Know-Vember: Do Calories Matter?

This is one of the biggest debates in health and nutrition. When it comes to losing weight, does it all come down to calories in vs. calories out or does food quality/type and other things (hormones/stress/genetics) matter more than just the number of calories? The debate rages on almost daily, with some very heated discussion and both sides basically saying “if someone claims otherwise, then they’re full of shiitake mushrooms.”

The Calorie Debate

Is it all about calories? Or is food type/quality/genetics/hormone influence more important?

Both sides have pretty good arguments and are pretty convinced of their case, sometimes to an avid degree. This is clue numero uno to the debate. If two conflicting sides are certain of their truth and arguing passionately then you can be pretty sure that neither are correct.

That’s the case here.

We’re not sure about how exactly the calorie debate works out because both sides are technically right (but not completely) and need to rely upon the other theory to round out their rationale. But, much like Democrats and Republicans, the calorie debate has a very bipartisan feel. Both sides argue like polar bears and do not like to concede…

What do we KNOW about calories?

  • We KNOW that, on a cellular level, energy in vs. energy out matters.
  • We KNOW that not all calories impact the body the same. For instance, 100 calories of sugar impacts the body differently than 100 calories of protein.
  • We KNOW that things like hormones, vitamins, minerals, sleep, stress, illness, genetics and exercise all play a role in how the both treats energy usage and expenditure.
  • We KNOW the body makes adaptations and changes beyond our full understanding, some of which we know about and others we don’t.
  • We KNOW that it is almost impossible to calculate the actual calories in food and accurately count the true amount of energy we consume and extremely difficult to measure how much energy we actually use every day.

Which leaves a big NO in terms of knowing exactly how that translates to the simple calculations of how much energy we eat vs. how much we think we expend.

Ultimately, it really is a matter of energy balance. So, yes, calories matter but only in terms of what gets digested and makes it to your cells and how much energy your cells actually use, not how many calories you eat and estimate you expend.

How much energy we actually digest and assimilate depends greatly on hormones, genetics, stress, sleep, exercise, etc. as does how much energy we actually burn off.

Why can’t it be as simple as move more than you eat? Because the body is not that simple… it’s extremely complex. Just like politics, the answer isn’t certain, fluxes greatly and is very dependent on several variables.

Both sides are right but both sides need each other’s main premise to be true for theirs to work. Neither side seems to be willing to do that out of fear of conceding victory.

Which means the politics of calories is complicated. Both sides are probably not backing down any time soon and we, the people, are left to find the middle ground and do our best to pick out the good stuff and dump the rest.

Calories matter. Absolutely. But only after they’ve gone through the filter of the body (hormones, genetics and food type/quality, etc.). And all those things matter greatly but only in terms of how much calorie deficit they create.

So next time you read an article on calories, put your political glasses on and take it for what it’s worth.

Thanks for reading, have a great day!

P.S. For a little more detail on this, check out Calories and Hormones: BFFs.

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