Counting Calories Diet: How Much You Eat Is More Important Than What You Eat

There are always discussions about what you should and should not eat. Every month or so, the “experts” suggest that you should no longer eat certain food groups or even certain foods within that food group. Some diets for instance said that you could eat apples, peaches and berries but not bananas and watermelons. Some would not let you eat any kind of fruit at all.

Any diet that says that all foods from any one food group is off limits might be a bad diet plan to follow. Contrary to popular belief, you can lose weight by continuing to eat much of the same foods that you have always eaten but with a subtle change – you limit the calories that you are eating by reducing the amount or portion size of the foods you are eating.

But, before you can understand how to devise the right calories diet for you, you need to understand what a calorie is, how they work and why the number of calories matters.

Calorie Counting Diet: What is a Calorie?

A calorie is simply a unit of measurement; it is not a magic amount that is conferred to foods in differing amounts. By definition a calorie is the amount of heat/energy that is needed to raise the temperature of pure water by one degree. To be really scientific about the word calorie, it is equal to 4.1855 joules. Most scientists discuss joules rather than calories these days.

Every food that you eat, whether you cook it yourself or buy it packaged contains calories. The amount of calories can depend on how much you eat, how the food was cooked and additional ingredients that might be included in the food. For instance: green beans are a low fat, low calorie food when they are cooked on their own. Most people cook green beans with butter or even with additional ingredients like bacon and potatoes. A product that has been a good choice can be made a worse choice by the addition of a few additional calories, regardless of what those might be.

How Does a Calorie Work in the Body?

When you eat food, any kind of food, it is broken down into energy that is either used immediately, stored as potential energy (as glycogen) or stored as fat. The body breaks the food down, the pancreas floods the body with insulin and the insulin decides what goes where.

Every food breaks down at its own rate. For all the noise of the fad diets, there is no difference for protein, fats or carbs as far as the body goes: if the body has too many calories of any kind, it will gain weight. But, there is a difference in the speed and the effort that goes into breaking those calories down. For instance, the body can break down fats quickly, with minimal effort. Protein calories on the other hand are broken down much slower in the body and require much more work as well. That work is called thermogenesis, literally, heat generation. Protein creates the most thermogenesis – only alcohol creates more heat than protein.

Calorie Counting Diet: Why the Number of Calories You Eat Matters

After establishing that there is really no difference in the type of calories being burned or stored by the body, the experts will explain why the number of calories in the diet really matters. Making sure that you get enough calories is just as important as making sure that you are not getting too many. Either way, you can end with weight gain.

A Calorie Counting Diet with Too Few Calories

A diet that does not have enough calories will slow or stall the metabolism. When the body is kept from getting enough energy, it will start shutting down what is considered the non-essential systems. If this continues, the body will stop the metabolism completely, holding onto every single calorie that comes in and will start burning lean muscle mass for energy.

A Calorie Counting Diet with too Many Calories

On a related note, a diet that is too high in calories can mean that the body is dealing with too much energy at one time. The body will store as much as it can because it is so overwhelmed. Even if you are working out, you may be taking in too many calories for your body to effectively burn off and ironically, the more you are exercising, the more you might be taking in without thinking about it. A study performed by Kendrin Sonneville, RD, a researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health showed that kids who exercised the most also ate the most, most of them eating back all of the calories they worked off and then some (Source: Mindy Berry Walker. Hungry for More Fitness Magazine. September 2010).

The more you work out, the more you want to eat; the more you eat, the more you think you should work out. It is a vicious cycle that never ends and one that can leave you gaining weight despite all of your best intentions.

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