We’re often asked for the calorie count on our plans, or “How many calories should I eat in a day if I want to lose/gain weight?”
The answer is that, as well as removing the joy from eating, calories are shonky science.
That’s not to say that the amount of energy you eat and drink doesn’t matter; it does, and having a rough idea of the approximate energy values of foods can be helpful alongside other intuitive eating practises, but counting and obsessing over small numbers makes less sense than adjusting intake based on good nutrition, lifestyle, common sense, the way you feel, and your how your body reacts (and that’s not just size, but health).
Calories: the lowdown
A calorie is the amount of energy needed to heat one gram of water by one degree Celsius. Hmm, that’s very simplistic when compared to the body’s huge amount of processes, and the vast amount of variables.
- Calories are not equal. 100 calories worth of crisps will be handled differently by the body than 100 calories of nuts. The crisps will cause a rise in blood sugar, the nuts will help to steady blood sugar. Causing a blood sugar rise means more fat is stored while the body tries to regulate circulating sugars. That’s before we look at the relative nutrient values.
- Bodies are not equal. A fit person may use calories differently to an unfit person. An over-fat person may handle them differently to a lean person. The fitter, leaner person’s body may be more efficient at using energy because it has learned how to optimise energy from food. The less fit, fatter person’s body may have learned how to be sedentary and how to readily store fat. Maybe…
- Calorie values on labels and in books can be wrong and don’t account for the many variables.
- We each have different bacteria, enzymes and gut-function. Human digestive enzymes and gut flora vary according to diet, health status, lifestyle and genetics. Some people have very diverse and efficient enzymes, others do not. Each will handle the energy in food differently.
- The way foods are prepared and cooked changes their energy-effect. For instance, boiling a potato creates a different energy effect than roasting it, the boiled spud may raise blood sugar more readily, but wait, there’s yet another factor, the *type* of potato can make a difference too! Waxy potatoes release energy and raise blood sugar more slowly than floury ones. When humans learned how to cook food they would have hugely increased the food’s calorie availability. So looking at calories in a potato doesn’t give you an accurate measure of the energy value of a baked potato. And it’s not just potatoes!
At fitnaturally we don’t concern ourselves with the ‘how many calories should I eat in a day’ mentality, and we don’t want you to either!
Nothing is more irredeemably irrelevant than bad science.