There is a lot of controversy on the topic of calories. And if you’re trying to lose weight, this controversy isn’t just annoying. It’s downright stressful!
And since I’m educated and experienced in the field of health, nutrition, weight loss and all that other fun stuff, I thought I’d write this article to put an end to the controversy once and for all. Although this can be seen as an opinion-based piece, using this information has helped not only me, but my clients stay fit, trim, and toned for several years.
First, I’d like to start out with clarifying what exactly a calorie is. If you ask Google to “define calorie”, the Merriam-Webster dictionary gives you this:
Definition of calorie
1: a unit for measuring heat equal to the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one gram of water one degree Celsius
2: a unit of heat used to indicate the amount of energy foods produce in the human body that is equal to 1000 calories
I know that sounds like a lot of mumbo-jumbo, so let me put this in simpler terms for you…
The most important (and really only) word you need to take from that above definition is energy. Calories give us the energy we need to function. Without them, our hearts would literally stop, our lungs would collapse, and our brain cells would die.
Needless to say, that age-old idea that “calories make us fat” just isn’t true. The reality is that we need calories for basic survival.
Now I usually get asked “Well, how many calories do we need?” And my answer never fails to confuse my clients. What I tell them?
As many calories your body tells you that you need.
When it comes to our biological composition, we are all vastly different from one another. We lead different lifestyles and are of different muscle mass, age, weight, and gender. Therefore, the amount of calories that each of us needs varies from person to person. And as you can see, there’s a lot of variables involved.
The best way to tell how many calories you need is to listen closely to your body. Obviously, the easiest way is by listening to your stomach. If it’s growling, you know to get a hold on some calories. Which brings me to my next point…
Calories in vs. Calories out is a bunch of baloney
Just because our body uses up the calories we eat, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the calories we burn off aligns with the calories we’ve eaten. Let me explain…
There are some people who boast this whole “calories in vs. calories out” idea. And it’s these same people who believe that weight gain is solely caused by eating too many calories. Often, they’ll give you an equation. Does this look at all familiar?
1lb fat = 3500 calories
Eat 500 less calories per day = 3500 less calories per week
Have weight loss of 1lb per week.
And the idea sounds great in theory. It’s nice, neat, and simple. But unfortunately, it is far from the reality of how weight loss works.
The reality is that losing weight and staying in shape isn’t just a matter of moving more, consuming less, and making sure that your “calories in vs. calories out” equation is balanced. It’s instead a matter of the types of calories you eat, and the path these calories follow as they metabolize. Each calorie follows a different path depending on what it’s made out of.
If calories go down the right pathway, you’ll lose weight. But if they go down the wrong path, you’ll gain weight.
So instead of calories in vs. calories out, it’s an issue of which calories you choose to put in your body. There’s a reason that 100 calories of celery leads to weight loss while 100 calories of chips leads to weight gain.
It’s not about quantity, it’s about quality.
So your body has told you that you’re hungry. At this point you’ll be thinking, “But what am I hungry for?” Your body has a way of tricking you into eating the fattiest foods, most sugar and carb-loaded foods for the simple fact that they contain the highest amount of calories. And at this point, you need to step up and make the responsible decision of saying “Hey body… we need to go for quality rather than quantity.”
And the quality? Well it can be broken down into four groups. Carbs, Fats, Protein, and Fiber. Each is equally wonderful, and by reading on you’ll find out why.
Carbohydrates are a quick and accessible energy formed out of glucose. There are simple carbohydrates and complex carbs. Some examples of simple carbs are corn syrup and sugar. Some examples of complex carbs are potatoes and breads.
Fruits and vegetables also contain carbs, but vary between complex and simple. Root vegetables are usually higher in carbs while greens are usually lower. In the case of carbohydrates it’s better to choose carbs that are not refined (like sugars or white breads or other pastry-type carbs). While eating whole grains and fruits and vegetables is a very good way to get the calories you need.
We all need fats in our diet, we just need to be aware of which ones are the quality fats, and which ones are the garbage fats. Fats are full of calories so it’s essential to eat good fats and limit our total intake of fats.
Good fats are usually those that are high in unsaturated fats such as nuts, olive oil, and fish. These essential fats help promote proper cell function and facilitate the absorption of many different vitamins. Stay away from homogenized milk, cheeses, and butter. Those are what I like to call “garbage fats”.
Protein is an extremely important part of a proper diet and contributes to energy production… especially before, during, and after intense workouts. They also supply your body with the building blocks, essential amino acids.
Quality high protein foods include eggs, poultry, yogurt, and legumes. And while it’s not terrible for you, you should still try to limit extremely fatty meats such as pork. If you’re looking to fuel up, it’s just not your best quality protein, you know? And the more high quality your protein is, the leaner and stronger your body will get.
Fiber is extremely important when it comes to digestion health. Something which many people don’t know is that it helps us feel full (and happy!) It’s the easiest way to get energy and nutrients while shedding those extra pounds you may have gained this winter.
Your best sources for it is fruits, vegetables and grains. It really doesn’t get any better than that!
At this point you should have a pretty good idea of the foods that you should eat to get the right amount of energy you need. Although a lot of the foods I’ve mentioned may be foods you’re not used to, you will get used to them. And with time, cravings for sugar and “garbage foods” will disappear. Just have patience, my friends!
And don’t forget, these foods can taste good!
Now that you know which foods contain good energy versus bad energy, you’re probably wondering:
Can those foods actually taste good?
Or better yet:
Will they fill me up?
(A picture of my nephew Lukas eating my food. Precious, right?!)
But I assure you, quality calories can, do, and will taste good. The secret is in strategically combining them. Or in other words, using amazing recipes to make their flavors come alive. Here’s a few recipes I’ve dished out for free. If you ever need more, feel free to check out my eBooks, where you can get 100+ recipes at a time!
But for now… let’s start with the freebies. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Full of calorie quality and tasty goodness!
And throughout all this, it’s important that you remember to treat yourself! If you eat some food that’s not of the best calorie quantity – that’s completely OK. As long as you keep those foods in moderation and fill up with the essentials, you’ll feel absolutely fine. Any maybe even look better than you feel. 😉