Debunking the Calorie Theory
Because of the bombardment of misinformation over several decades many people who want to lose body fat think there is only one thing that matters when trying to lose weight: Calories consumed versus calories used. Many self-proclaimed experts perpetuating the calorie theory including doctors, nurses, dieticians, nutritionists, trainers, coaches, and most of all the media, prosthelytize that a calorie of protein is equal to a calorie of fat is equal to a calorie of carbs, and that all you have to do is cut down the amount consumed to lose body fat. However, in order for this to be true, our bodies physiological processes by which it transforms food into energy – metabolism – is the same for every type of food. This is a simplistic, unscientific, untenable view.
Let’s get down to basic facts. All macro-nutrients including fats, carbohydrates and protein contain energy. The energy contained in food is expressed as calories. We tend to associate calories with food, but in reality, calories apply to anything. For example, a gallon of gasoline contains approximately 31,000,000 calories.
A calorie is the amount of heat needed to raise 1 kilogram of water 1 degrees Celsius at sea level. What does this mean? An Angus Burger with bacon and cheddar from McDonalds contains 770 calories. So, if we were to burn this burger, it would produce 770 calories. This is enough energy to raise 770 kilograms of water 1 degree Celsius.
Calorie is a shortened name for kilocalories, to reflect the simplified math. A kilocalorie contains 1000 calories, so the Angus Burger with bacon and cheddar is actually 770,000 calories. Now don’t get your panties in a bunch, this simplified math also applies to exercise calorie charts. If the piece of cardio you’re using says you burned 200 calories, it’s simplified for 200,000 calories. However, don’t rely on exercise equipment charts, they are grossly inaccurate.
This inaccuracy is due to several factors, mainly genetics. The rate at which individuals burn calories varies greatly and cannot be measured on a piece of cardio equipment. A person’s rate at which they burn calories can be affected by their size, hormone levels, lean body mass percentage, and body fat percentage. E.g., a person who weighs 220 pounds and is 10% body fat burns far more calories than somebody who weighs 220 pounds and is 25% body fat. If both of these individuals used the same piece of cardio equipment on the same level for the same amount of time, they would get the same “number of calories burned” at the end of their session. Does that make sense? Of course not. Muscle drives the metabolism; the more muscle one has the more calories are burned, which the calorie theory doesn’t account for.
Calories are measured in a sealed device called a “calorimeter”. Derived from the Latin terms calor meaning “heat” and metron meaning “measure”, a calorimeter is simply an instrument used to measure the heat of something. There are many different types of calorimeters, and with the help of a bomb calorimeter an accurate measurement of the amount of energy produced by food can be obtained. A small vacuum of water is contained above the food. Once the food is completely burned, the temperature of the water is measured. The rise in temperature will determine the amount of calories. As stated earlier, a calorie is the amount of heat needed to raise 1 kilogram of water 1 degrees Celsius at sea level.
A machine cannot be used to conclude what happens inside the human body. The calorimeter can show the total amount of energy in a serving of Fruit Loops, but it cannot account for what the human body doesn’t absorb (eliminates), or the energy used in the digestion and assimilation of it. More-over, it cannot show one’s efficiency at using food as energy, as opposed to storing it as fat.
The efficiency at which a person burns food as fuel decreases as one gets fatter. I.e., the higher a person’s body fat percentage the more apt they are at storing food as body fat. This is because a higher body fat percentage and insulin insensitivity have a linear relationship. This causes an extraordinary release of insulin when food is consumed. The macro-nutrient that is responsible for these large surges of insulin is carbohydrates; they can be a nightmare for any person, especially somebody who is overweight, trying to lose body fat.
In order to understand why carbohydrates are your worst enemy when trying to get lean, you have to understand insulin. And in doing so, one will see yet another reason why the calorie theory is useless in regards to weight control.
Insulin is the fat storage hormone. Quite simply, the higher one’s insulin levels are, the more one stores food they consume as fat. As one eats carbs the body breaks them down into a simple more absorbable sugar called glucose. The glucose is then transported to the blood stream. As your blood glucose levels rise, this sends a signal to the pancreas to release insulin. Insulin governs the processing of glucose. Without insulin, as with type I diabetics, glucose levels will rise, eventually causing ketoacidosis, and if not treated will cause death.
Glucose is processed by insulin in two different ways. As glucose levels rise, insulin converts a portion of it to glycogen, which is stored in the muscle cells and the liver. Once all the storage space is taken up, and it doesn’t take much especially if you don’t exercise, insulin will convert the rest to triglycerides and store it as adipose tissue, FAT. Insulin is a facilitator of lipogenesis or fat storage and a deterrent to lipolysis or the breaking down fat for energy. Even low levels of circulating insulin have been shown to prevent the breakdown of fat to be used as energy. Hence, as stated above, insulin is the fat storage hormone.
As one starts to understand basic physiology and how calorie levels of food are obtained, one starts to see that losing weight is not just a matter of calories in and calories out. It is impossible to keep track of what one is burning as fuel as opposed to consuming.
Does counting calories matter, or even necessary when trying to lose weight? Is it at least better than nothing? NO. Counting calories is completely inaccurate and a waste of time. Just look at the dismal long term success rates of all the diets that are based on the amounts of foods instead of the types of food. Our bodies do not process food like a calorimeter. The assertion that macro-nutrients are all processed the same between individuals is just foolish. Even more foolish is the belief that a calorie of sugar is processed the same as a calorie of protein or fat, yet this is the basis for the calorie theory.
A glucometer measures sugar concentration in the blood
These two will metabolize and assimilate their food differently.