Quality over Quantity
What are Calories?
Calories are units of energy primarily contained within food, and absorbed by the human body to maintain daily health and life. Calories are associated with energy that is contained in protein, carbohydrates and fat. Within each of these measures, calories will have a given amount of energy available. Different foods will provide different amounts of calories. In addition to this, the other nutrients needed for the human body will also differ according to the foods being eaten.
The Role of Calories in the Human Body
The human body will burn calories in order to sustain energy and remain healthy and balanced. Your metabolism moves calories throughout your body. Your metabolism may also turn calories into proteins or amino acids if the body needs it. These calories then move into the bloodstream and turn into cells or become stored energy. The energy your body needs in order to stay healthy and alive is directly related to the number of calories you intake (eat). The inverse is also true; too many calories consumed can lead to weight problems and poor health.
Calories for Weight Loss
We’ve all heard of the quick fix “this diet will make you slim and happy” bullshit schemes.
The simple matter is that being on a diet, means you need to be very restrictive on your food choices, this is not only unsustainable in the long term, but, very few people actually keep the weight off, and will more than likely end up feeling pretty miserable, as well as that a diet may promote poor health. Don’t be sold on the bullshit promises offered by people selling a magic (diet) pills, potions or some quick fix metabolic damaging program.
If we increase our calorie input, without increasing our calorie output (by being more active/exercising more) we will certainly gain weight due to our body’s desire to store any unused energy. On the other hand, if we decrease our calories, our body will begin to burn through its fat stores for energy, and the pounds will gradually drop off.
This issue is, to consume less calories, the only way to do it, is to decrease the quantity of food we eat. However, we need to eat a certain quantity of food at each meal to maintain/increase our energy levels and before our stomach stretches enough to signal satiety (fullness). Controlling and restricting our portions, leads to less volume of food, which can cause our energy levels to decrease, and also means less stomach stretch and more feelings of hunger.
Ultimately when it comes weight loss, eating fewer calories than you burn every day will be the main part of the equation.
Eat Less + Move More = Weight Loss
Health & Wellness vs Physical Appearance
Looking through social media these days can be often misleading and discouraging to many; where many companies exploit the “sexy” part of health and fitness – the six packs, the muscles, and the bikini bodies. However, I’m far more concerned with the stuff that isn’t so well illustrated, the unsexy, but also the more important aspects of health and fitness; placing my focus on helping people feel better, improving their overall health, increasing their strength and fitness, and whether their doctor gives them the all clear on their health markers, because overall you want to be living a long life full of activity, whilst having the health and the energy to enjoy these activities along with the finer things that life has to offer. My mission is to do everything in my power to help you avoid things like heart disease, depression and type-2 diabetes.
Although we know and understand that eating less calories will result in weight loss, and that eating the right ratio of macronutrients (proteins, fats and carbohydrates) is an even bigger step in the right direction, many of us will not love the time-intensive nature of calorie/macro counting (although I will often ask people to temporarily track calories or macros as an awareness exercise).
The purpose of this new diet method – IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) is to hit your macronutrient targets, regardless of what food items you consume. I believe that the actual foods that contain these macronutrients are an important part of the equation. Think about it; will the quality consuming 100g of carbs from a vegetable really equal to quality consumed from 100g of crisps? Definitely not; a whole host of other factors make the vegetables (especially the green ones) a far superior option.
Consider the fact that crisps and processed foods are engineered with a perfect formula of sugar, salt and added (often artificial) flavourings to make you eat (and buy) more.
Or look at the differences in micro nutrients (such as the vitamins and minerals) there really is no contest between the vegetable and the crisps.
It’s not exactly rocket science; 300 calories from various foods can be incredibly different. Also, be mindful of your energy levels. How do you feel after eating it? Has your mood/behaviour been altered in a negative way?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not telling you that you can’t indulge in a bag of crisps or foods of less quality, yet of great flavour, now and again; I do however, recommended that the bulk of your daily nutrition comes from highly fibrous, nutrient dense foods. I refer back to my 80:20 method, which I posted about on my social media feeds some weeks ago, where the idea of being 100% with your nutrition all the time is not realistic, be aware that you need to allow for some flexibility throughout.
Calorie Counting Alternative
So, let’s go back to the calorie debate. If we like the idea of eating fewer calories to aid weight loss, but we’re not so keen on the idea of counting calories and macros every day, how are we supposed to eat less? The answer is to focus more so on consuming higher quality foods (the 80%).
Instead of counting calories, concentrate more so on eating whole foods, rich and full of macro and micro nutrients. The type of foods that fill you up, yet, are not packed full of calories. The types of food that make you feel full, but won’t leave you feeling like crap.
Focus on having 1-2 (preferably green) vegetables on your plate at meal times, take a piece of protein the around the size and depth of your palm. Maintain the grains and starches at a minimal intake (as we usually don’t respond as well to these foods), and mindfully eating (eat slowly) until you’re satisfied. If you’re hungry, add more protein and vegetables.
If you find that you’re body weight isn’t shifting over a few weeks, then consider tracking your calories for a few days to see how you’re doing, possibly including your macro intake. Use these few days to make a note of what proper portion sizes of each meal should look like, as well as how the total amount of food for the day feels. Using strategies like intermittent fasting might be helpful in reducing the amount of calories you consume without even realizing it. Also practice waiting 20 minutes before you get seconds so your body has a chance to signal to the brain that it feels full.
To summarise; understand that your body is a highly complex machine, and although a calorie might make a simple equation for weight loss, your health can be influenced and affected by the quality and nutritional makeup of that calorie.
For that reason, I would recommend that you to eat real foods, cut back on sugar, and think long term (habits) rather than in short term solutions.