Busting the Calorie Myth

“Because calories change as they enter the body, the nine grams for fat and four for everything else turn out to be not very accurate measures at all”

via Is a Calorie a Calorie? – NYTimes.com.

After years of consistently preaching the outdated calories in/calories out model, the NY Times finally comes around.  I’ve been preaching this for years, and in fact my upcoming Holistic Outlook column for The Times Herald Record is about this very topic.  I’m not sure when it will be published, but you can have a sneak preview here:

How many times have you overindulged at dinner, thinking you’ll make up for it by skipping meals, drinking coffee, or just eating salad the next day?  After all, we’re told that if we just keep at a certain calorie level, we’re okay.  But our bodies don’t function like spreadsheets where you can move things around as long as they still add up to the same number.  Nope, we are more like a chemistry lab, with everything changing and affecting everything else, all the time.

We are designed for homeostasis, the need to coordinate different systems to maintain overall stability.  For example, the body will protect our organs and maintain core temperature, if necessary, by decreasing blood flow to our hands and feet.

When we restrict calories, our body goes into conservation mode. The oldest part of our brain, geared for survival, knows that less food means there may be a famine, and so shifts our metabolism to make the most of every calorie we consume, with special attention to storing fat, in case there are times ahead with no food at all.

Not what you had in mind?  Unfortunately, our survival mechanisms haven’t kept up with the times: they’re still the same as they were thousands of years ago, before the existence of refrigerators, supermarkets, and fast food drive-throughs.

Want to look like a Sumo wrestler?  I didn’t think so.  Yet that’s the extreme you’re going towards if you follow a pattern of overeating and fasting.  It’s exactly how the body will put on the most weight.

Obviously, calories count. If you eat thousands of calories a day, you will probably be overweight (unless you are a teenage boy, or a bodybuilder!).  But having three balanced meals daily of lean protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fat is much more important and helpful to your metabolism than playing the calorie juggling game.

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