Episode notes: Today Ruth talks about the why/why not of calorie counting.
Ruth is a stroke survivor sharing tips and advice for rehab, recovery and healthy living including nutrition, exercises, personal care, healing and maintaining a grateful attitude. She can be found online at http://stroke.global were she offers help to stroke survivors and caregivers.
Welcome back to the Healthy Life Podcast... today I want to talk about daily nutrition and our needs with exercise. We have to understand and acknowledge three things:
First you need to understand what a Calorie is: a unit of energy, or the quantity of energy (heat) needed to raise the temperature of 1g of water 1 degree Celsius
Next we need to understand why thx counting of calories is a wrong approach
1. Not all calories are created equal…as we have learned calories are units of energy. They come in the form of different macronutrients. These macronutrients are proteins, carbohydrates and fats. The basic functions of each are:
We also know that each gram of: Fat: Contains 9 calories and
Protein and carbohydrate: Contain 4 calories each
This is where the idea of reducing fat comes from. If you just eliminate food that contain the most calories (energy dense foods), then your weight problems will melt away.
You would think the next step is to reduce the food that contains the most calories: fat. Ok, we think, let’s reduce how much fat we eat to reduce body fat. By reducing fat grams, you reduce the number of calories, and lose weight. Right? Wrong, there is a big difference between dietary fat (the fat we eat) and body fat (what is converted to fat cells).
Even though dietary fats (e.g., avocados) contain more energy than proteins and carbohydrates, simply consuming fat does not create body fat.
Eating carbohydrates creates body fat; especially refined and easily digestible carbohydrates (e.g., chips, pastas). There is more to the process, and reducing insulin activity is key. Fats do not produce insulin, carbohydrates do. Ever wonder why there is a diabetes epidemic.... look at our diet.
So the idea of reducing body fat by restricting fat calories is flawed. Counting (fat) calories is the wrong approach. Restricting carbohydrates is the key. As Dr. Mark Hyman, author of Eat Fat, Get Thin, explains: “weight management is not a math problem.”
Calorie count does not tell you why things happen…
Connecting diet to physical activity is difficult. As Gary Taubes explains in his two books Good Calories and Bad Calories and Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It, the whole notion that physical activity can make up for a poor diet is faulty too. By counting how many calories we eat and how many calories we burn, we are left with coincidence (or what researchers call a correlation). You just happen to consume 2,750 calories that day, burn 2,250 calories and lose weight; relying on the math equation (Calories In – Calories Out = Weight loss or gain). Knowing these two numbers does not give us any new information as to why we gain weight. Simply put, we may eat 2,500 calories and exercise an hour each day, but this does not tell us why we may gain weight, lose weight, build muscle or lose muscle. They are just two things occurring around the same time. (See Chapters 6 and 7 of Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It for further detail).
Furthermore, as Dr. Hyman explains in his book, “food is information.” Food enters your body, and based on what your body needs (are you recovering from a workout? or just sitting at a bar?), either stores or uses up the food energy in various forms. So, it matters what the information is (fats, carbohydrates, or proteins), and thus the popular phrase…you are what you eat.
Research shows quality of calories matter more than quantity…
Numerous studies, which make appearances Eat Fat Get Thin, Good Calories Bad Calories and Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It, document the effects of restricting calories and changing the proportions of macronutrients. These studies asked what happens when people eat only 1500, 2000, 2500 calories, and so on…or could eat as much as they liked.
Researchers even looked at what happens when varying the nutrients in meals (eating high-fat, low-carb diets vs. high-carb, low-fat diets). Among the various studies, a few points rang true. People that ate diets with more fat and less carbs:
Measurement of Calories In is inaccurate…
Nutrition labels that we rely on, are not as accurate as we hoped. Calories counts vary based on the size of food, how food is prepared, how well calories are absorbed when eaten. Hypothetically, the 500 calorie hamburger you ate might only translate to 400 calories that is absorbed. With so many variables, obtaining accurate calorie counts is difficult to determine and seems impractical.
What’s more is that Taubes explains in his books, that, if balancing calories were the way to go, we need to consume 20 calories less each day to avoid gaining 2 pounds in a year…this does not amount to much, maybe a gulp less of orange juice, one less cookie, or one less bite of pie. Estimating this on a day-to-day basis is unrealistic.
Measurement of Calories Out (Physical Activity) is inaccurate…
Physical Activity is often tracked and measured in today’s world with pedometers and wearable technology (Fitbits, Apple watch). Yet, even research has recently showed that these devices are not accurate either. Caloric expenditure varied from (-400) calories to (+200 calories) burned in a 24-hour period. So, depending on the device you wear each day, it may read that you burned 1,200 calories but may be off by a few hundred calories in either direction. The authors concluded that, until research shows otherwise, wearable tech is not a reliable source of estimated caloric burn (Murakami 2016). We all wear devices or have them attached to our packs, but is it important to you if the all the data you are collecting are accurate?
Calorie restriction is like a famine…
By reducing the number of calories you consume, you are training your body that you are undergoing an energy shortage (food is scarce). Your body responds by using less energy (converting fat into useable fuel) and metabolism slows down. Thus, the energy you do have (stored as fat) is not used, and is slowly burned off just to maintain bodily function. Essentially, your body “thinks” there is a famine and rations all resources. This goes without saying, but if you do not meet basic biological caloric requirements, you will have a host of other problems including: increased appetite, low energy, poor concentration and the risk of dying from hunger.
To count or not count?
The path to wonderful health may seem like a challenge. Spending more time on a few smaller targets (eating the correct food vs. counting its calories) may be less stressful and easier to target. The body is an amazing machine, and as long as we give it the correct food information (Hyman), then our body takes care of the rest.
Understanding a few core principles which are backed by science (mentioned above) may promote great success. If we are not to count calories, what are we to do instead?
The real is key reducing the amount of carbohydrates. This is where portion control comes into play. There are a million strategies out there. Make sure most food on the plate are good quality, fats and proteins, will naturally occurring carbohydrates (fruits and veggies). There are carbohydrates in fruits and vegetables, just get rid the bread or extra scoop of pasta.
Take a modified calories out approach: Breath appropriately when exercising
High, intense exercise is the key to weight loss, muscle gain, and marked results. Training hard for short durations is important. You must strike a balance between what type of weight training and cardio-based exercise is best for you. This topic is another beast by itself, but I am reminded of a quote by Greg Glassman (CrossFit Founder) that goes: “Be impressed with intensity, not volume.”
We as stroke survivors need to focus on short bursts that are limited, intense and repetitive.
We’ve reach that time again...Thanks so much for joining me as we learned about “nutrition and exercises” ... Remember to visit the stroke.global web site often and give us feedback!... I also hope you’ll join us tomorrow! As always it’s an honor and a pleasure sharing today.... thank you! I pray that you’ve enjoyed this podcast... we keep it brief so it’s easy to add to your day... we are on iTunes and Google Play and have links to both on our stroke.global page... please subscribe it boosts us in the ratings and helps us in being able to continue these stroke survivor podcasts.
As always we want to thank our sponsor TCM Restoration for helping us by making this podcast possible. Check them out online at tcmrestoration.net
And thank you again for listening... Please feel free to share this podcast with others, offer your feedback and questions, and follow us online at our website stroke.global or on our Facebook page. Well... I look forward to learning more with you tomorrow... as we continue our adventure...