Is a calorie just a calorie?


Is a calorie just a calorie?

In the CrossFit Journal, there were three videos posted about the relationships among glucose, insulin, ATP, protein, body weight and health (links at the bottom). It is over 90 minutes long, so I’ve taken some key points and outlined them here.

There’s an equation that most health professionals use to prescribe a weight-loss program.

Change in Body Weight = Calories In – Calories Out

According to this logic, all you need to do is create a calorie deficit and you will lose weight (ie. burn more than you’re putting in).

At face value, it looks pretty simple. However, this is false on numerous levels.

First off, body weight is a unit of mass. Calories are a unit of energy. According to the laws of physics, you cannot mix two different units.

According to common knowledge, 3500 calories is equal to 1 pound of fat. So if you cut 500 calories per day for 7 days, you will lose 1 pound per week.

How many people have lost their desired weight this way? Not a single one. In every clinical trial up to 2007, it has never been shown that any participant reached the expected weight loss according to the equation above. The clinicians leading the experiments explain the poor results on people cheating with their food intake. Regardless if they cheat or not, the results would not have been attained.

Let’s get nerdy. What is a calorie? It’s how much energy is given off of anything. When you read a nutrition label, it informs you of how many calories are in the product. The way they figure this out is by placing the product in a bomb calorimeter, where nothing gets in and nothing gets out. It’s called a closed system.

It is known that 1 gram of carbs = 4 calories, 1 gram of protein is 4 calories and 1 gram of fat is 9 calories.

Our body is the furthest thing from a closed system. Lots of things get in and out, so we cannot be compared to a bomb calorimeter. Some things that could affect your system are sickness, fatigue, oxygen, bile acidity, insulin levels, etc.

Example – In a bomb calorimeter, if you place 1 liter of gasoline in it, it will always produce the same amount of energy. Now, if you place a liter of gasoline in a Hummer in the middle of winter, that will produce different results than that same liter of gasoline in a Civic in the summer. Why? Because of the different conditions. Just like all of our bodies are different.

This brings us back to the main idea of cutting calories for weight loss. Health professionals will prescribe a diet that is low in calories, but it is not a long term solution.

When you’re on a semi-starvation diet (cutting calories), you will lose weight. The ratio is approximately 60% fat and 40% muscle that will be lost. However, if you slip back into your previous way of eating, you’ll put it back on with a ratio of 80% fat and 20% muscle. Not a great ratio! That’s why it’s practically impossible for people to keep the weight off on a calorie restricted diet.

A few quotes I found quite interesting and humorous…

“I don’t help people lose weight, I help people lose fat”

“You want to lose weight? Eat chapter 7 of any diet book”

If you want to live well and eat healthy, choose Paleo. You’re not bound to any number of calories and you’re able to eat an abundance of healthy food. For more information, check out Paleo Diet FAQs.

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2 Responses

  1. Kevin L

    Just to increase the nerd factor of the post just a little more, the calorie is the heat energy required to raise the temperature of 1.00g of water by 1 degree Celsius. (1 calorie = 4.184 joule)

    Had to learn that for chemisty! It’s actually pretty fun using the Bomb Calorimeters but it’s annoying having to wait for it to heat up and record your findings haha

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