Friday, May 7, 2010

A Calorie is NOT a Calorie

I've spent a lot of my life dieting or doing "lifestyle changes" or whatever you want to call this losing weight gig. I tried everything from diet pills to hospital programs to Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, Atkins, and more. What I finally settled on a couple years ago was calorie counting, because it is simple and it does work. I used a free program online called Sparkpeople (there are others, such as the Daily Plate and FitDay that are also free) to count my calories. I like it because no foods are off limits and you can pretty much fit ANYTHING in moderation into your eating plan.

I've heard from other calorie counters (and dieters) that "a calorie is a calorie" and it doesn't really matter whether it comes from a donut or a chicken breast and broccoli: 200 calories is 200 calories and they are the same as far as your body goes. They say as long as you stay under x number of calories, you'll lose weight. Well, that is only partly true.

A calorie IS just a unit of energy; it's a way to measure how much energy is contained in any given food. In chemistry class, we made calorimeters and put food inside them and did a controlled, measured burn of the heat given off when any food was burned. That's how we determined how many calories were in that food.

But what calories do NOT measure is nutrition. We all know that. A donut is a bunch of sugar and fat and has pretty much no nutritional value. A chicken breast and broccoli dinner is full of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Your body does not view them the same.

When people say all calories are equal, it's like saying all pounds are equal. Well yes, a pound IS a pound, whether it's a pound of rocks or a pound of feathers. Both weigh 16 ounces and if you hold them they each weigh one pound. But I bet if I came into your living room and dumped a pound of gold coins on your carpet, and then dumped a pound of manure on your carpet, you'd tell me they were NOT the same! You'd have very different reactions to those two 'pounds'. Those pounds are NOT equal... not in all senses.

Which leads me to my next point: our REACTIONS are different when we are eating 200 calories of sugary junk than when we eat 200 calories of nutritious food. Our bodies AND our minds react differently.

Let's say we stuck some fat people in holding cells. There's no food in there and no exercise equipment. Just TV's. And three times a day, we shove a tray of food under the door for the fat people to eat. Let's say half the people got all candy bars, donuts, and sodas for their meals for an entire month, and the other people got fresh vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, fruits, and vegetables for a month. Given that EVERY person is getting exactly 1500 calories worth of food, what do you think will happen when we open the doors at the end of a month? Will they all lose the same amount of weight? Will both groups have the same results?

I have never done this experiment (want to volunteer?), but I can tell you that a body fed sugar and junk will process that "food" much differently than a body fed healthy food. If both groups are substantially overweight, they will probably both lose some weight on 1500 calories a day regardless of what it is. But I tell you what... that first group is going to be SICK. They are going to come out of their cells looking and feeling like absolute crap. Their bodily functions will be all out of whack, and because their blood sugar levels have been crazy, they will feel horrible AND they probably will NOT lose as much weight as the second group. The healthy eaters, however, will be more likely to emerge from their cells reasonably healthy and with a decent weight loss (but ready to get away from the TV!)

Think about this the next time you put something in your mouth. Certainly none of us subsist on ONLY candy bars and sodas for weeks on end (at least we throw some pizzas in there once in awhile), but honestly, it *does* matter what kind of calories you eat on a daily basis. (If you don't believe me, try it for 3 days: for 3 days eat nothing but candy and cookies and sodas, and then for 3 days eat only vegetables and fish and chicken. See if there's a difference. *disclaimer, do this at your own risk!*) And remember that a candy bar affects your MIND differently than a chicken breast does. When I eat chicken, that's fine. When I eat candy, I feel *triggered* to eat more candy. If you are binge-prone, choosing your calories wisely means so much more. It can be the difference between being in control and totally losing it.

Yes, there is room (for some people) for a rich dessert once in awhile, but what are you doing to yourself if you eat crap foods EVERY DAY? What kind of body are you building if you have hot dogs and Cheetos and cupcakes all day today, and McDonald's and sodas and ice cream all day tomorrow? What you eat BECOMES PART OF YOU. I think too many people do not realize that. Literally, you BECOME what you eat. Look at me. I ate fat and crap for years, and then my body became primarily FAT and I felt like CRAP. What do you think happens when you eat a carrot, or a candy bar? Your stomach digests it and uses the materials in that food to MAKE CELLS in your body! Your blood, your organs, your very flesh is all made up of whatever you've been eating for the last seven years. Your cells, all of you, is made of the atoms and molecules that went into your mouth. Literally. So that Big Mac, it is going to become part of you. Do you really want that?

