It's been a stressful week at work with progress reports due yesterday. I have over 300 students, so that's a lot of grading. But it's done, and now I have a three-day weekend. Yay!
But one thing that happens when I'm stressed is that off-hand comments people make REALLY get under my skin.
Earlier this week, I hit my threshold when it comes to shrugging off the whole "calorie" thing. I had to rant, but I know that I should never post anything I've written when I'm being pissy, so I tried saving it until I was no longer pissed about it.
I still am a bit pissed about it. But I've calmed down enough to be able to educate as well as rant.
So here it is: my issue with calories.
I'm sick of someone saying that they wouldn't eat a whole avocado with the rest of their lunch because a whole avocado is 400 calories, "and that's my allotment for my entire lunch!"
I'm sick of someone saying, after I make an incredibly healthy and filling apple spice latte with coconut milk, ghee, and maple syrup, that, "that's probably more calories than my non-dairy creamer."
I'm sick of someone saying that it doesn't matter what a person eats as long as it doesn't go over their calorie requirement.
Here's some truths about calories and energy:
- A calorie (really a kilocalorie) is defined as the amount of energy required to heat one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius.
- Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is an estimate of the bare minimum amount of energy we need to allow our bodies to perform all of it's chemical reactions when we aren't physically moving at all. And it takes a lot of energy to power a healthy metabolism.
- Due to our own unique chemistry of our body, our current levels of hormones and our current metabolism functions prevent us from knowing exactly how many calories we are receiving from our food. That's right - the calorie amount on food labels is just an approximation of POTENTIAL energy. You may get more, you may get less, depending on how your body is functioning at the time you are eating that food.
- Going back to high school biology: Adenosine triphoshpate (ATP) is the unit of energy created (through the process of cellular respiration) when the body breaks down fat, protein and carbs. This is what matters more - our ability to create ATP so that our cells function properly and optimally.
- We don't store ATP for very long, but we store the building blocks we get from our food in our muscles, liver and body fat. The issue most people have is figuring out how to access those building blocks from our body fat. Hormones and nutrients are the key players in getting access. I'll discuss this more in a later post.
Treating calories as the only metric of importance in food is just. plain. wrong. Do calories have their function? Yes. I find it a little neat to know the BMR - this is the amount of potential calories that will make my body function. Do I obsess over it? Nope. If you eat LESS than your BMR in an effort to lose weight? Your body can't do it's function. Your hormones won't behave properly. You won't get the nutrients your body needs to do it's job. And you won't lose the body fat.
Our bodies are not bank accounts for calories. We're AMAZING chemistry sets. Our bodies react to food in ways we are still discovering. The components in food affect our metabolism, our hormones, our inflammation levels, our potential to get a disease in the future, and more! And that has NOTHING to do with calories.
Low calorie DOES NOT equal healthy. Eating lots of low calorie crap isn't going to make anyone healthy. REAL FOOD equals healthy. I'm going to eat food that will feed my brain and help prevent dementia when I'm older, like the healthy fats of avocado, ghee, and coconut milk. I know that I need to eat MORE on days that I exercise, otherwise I'll suffer from fatigue and soreness the next day. I find it freaking awesome that my body is capable of going 5-6 hours without needing to eat when it received all the nutrition it needed to optimally function from my previous meal.
As Liz Wolfe said in her book, Eat the Yolks, "A calorie's worth of real food does more for your health, you body, and your goals than a calorie's worth of conventional junk. Think of it this way: A pound of pennies weighs the same as a pound of quarters, but how much more is the pound of quarters worth?"
Eat nutritionally dense, REAL FOOD. It's your pound of quarters. 100 calories of broccoli, or coconut milk, or protein is worth more to your body than 100 calories of chemicals (soda, non-dairy creamer, 100 calorie pack snacks, etc.) and inflammatory foods like grains and soy. If you must think about calories, start focusing on the nutrition of your calories, not the number on the nutrition label. Or forget the calorie counting, and just eat real food.