Does Counting Calories Work?
If you’re confused about whether calorie counting is effective, you’re definitely not alone.
What is a calorie?
A calorie is defined as the amount of heat energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1°C.Calories are normally used to describe the amount of energy your body gets from what you eat and drink.
Calories can also be used to describe the amount of energy your body needs to perform physical tasks including:
- maintaining your heartbeat
If you’re wondering why calories matter, it’s important to understand how your body uses them.
It begins with what you eat. Food and beverages are where your body gets the calories it needs to function. Those calories come from one of the three macronutrients:
- carbohydrates, also referred to as carbs
During digestion, your body breaks down the foods you eat into smaller units.
These subunits can either be used to build your own tissues or to provide your body with the energy it needs to meet its immediate needs.The remainder of the calories you get from foods fuel your physical activity. This includes both your everyday tasks and your workouts. Therefore, the total number of calories needed to cover this category can vary greatly from day to day and person to person.
Once your body’s immediate energy needs are met, any excess energy is stored for future use.
Some of it is stored as glycogen (carbohydrate) in your muscles and liver, and the rest of it will be stored as fat.
On the other hand, if the calories you get from your diet are insufficient to cover your immediate needs, your body is forced to draw on its energy stores to compensate.
This state, known as being in a “calorie deficit” is what causes you to lose weight mostly from your body fat. But keep in mind when too excessive calorie deficit occurs from dietary restrictions or heavy exercise, your body will also pull from protein stores —breakdown of muscle—in addition to burning body fat for fuel
This calorie balance concept has been proven time and time again and persists whether your calories come from carbs, fat, or protein.
It’s important to make the distinction between quantity and quality. Even foods that have the same quantity of calories can be of different nutritional quality and can have very different effects on your health.
So should I count calories?
Counting calories isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but they’re just one piece of the puzzle. As a society, we fixate on them but they don’t give you everything you need to know – they tell you how much you’re eating but not what you’re eating. It’s worth remembering there’s a significant difference between calories and food quality.
You could eat 1000kcal of doughnuts and lose weight or 1000kcal of salmon, rice and broccoli and also lose weight. But it will be much harder to lose weight eating doughnuts because they’re not as filling as salmon, rice and broccoli. The latter is also a healthier meal and is likely to leave you feeling better and able to do more things, but you wouldn’t know that just by looking at the calories.