I look back at a typical day before I got my head on straight. Three years ago, a typical day (WITHOUT a binge trip to the grocery store) was:
danishes and coffee with sugary creamer for breakfast
a snack of leftover chocolate cake
a couple cans of Coke
a bag of Pizza Rolls for lunch, dipped in Ranch dressing
6 little Debbie Swiss cake rolls
a 3pm 'snack' of a value meal at McDonald's before picking up kids from school (usually Big Mac, fries, Coke, and 3 chocolate chip cookies)
candy
dinner of 5 hot dogs on buns with Cheetos
dessert of brownies and ice cream
late night snacks of a Lemon fried pie, a donut, and a Twix bar

No, I am not kidding. And that's a lot of calories. People nowadays occasionally comment to me that I am not eating 'enough' calories and I am in starvation mode. While my recent bloodwork and doctor's appointment proved that false and confirmed an excellent nutritional status, I also like to point out to people that although right now I eating 850-1000 calories per day (designed by doctors), EVERY calorie is something my body needs. I get loads of high quality protein, lots of fresh vegetables, necessary fiber, and all the vitamins my body needs. Do you really think my body was better off with 4000 calories of absolute junk? To me, THAT was starvation mode. My body was STARVING for nutrition when all I was feeding it was crap. I didn't even bother to drink a glass of water in a day back then. It was all sugar, fat, and salt, all the time. There is NO way I got even close to my body's nutritional requirements for fiber or protein or HEALTHY fat back then. Then, my body was starving. Now, it's not. 1000 high quality calories of nutritious foods is far better for ME than 4000 calories of crap that made me fat and miserable.

The best 100-calorie pack is not a bag of cookies; it's 2/3 cup of Brussels sprouts.

Try to remember this. Whether you count calories, Weight Watcher points, carbs, or are just trying to eat better in your own way, make those calories GOOD ones. Build a body today that you'll be proud of tomorrow; one that will be strong and healthy and will carry you through the next decades of your life in the healthiest, most joyful way. We all have to choose what we put into our bodies, and sometimes it might be a cookie. And that's ok. Just remember that different calories will affect you in different ways.

45 comments:

first steps said...

Great post!! You have put down in black and white what I have been trying to tell a few people lately. I think I will have them come by and read your blog for today! Absolutely sums it all up perfectly, thank you!

411 Gurl said...

I liked this entry - and not just because you made me hungry for roasted brussel sprouts. You've come a long way Lyn, I've so enjoyed your journey with you. Thank you for sharing it.

Ex Yo-Yo Dieter Debbie said...

Have you read "In Defense of Food" by Michael Pollan? Or "The End of Overeating"? Both are excellent books on the same topic...and more.

For me, when I get in the sugar mode, it is not rational thinking at all...I know all sorts of nutritional information and what is good for me. But once the first "dose" of sugar has been consumed, all logic flies out the window. "I don't care" takes over, and it requires a lot of strength to pull myself together, and climb out of the maze.

I'm working on it!

BTW: What is Lemon fried pie??? Or maybe I shouldn't know that one :)

NAN said...

AMEN!! I get so frustrated when I read weight blogs advocating eat whatever you want that fits your calorie budget. If you want to be healthy and not just the 'right' weight, you definitely should be making good food choices.

NAN said...

AMEN!! I get so frustrated when I read weight blogs advocating eat whatever you want that fits your calorie budget. If you want to be healthy and not just the 'right' weight, you definitely should be making good food choices.

Certifiably Fit said...

Absolutely a great post. I wish more people understood this. I watch my friends struggle on WW cause they are trying to live on nothing but crap cause it fits their point limit. Then there is me, who lost 100lbs who doesn't count points or calories but I just focused on getting the crap out of my diet. And they wonder how I was able to do it and they can't.

BikiniMe said...

Amen to this entire post! I've been telling my kids this for years -- a calorie is not a calorie is not a calorie -- it totally matters where those calories come from! :)

Helen said...

Years ago when I was a WW leader and they changed to points, some of the members had the hardest time getting this. I just couldn't get it through their heads that 24 points of whole grains, fruits, veggies and protein did not equal 24 points of Milky Ways.

A calorie is a calorie but not all calories are nutritious.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say Lyn that I absolutely love your blog, it's the only blog I regularly visit and you have something awesome and thought provoking each time you post. Thank you for stepping forward even when you didn't feel like it.

Lyn said...

Ex Yo Yo (Debbie)~

Yes! I love both books!

And I am SO not telling you about Lemon fried pies, you do not want to go there! LOL :)

Karen@WaistingTime said...

What a great post. And I whole heartedly agree. And I can see the clear reaction of my body now when I put something junky/sugary back in it. And it makes me want MORE junk and sugar! I feel so much better when I eat better.

