Understanding Calories – Basic Nutrition 101

Nothing is more frustrating than being told “weight loss is simple, it’s just math.”

Understanding calories actually takes a bit more than that, and quite honestly, even once you firmly grasp an understanding of what a calorie means in terms of food and human energy systems, whether or not doing that “simple math” of calories in vs. calories out will help you reach your health and fitness goals is another thing entirely.

There’s three key points to grok from this video:

  1. Our bodies are all individual. That doesn’t mean that your body and my body have different sets of basic laws of physics that govern energy consumption and production, but it does mean that you and I may be carrying around digestive tracts that are configured a bit differently (your intestines may be longer than mine, or healthier, and therefore more capable of absorbing more energy from the exact same food), or that you and I might have different levels of certain hormones and/or enzymes in our blood making us more or less efficient at handling the same foods, or that we may have very different sets of bacteria in our guts making me perhaps better at extracting calories from fibrous foods.
  2. Nutrition labels indicating the amounts of calorie values on processed foods can be off by as much as 20 or 30%. Even natural, whole foods can have vastly different calorie counts depending upon growing conditions (two of the same kinds of apples, grown in different orchards might differ in calories and other nutrients by as much as 50%).
  3. There’s a lots of nutrients in food that are as important as the simple calorie count, and food quality makes a big difference in the caloric load of the food we eat.

On that last point, the video almost glosses this over, but it does mention it – eating calorically dense but nutritionally poor foods can result in a situation that is brand new in the course of human history: being overfed and undernourished.

It is totally possible (and increasingly common) for people consuming a typical, modern, western diet to be overweight or even obese and be simultaneously suffering from malnourishment. Quantity of food matters, but so does quality, and a person who is overeating nutrient poor food who simply reduces the amount of nutrient poor food they eat will lose weight, but she will not improve her health.

Understanding calories and energy input vs. output IS important. Getting your energy balance right is the foundation of managing your weight, but it’s not the end of the project. You’re not finished building the house once you’ve laid the foundation.


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