A Calorie Is Not A Calorie

Yesterday, while chatting with a long term client about nutrition, we came to the controversial topic of whether or not the calories from fruit effect our bodies the same way the calories from grains do. Our conversation got me thinking and I’ve come to this stance: a calorie is not a calorie. Let me repeat that again, a calorie is not a calorie. Stop counting them, stop trying to understand them and stop rating your workouts by how many you burn. In fact, from here on out, forget you’ve ever even heard of calories. Calories aren’t worth your time. This may sound shocking, but I never count calories and neither do many others who understand nutrition. Without counting calories I hover at around 12% body fat (that’s far above average). One of my colleagues eats over 3,000 calories a day from fruit alone and maintains himself at 5% body fat (that’s professional athlete level)! He’s not concerned with his calorie intake either. There is a lack of understanding in the health and wellness world which tries to sell everyone on the ole “calorie in, calorie out” lie. The amount of calories in a banana effect you differently than the same calories in ice-cream because they are bio-nutritionally built differently. If this weren’t true then “calories in and calories out” would be correct and we could all maintain healthy body weights by limiting calories . If you’ve ever dieted before (and who hasn’t) you know this doesn’t work. So let’s take some time today and look at how calories effect us and how calories are not calories.


Compare four very different foods with very similar caloric contents; a Snickers, orange juice, potato and 3oz steak all have around 250 calories respectively. These foods have similar caloric amounts but effect your body, energy and weight in very different ways. Out of all of these, I’d actually choose to ingest the O.J. last because it is a 100% sugar bomb headed right to my waistline. Explaining how each effects your body is a whole other topic which will be touched on in an upcoming blog, but for today, I just want you to see that believing calories are calories is flawed. Let’s compare the potato to the steak; the potato stores about 70 grams of carbohydrate, which if not immediately used for exercise will turn into stored sugar resulting in weight gain. The steak, even though it has the same amount of calories as the potato, gets most of its calories from protein and fat. Proteins and fats don’t break down the same way as carbohydrates do and don’t enter the bloodstream as sugar. This difference in the type calorie (either derived from carb, protein or fat) and not the amount of calories shows us that all calories are not created equally. You may notice that many vegetarians and vegans aren’t thin and lack muscle on their bodies (not all), a large reason for this is the belief that if calories come from fruit or grains they won’t make you gain weight- simply not true. I’m not bashing fruits or vegetarians as half of my diet comes from whole foods, but I am challenging you to change how you look at calories.

If you have also been taught to judge your workouts by the amount of calories you’ve burned, you’re also in for some tough news. Just as food, all exercises aren’t created equally. Long distance running burns a lot of calories but doesn’t do so efficiently and causes muscle loss in the process. Can you imagine in your mind the difference in bodies between a marathoner and a sprinter? One is rail thin, the other is covered in muscle. Athletic, sporty, muscular, healthy black male running along a road outdoors with a mountain background.Weight lifting for example; doesn’t necessarily burn a lot of calories during exercise but it can have a huge increase your metabolism for hours afterwards. What does this mean? This means that when you leave the gym, you continue to burn calories for up to 24 hours hours. Your calorie counter won’t tell you that, but you’ll know it as the results speak for themselves- work smarter, not harder. The types of lifts you do in the gym also effect the amounts of calories you burn as a result too. Doing an isolated movement like a bicep curl does nothing for your metabolism compared to what doing squats does. Stop counting how many calories you’ve burned, it’s limited and will drive you nuts.  Here’s what I suggest instead; eat clean, lift heavy and move often.

Proper diet and nutrition are the foundations to a healthy and happy life. The choices you make around the food you put into your body effect your health, weight, energy and mood. Eating a natural diet; one high in lean proteins, vegetables, fruits, nuts and healthy fats will have more of an effect on your health and physique than counting calories ever will.  Here’s some basic suggestions to follow about the types of foods to eat, not the amounts of calories to count.

1) Eat a diet of at least 50% whole foods: Vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes and seeds. Eating a natural diet high in these foods will improve your energy levels and body functions, remove toxins from your body, lower cholesterol and control your body weight!

2) Eat healthy fats: Grass-fed beef/butter, free-range chicken, wild game and fish, organic eggs, avocados, nuts and olive/coconut oil.  Healthy fats are great for your heart and circulatory system and provide your body with a potent energy source. Fat is the most calorie dense source of energy your body can utilize. I find that eating fat actually helps me burn more fat. They aren’t the enemy.

3) Eat grains sparingly: Always chose whole-grains over white, processed ones. Grains and simple carbohydrates such as potatoes, pasta, bagels, rice and corn increase your blood sugar levels which your body stores as fat if not immediately burned. This can significantly increase weight gain.  The best time to eat grains is after lifting weights or before a long-run when your body can utilize the fuel provided.

4) Stay away from processed food; If it comes in a package, don’t eat it. Processed foods lack the vital nutrients your body needs to perform optimally and are generally loaded with sugar, sodium and chemicals- all which can lead to chronic illness and premature disease.  Avoiding processed food is probably your best measure in taking control of your health and weight.

5) Reward yourself: You’re not a robot and neither am I. Eat clean 80% of the time and the other 20% of the time reward yourself for being healthy and focused on your food choices.  Read my article In Defense of The Cheat for more on this topic.

Eat well and enjoy your food. If you make changes to your diet by adding in healthy options, over time there simply becomes less and less need to count calories. Eventually you may even prefer eating clean as it is much more rewarding than counting your calories and much more effective for that matter. Remember, a calorie is not a calorie in the kitchen and in the gym. The best way to control your health and your weight is to eat clean and exercise daily, and is rarely through counting calories or limiting your caloric intake. Follow these guidelines for a month and watch what happens, the only thing you have to lose is some excess weight and the pressure of counting calories ever again.

Are you ready to change your health, diet and life as a result? Contact me for more information about my in-person or on-line wellness coaching program at [email protected]

 

Please be sure to share and like this article if you found it helpful!

Nick Palladino-King teaches students and clients how to reduce stress, to increase happiness and to elevate health through yoga, wellness coaching and strength training.

Comments ( 4 )

    The comments are now closed.