Teale said...

Really good post, and so true! I've just joined Weight Watchers (again), and in the past, I used to eat what I wanted, as long as I stayed within my daily points. That obviously was NOT the best way to do things, and if it was, I wouldn't be needing to join again! This time around I'm focusing on following what they call "good health guidelines"--staying within my points, but also getting in water, fruits, veggies, healthy oils, lean protein, etc. This time around is going to be so much better!

Breeze said...

This is even more true than you think given the newest research on high fructose corn syrup vs sugar. Oh..and I've cut my sugar intake to less than 15g per day and doing nothing else lost 25 lbs and still going...a calorie is not a calorie at All!

Olivia said...

Oh wow, is it okay if I forward this to every single person I know? What a great post!!! Keep up the amazing work, you have come a very long way.

Margie M. said...

This is great information for folks to have if they don't already. And if they do, it is something to be reminded about. I do eat a sugary snack at least once a day. Normally it is a 1 WW pt. chocolate snack cake. (not those brussels sprouts) However, we limit the number of those to 1 a day. We still try to eat a balance of healthy food choices. Like you posted, how can our bodies do what they are supposed to do without good nutrition being fed into it? I hope everyone reads this. Good job, Lyn.

Margie M. writes at:
www.myhealthylivingthruweightcontrol.blogspot.com

Lyn said...

Olivia~

Sure! Forward away! It's always nice to have new readers :)

amoslionhorse said...

THANK YOU for this post!!!

i hate those 100cal packs.. you've expressed this wonderfully.

thank you, thank you, thank you..

Anonymous said...

You mean I have to stop my ice cream diet after 30 days? But I still have 5 more days and I feel so greeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee


:-)

Laura said...

Thank you for this post. I am on WW, and have been struggling for the past 3 months, even while sticking to my points for the most part. But I will say that I have been eating less and less "good" food and more and more junk. I do plan to cut my points back some, but this helps me to see that I need to be making better choices as well!

Julie Lost and Found said...

You are soooooo right!!!!

Jack Sh*t, Gettin' Fit said...

Dead on, Lyn. I can't begin to tell you how much better I feel since I've chased all the junk out of my diet. It messes with your brain, all that fat and salt and sugar, and makes you crave more and more and more.

Julie said...

Great post! I am working on eating more healthy foods instead of just fitting foods in my calorie allotment, it's a process, that's for sure!!

Ice Queen said...

Well said. I agree... A calorie isn't a calorie isn't a calorie. I feel much better eating 1200 to 1500 healthy calories with an occasional treat than I did eating thousands and thousands a day of garbage.

I am well fed and nourished, now. I have no doubt that I was suffering from malnutrition when I was eating as I used to. And I felt totally crappy to prove it.

Enz said...

Great post, I remember when my endo first told me this - that its not as simple as calories in/calories out. I wanted to just hug her.

Anonymous said...

Great post! Nutrient dense food is far superior - makes me think that maybe we shouldn't be so focused on counting calories but looking at the nutrional quality of what we are consuming. How many ingredients are listed on a label? How many can we pronounce? How many are based on whole foods, rather than chemical concoctions? Why are we eating foods that require labels for ingredient lists? Our bodies know what to do with real food - however it doesn't quite know what to make of the pseudo foods that we eat in the name of convenience. As you mention in your post, our cells are made up of the nutrients that we consume through our food - chemical food = chemical body. Personally I would rather have a body made up of fresh fruits, veggies, real protein and a little bit of dark chocolate, as opposed to the frozen dinner on sale or a 100 calorie snack pack.

Georgia said...

Excellent post! “EVERY calorie is something my body needs” Which is how we should ALL be eating and looking at our food. I second reading anything by Pollan. He’s not saying anything new, but he says it very well…my favorite is “In defense of food”, I found “Food Rules: An Eater's Manual” a nice condensed version of “defense”—shorter and easier to read. :)
I’m so glad you wrote this post—it’s information we all need to learn or be reminded of if we want to make our hard work stick!

Bringing Pretty Back said...

I needed this post today! It was GREAT! Thank you! Great blog! I will be a follower!

theresa said...

I totally agree with you that 4000 calories of crap is starving yourself and 1000 calories of nutrition is taking good care of yourself!

On a side note............ don't you dare forget to snap that 70 pounds lost photo soon!! :)

Anonymous said...

While I completely agree that a calorie which comes from protein or healthy carbs is far better than its unhealthy trans fat or empty calorie cousin....you might be interested to check out what Tyler over at www.344pounds.com has eaten and is eating to lose his 140 plus pounds.

purple_moonflower123 said...

