How many times have you or someone you know faithfully counted their calories and carefully planned meals, only to lose little or no weight, or perhaps even to gain a pound or two? Since fat has twice as many calories as sugar, the assumption is that cutting fat is the answer. As a result, you find an abundance of products at the market labeled as “reduced fat” or “fat free”. Yet many of those products have secretly had more sugar added to them to make up for the reduction in fat.
The energy stored in food is what is measured in terms of calories. This is why a piece of chocolate the same size as a piece of lettuce will give you an energy rush, while the lettuce will not. The chocolate contains more calories, thus more energy.

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The idea of counting calories became popular around the turn of the 20th century when scientist Wilbur Atwater conducted an experiment. Atwater noticed that if you put food in a machine called a “bomb calorimeter” and burned it, you could measure the ash and heat to find out how much energy was released and therefore how much energy was in the food. So what’s the problem with counting calories?

The truth is, not all calories are the same. The main problem is that just cutting fat does not take into account the hormonal, mental, and emotional effect that certain calories have on your body. Some calories say “store fat,” some say “release sugar,” and others say “build muscle.”

For example, you may note the difference in your body’s reaction when you eat a high sugar/high carb energy bar compared to when you eat an avocado with the same number of calories. The energy bar will raise your blood sugar level, and in turn the pancreas will create insulin in response to the elevated blood sugar. In contrast, when you eat the avocado the monounsaturated fat inhibits insulin, your energy will be more sustained, and you will be more likely to feel full. Additionally, the avocado actually will send signals to your body to burn fat.

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While there has been common thought through the years that reduced calories will help you lose weight, popular though controversial diets such as the Adkins Diet have emerged that advocate reducing carbohydrates rather than calories. Doctors who argue counting calories will point out that some foods such as fried chicken or a cheeseburger are lower in carbs, but still contain more calories. Their argument is that you can still gain weight when you eat those foods.

In contrast, proponents of low carb diets state that by limiting carbohydrates your body is forced to burn fat for energy, rather than burning carbs like glucose. In the end, both counting carbs and counting calories have proven to be effective ways to lose weight.

There have also been studies which show that eating eggs for breakfast can help you automatically eat fewer calories, thereby helping you to lose weight. Chances are you have also heard it suggested to use a smaller plate, thereby eating smaller portions in order to trick your mind into thinking you’re eating more than you actually are.

Additionally, it’s known that a healthy diet is preferably accompanied by incorporating an exercise program into your lifestyle. A good exercise regime will help you burn calories, increase energy levels, and improve sleep, thereby contributing to better overall health.

So what is the bottom line? In the end, do calories matter?

Yes, but in addition to simply counting calories, consideration should be taken for the hormonal effects of certain foods. A person’s caloric needs are also dependent on other factors such as age, height, current weight, and desired weight. What are some steps you can take to lose weight in the healthiest possible way?

  • To stay full, eat protein-rich meals with plenty of fiber and healthy fats.
  • To avoid cravings, make sure 80% of what you eat each day is made up of healthy whole foods.
  • Incorporate items like coconut oil, olive oil, avocadoes, and fresh vegetables to optimize your hormonal response.
  • Reserve starchy or sugary carbs to the hour prior to and the hour following your hardest workouts.