It’s amazing that we know the energy value of the food we eat. It’s certainly not the be all and end all, lots of other factors come into consideration. But why do I keep seeing calories being reviled as an inferior metric? Calories are ostracised in the high school canteen of nutritional importance whilst cool kids like food quality, veganism and fasting all sit in their clique and compare lunch boxes.
Is there a better measurement for quantifying the energy value of foods that I’m not aware of? Calories are an incredibly useful tool for measuring the energy value of foods, in the same way, that Bodyweight is a very good indication of your weight.
Don’t ask it to be something that it isn’t. We can get into macronutrients, and micronutrients and food quality later and we can measure your body fat and work out what your lean body mass is versus your fat mass. But for simplicity’s sake, calories count and if you want less body fat you’ll lose weight on the scale.
If you’ve ever watched Secret Eaters then you’ll know that we are terrible at estimating calorie intake. Spoiler alert, I’ve yet to watch an episode where the culprit for the steady weight gain of the participant was a dodgy thyroid or a slow metabolism.
A recent survey shows that the average British person underestimates their daily calories intake by 50%. There are literally dozens of studies confirming that we cannot accurately estimate how much food we are consuming.This one here, and this, this too, and another, one more. We live in a world of processed, hyper-palatable foods that have hijacked our evolutionary survival software, eating according to hunger and satiety in an ad libitum manner is a noble goal but a hopeless starting point for a diet.
If your goal is to lose body fat then you must at the very least acknowledge calories and embrace them as a useful tool in your journey. Dismissing their value and refusing to acknowledge them doesn’t stop them from acting upon you and your waistline.
Secret Insider Tip: All diets work because they allow you to create and sustain a calorie deficit
(*Lyle pioneered online nutrition information and has written a number of excellent books)
BW in lbs x 9-14
Now you might ask, what constitutes active? Let me make this simple for you. I don’t care how many spin classes you do or if you’ve worn out your unlimited monthly Guavapass, if you working in an office you’re classified as sedentary. To be active you’d have to be chopping logs in the forest like the woodsman from Red Riding Hood or training for an ultramarathon.
200lb man- sedentary- 2000 calories.
How we spend these 2000 calories is critical if we are to achieve the best outcome. This is where the other factors alluded to earlier come into play, macronutrients, nutrient density, fibre, and satiety.
But I eat Healthy wholefoods! Surely I don’t need to bother myself with frivolities like Calories?
Healthy= nutrient dense
Healthy says nothing about the calorie values of foods.
It is important that you gain an understanding of the energy values of foods that you commonly eat, this will ultimately give you more freedom and flexibility allowing you to make substitutions with little thought.
Avocado, Nuts, Olive Oil are all very healthy foods- they contain high levels of nutrients, antioxidants, and polyphenols- we would advise nearly all of our clients to consume these foods. However, these are examples of nutritionally and calorically dense foods which means that you cannot consume them as you please and expect to achieve the transformation you desire. During a fat loss phase, you should prioritise foods which are nutrient dense but lower in calories.
100 grams of macadamia nuts contains 700 calories. If you are snacking on handfuls of nuts through the day you will very likely over consume calories and hinder fat loss.
You would be better off eating a food with high nutritional density and low caloric density for a snack like 200 grams of Cottage Cheese with 100 grams of Blueberries: 226 calories
Try out our carefully planned calorie/macro controlled meal plans here.