Great post Lyn! I remember reading some where about a group of morbidly obese people who were malnourished because the quality of food they were eating was lacking in the vital nutrients and vitamins needed to sustain their bodies. I used to be one of those who would eat insane amounts of food that was basically killing me from the inside out.

Anonymous said...

I went to a mother's day party last night. And Lord did I get sick. For the past month I have been on plan. Last night I indulged in a small piece of chocolate cake. Came home and was so sick with stomach cramps. I had never seen my stomach revolt with sweets before. And this was supposed to be a "diet cake" made with diet pop.

I'm glad this happened because it really opened my eyes to the fact that my body is really happier with healthy food. And it definitely has reactions to what I eat. It is amazing to see that my body has changed, even if my mind still wants that cake.

Anonymous said...

Oh I had someone try to tell me I was in starvation mode too. And I told them to mind their own # business. The funny thing about changing how I eat is that so many people want to tell me how I'm doing it wrong. Sometimes, I really think they'd be happier if I just went back to eating crap. Sorry, don't mean to vent here. It's just frustrating because no one cared what I put in my mouth until I started eating healthy.

Fat Grump said...

Brilliant post Lyn!
My way forward is to make every calorie count. I am trying to ensure that my diet is a healthy one. No calorie counting, no eating plans, just an 'eat anything as long as it has nutrional value' campaign. I am finding too that I don't really want as much bread, pasta or rice and that a few nuts really do satisfy the 'hunger' feelings. I think the point about a protein-rich diet is a good one. I particularly liked the manure or gold coins thrown on the carpet picture :)

You really do deserve every success..Thanks for inspiring us along the way. x

Laryssa said...

Lyn, I honestly think this is one of your best posts for this year! Well written and so true. I hope everyone out there trying to lose weight reads this!

People don't realize that you have to look at ALL the nutrition in a food; not just the calories. It's almost like those who believe that "the scale lies" because even though they ate McDonald's burger and fries three times in the week, they "kept within their calories".

Can I share a link to this post with my Nutrisystem group? I know a few of them who would benefit from it.

Lyn said...

Laryssa~

sure! Link away :) Thanks and I am glad you found this post to be valuable!

Jacqueline said...

Im a new follower! Thanks for the great post! You are right on the money! You are very inspiring too!

spunkysuzi said...

Your singing my song!! I'm definitely not 100% clean eating but i would say that i'm 95% :) And boy oh boy this body is saying thank you!!

Deniz said...

Amen to this! You are so right and it is a hard lesson to learn.

Your attitude to 'food' is such an inspiration Lyn. If you say something is a bad choice or a good choice - you are spot on with it. Thanks again for a thoughtful post.

Blubeari said...

Couldn't agree more. I count calories, but there is a serious difference in how I feel AND my results when I eat 1500 calories of crap than when I eat 1500 calories of nutrition.

nelson_clan said...

Wow! This helps me out a lot! Great post!

Lisa said...

I just love, love, love, this post. Oh, did I mention that I love it, lol.

I so agree but really needed to be reminded of this right now. I too am eating just 800-1000 calories a day, also under a Dr's care, but the last 2 days I still did not eat very good. I stayed within my calorie range but ate some pizza on Friday and then Saturday we went to a carnival and I had about 1/2 of a funnel cake and then later on that night had a cupcake. I told myself it was ok to that I still stayed in my calorie range but I know it was not good for me.

So now back to being on track. And I too hate how everyone has to comment on how little they think I eat. For one I have hypothyroidism and that makes losing weight tougher. Plus even before I started my new healthier eating, I never really ate all that much. I was just eating the wrong foods and not exercising. For me exercise and not eating out are the keys to success.

Your blog is by far my very favorite and I think you sound just wonderful. You amaze and inspire me with every post. Keep it up!

Kristi said...

After reading your excellent post, I remembered a blog entry from Tom Venuto about the same topic. Both of your posts are so enlightening!
http://www.burnthefatblog.com/archives/2010/03/healthy_fast_food.php#more

seattlerunnergirl said...

I could not agree with you more! Yes, there is a time and a place for an indulgence. Or even a SMALL indulgence every day (i.e., 10% of your calories). But it DOES matter what you put into your body, regardless of how many calories that food contains. Thanks for the great reminder (and great manure/gold analogy!).

Deanna - The Unnatural Mother said...

Another GREAT Post!!

Hanlie said...

Great post, Lyn! I've been saying this for years, but once again, you just say it so much better... I am thrilled that you are in such a good place right now and for your weight loss.