Excerpts via LifeHacker
Myth 2: Calories Counting Is All That Matters for Weight Management and Health
We might like to believe that calories-in-equals-calories-out is a sufficient weight loss theory, but that means we have to accept our bodies are pretty simple. While consuming fewer calories can certainly have an impact, not all foods have the same impact once we stuff them down our throats. If you want to think about it in a very simple way, consider the difference between a candy bar and a cucumber (in equal caloric amounts). They taste different, they consist of different nutritional elements, and are not the same thing. It doesn’t make sense that they’d be used by your body in the same way.
The problem with the idea of calories being the only necessary metric is that we think of a calorie as a physical thing. Calories are just a means of measuring heat, and they weren’t initially a term used in reference to food. A calorie, according to Wikipedia, “approximates the energy needed to increase the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius.” Basically, calories are a measurement and not something your body uses for fuel. What your body does use is what it finds in the foods and liquids it digests. If you put crap in your body, you’re not going to be better off just because of a low-calorie rating.
Many people contest this idea because of nutrition Professor Mark Haub’s twinkie diet, in which he ate a low calorie diet that consisted of about two-thirds junk food, but there are a few things to note here. This is the sole study of one person and is not indicative everyone. Even Haub questions his own findings:
What does that mean? Does that mean I’m healthier? Or does it mean how we define health from a biology standpoint, that we’re missing something?
Haub also reduced his intake by about 800 calories per day, which is a very significant amount. There is no question that our caloric intake plays a role in the way we store and lose fat (as this study in the New England Journal of Medicine shows), but simply counting calories does not provide the full pictures. The way your body processes sugar is an excellent example of how different foods yield different results. Dr. Michael Eades points to two studies—the Ancel Keys starvation experiment and the John Yudkin study—that each tested two low-calorie diets with different nutrient compositions. The Keys study had higher amounts of carbohydrates and lower amounts of fat. The Yudkin study had the opposite. The results of the studies, however, yielded very different results. The Yudkin study ended with healthy men whereas the Keys study did not.
Futhermore, registered dietitian Kari Hartel outlines how different nutrients are processed by your body. For example, she notes that “[f]iber isn’t fully digested by your body, so this nutrient contributes health benefits without adding significant calories to your diet.” Additionally, “[y]our body burns more calories digesting and metabolizing protein than it does digesting other nutrients. Protein slows the time it takes for food to move from your stomach to your intestines, helping you feel full longer.”
While the idea that health can come from eating a magic number of calories each day is nice, the reality is that foods and your body are more complex. Although a significant calorie reduction is an effective means of losing weight, it is not the only factor. Your current weight, the weight you want to lose, the nutritional balance of your diet, the calories you burn and muscles you build through exercise, and the amount of time you’re sedentary each day are all elements that play into your health and potential for fat loss. Cutting significant amounts of calories may be a significant short-term weight management strategy, but paying attention to other factors will yield better results for your overall health.
Myth 6: Your Slow Metabolism Makes You Fat
When you have a fast metabolism, your body is burning more calories. That means that fit and healthy people have faster metabolisms, right? Not necessarily. ABC News interviewed Dr. Jim Levine, an obesity researcher at the Mayo Clinic, who studied the human metabolism in both thin and heavy people. What he found was the opposite of the myth we believe. Referring to lean patient Kathy Strickland and heavier patient Dawn Campion, he said:
Dawn’s numbers are actually higher because we find continuously is that people with weight problems who have obesity have a higher basal metabolism compared to people who are lean. Your basal metabolism is the calories you burn to keep your body going, so if your body is bigger of course your basal metabolism is greater. If your body is smaller your basal metabolism is less.
Dr. Levin inferred that the weight problems in his patients was due less to the speed of their metabolism and more due to their sedentary lifestyles. That is, of course, only one part of the equation. Gaining unwanted weight can stem from an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, and a number of other problems as well. It’s a complicated problem, and your metabolism isn’t necessarily to blame.
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