they just cannot seem to lose the weight.
Working with clients myself as a trainer, I’ve come to understand that people are complicated, and saying they should stick to the current dogma is losing credibility and traction because, quite frankly, it’s not really working anymore in TODAY’S DIET. It is failing and, hence, must be investigated.
Keeping it as simple as CALORIES IN = CALORIES OUT seems to not tell the full story in my book.
Let’s dig deeper.
How are (Simple) Carbs Used by the Body
To first understand the energy equation we must first understand how energy (Calories from food) is used and processed by the body.
To make things simple, watch the video below.
I think the video above does a great job at explaining how sugar metabolism takes place in the body and what exactly is going on. Since sugar is so abundant in our food supply today, it makes it extremely difficult to limit your intake of it, allowing excess sugar consumption to be the norm. Foods you think would not have sugar, like meat, crackers, and chips, have them. That’s why I’m always an advocate of checking the food label and making sure, first-hand, there is no question about it.
But, aren’t we told that we need carbohydrates for energy? That’s what the food pyramid tells us, right?
That is true, yes, but the food pyramid is outdated and has barely changed with the times.
The food pyramid tells us that the base — the majority of our calories — should be from carbs, including pastas, grains, and flours. If you want to become a bodybuilder or an offensive lineman then sure, that might be a good option for you. You can do that. BUT, since most of us don’t need to be 250 to 300 pounds for a job that’s probably not the best option to go with.
What we need is more balance in our diet from whole-food sources.
I’m not saying going ketogenic and cutting carbs altogether. No. But, just making simple changes by consuming more complex carbs (increasing fiber) and less simple ones (devoid of fiber) is a good start to balance blood sugar (insulin). Throw in good protein and fat sources, like quality chicken, fish, avocados, meat, and nuts, and you have a much better combination to lose weight and be healthier, with daily exercise activity added in.
If not, then the chance of flooding your body with simple carbs is high (the highly processed “American Diet”). This causes a tidal wave of INSULIN as a response, contributing to METABOLIC SYNDROME (insulin resistance) over-time, and, eventually, Type II Diabetes and other health defects.
Metabolic Syndrome and Weight
METABOLIC SYNDROME is a name given to refer to abnormal functions of your biochemistry that dictate bodily functions and processes. By definition, if you have three or more of the following criteria, you have metabolic syndrome:
- Abdominal obesity (Waist circumference of greater than 40 inches in men, and greater than 35 inches in women)
- Triglyceride level of 150 milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL) or greater
- HDL cholesterol of less than 40 mg/dL in men or less than 50 mg/dL in women
- Systolic blood pressure (top number) of 130 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) or greater, or diastolic blood pressure (bottom number) of 85 mm Hg or greater
- Fasting glucose of 100 mg/dL or greater
(Source: American Heart Association)
Metabolic syndrome is so BAD because it puts you at a much higher risk of developing chronic diseases, like heart disease, Type II diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, stroke, heart attack, and so forth. All of these share one things in common – insulin resistance or abnormally high blood sugar levels. One of the main contributors to this is the abundance of SUGAR and SIMPLE CARBS in the diet. These two become such a HUGE problem because many often consume them in excess, leading to metabolic syndrome to manifest itself (weight-gain, high blood pressure, low HDL cholesterol, and high blood sugar turning into insulin resistance).
It’s because our body cannot process simple carbs and sugars in abundance, like how we eat them. It’s just doesn’t work. The body does it’s best and stores it as fat because it has nowhere else to put the remaining glucose it breaks down from the many simple carbs that are ingested.
This causes lots of visceral fat (fat around your organs) leading to dangerous health effects deteriorating our health.
If you have read doctor Robert Lustig’s book, Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity and Chronic Disease, then you will also be familiar that obesity (what simple sugars invariably cause over-time if not kept in check) is a symptom of metabolic syndrome from a hormonal imbalance, or malfunction, in which leptin (the hormone that tells us we’re full) does not reach the hypothalamus (the command center of our appetite and how our digestive system functions) due to excess insulin being released by the body to handle the simple carbs and sugars. This causes our bodies to go in “STARVATION” mode causing much of the food we consume put towards FAT.
This explains those individuals who severely restrict their calories and exercise more do not get much anywhere because our hormones and body-chemistry will not let us use our “fat stores” for energy. If they have any success it is typically short lived, and they often gain the weight back with any change in calories and reduction in exercise once they do.
Thus, you must stop and reverse any high blood sugar (insulin) levels FIRST and then you can tackle weight-loss.
High and consistent insulin levels means you can’t burn FAT!
STOP HIGH INSULIN.
Making the Change to Reduce Insulin
Reducing insulin levels and making sure they remain more consistent is hard, but doable.
Yes, I understand that your habits and lifestyle play a part in that, because a diet is temporary and habits, and/or a lifestyle, are potentially life long. I’m an advocate of this, and agree 100% that you need a healthy lifestyle (like a well-balanced diet and much exercise/physical activity performed daily). That said, however, it is not the one-all be-all solution to how simple carbs, and food in general, affect us.
There are so many different moving parts to what’s going on that simplifying weight-gain to The First Law is a discredit to everyone who is over-weight. Essentially, you’re saying they want to be fat and overweight and they are just soft. Maybe to a degree, but often times they just don’t know what to do.
Believe it or not they are the majority now, or at least will be very soon, and I doubt that was their goal — TO BE FAT.
No one wants to have a higher chance of dying sooner, and developing chronic illnesses and disease that deteriorate their quality of life on a day-to-day basis where they can’t function, while straining their personal life and pocket at the same time. This causes a harsh decline in self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-efficacy, which make their life miserable
I was there myself and lost the 100 pounds and I’ve kept it off for 6 years now. I’m the extreme minority when it comes to weight-loss, so I know what the HELL I’M TALKING ABOUT.
What helped me was a curiosity to figure this weight-loss process. To feel better day-to-day and not have nagging minor ailments (acne, brain fog, lethargy, poor self confidence, to name a few), added up together, to make me miserable. And that is what I was — miserable.
I refused to be fat and that is what opened my eyes to seeking alternative solutions to the weight-loss problem. Eating better and exercising more helped me right away — absolutely. I have not said and will never say it does not. What I am saying is that to lose “all the weight you want” you have to think of diet as just “NOT A DIET.” It is a different way of thinking and living that you have to accept.
Essentially, changing your biochemistry for the better through particular environmental changes.
That is what has helped me.
This is what will help PEOPLE solve THEIR insulin equation, which will help those that seem to can’t lose any fat or weight to lose it and keep it off. Ultimately, that is what really counts — keeping the weight off.
Stay tuned for Part II where I will discuss methods, procedures, and plans to change your physical and physiological environment for the better to lose the weight.
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Please leave your comments down below because this is such an important topic.
Until next time, be strong and be you.