Because of the bombardment of misinformation over several decades, many people who want to shed 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 include doctors, nurses, dieticians, nutritionists, trainers, coaches and – most of all – the media. They proselytize 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, you have to assume that the body's physiological process by which it transforms food into energy – metabolism – is the same for every type of food. This is a simplistic, unscientific and untenable view.
What is a calorie?
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 million calories.
A calorie is the amount of heat needed to raise 1 kilogram of water 1 degree Celsius at sea level. What does this mean? An Angus Burger with bacon and cheddar from McDonald's 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 1,000 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 cardio machine 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. The rate at which a person burns calories can be affected by their size, hormone levels, lean body mass percentage and body fat percentage. That is, a person who weighs 220 pounds and has 10 percent body fat burns far more calories than someone who weighs 220 pounds and has 25 percent 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 you have, the more calories you burn, 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 degree 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. Moreover, it cannot show an individual'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 they get fatter. In other words, the higher a person's body fat percentage, the more adept they are at storing food as body fat. This is because a higher body fat percentage and insulin insensitivity have a linear relationship, causing an extraordinary release of insulin when food is consumed. The macro-nutrient that is responsible for these large surges of insulin is carbohydrates. This can be a nightmare for any person, especially somebody who is overweight and trying to lose body fat.
Carbohydrates: Public Enemy #1
In order to understand why carbohydrates are your worst enemy when trying to get lean, you have to understand insulin. And in doing so, you 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 your insulin level, the more you store food consumed as fat. When you eat 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; if not treated, this 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, or 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. Thus, insulin is the fat storage hormone.
As you start to understand basic physiology and how calorie levels of food are obtained, you start to see that losing weight is not just a matter of calories-in and calories-out. It is impossible to keep track of what you are burning as fuel, as opposed to consuming.
Does counting the amount of calories you consume matter? Is it even necessary when trying to lose weight? Is it 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 amount of food instead of the type of food. Our bodies do not process food like a calorimeter. The assertion that macro-nutrients are all processed the same way by all people is just foolish. Yet, this is the basis for the calorie theory.
For more information on the proper way to get lean, go to: Get SHREDDED, RIPPED, CUT UP, LEAN or however you want to describe losing body fat.