Are Calories Good or Bad?
Q. Is calorie a bad word?
A. No, it’s not bad—just misunderstood! Most people who use the word calorie simply don’t know what it means. Also, in my experience, most people to go pale at the mere mention of the word. Based on those facts alone, I would eliminate calorie from the English vocabulary if I could.
Q. Why is calorie such a misunderstood word?
A. The American public has been told, time and time again, that people who consume more calories than their bodies burn will gain weight. As I explain in The Diet Solution: Start Eating and Start Living, this statement is only partially true. All calories are not created equal; calories consumed from healthy foods and unhealthy foods are quite different.
Q. What exactly is a calorie, then?
A. According to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th edition), a calorie is “a unit equivalent to the large calorie expressing heat-producing or energy-producing value in food when oxidized in the body.” In plain English, a calorie is a unit of energy released from the food you eat to power the body.
Q. How are calories “burned”?
A. The body needs energy from food—calories—to perform many functions, the most obvious of which are physical activity and exercise. However, the body also requires energy to function at the most basic level: to breathe, digest food, and maintain organs and systems.
Q. How many calories should I eat each day?
A. The short answer is “enough.” The calories you consume must provide enough energy for your body to perform all necessary functions and activities—and bring about optimum health. The long answer is that the number of calories needed varies from person to person and depends on weight, foods consumed, sleep, stress and activity levels, age, and a long list of other factors that affect metabolism. In The Diet Solution: Start Eating and Start Living, I provide a calorie equation to help you estimate, according to these factors, how many calories you should consume to lose weight or maintain weight. It also includes charts to help you choose the right sources of those calories to support your efforts.
Q. Is it possible to eat too few calories?
A. Believe it or not, yes! The most serious problem with low-calorie diets is that although they may bring about weight loss, they also can cause serious health problems. One common side effect of low-calorie diets is muscle breakdown, which can occur when the body doesn’t consume enough calories from protein. Especially vulnerable is the heart, a muscular organ. If a person does not consume an adequate amount of calories each day, the heart muscle begins to break down, possibly leading to serious cardiac conditions (e.g., cardiac atrophy).
Q. What are the consequences of following low-calorie diets off and on over time?
A. Low-calorie diets typically do not supply enough energy to keep organs and systems healthy. In effect, they can lead to malnourishment. For clients who have repeatedly followed such diets, I recommend high-calorie meal plans that will provide their organs with adequate fuel to repair themselves and regain healthy function. Most of my clients are surprised, at first, to see how much food they can consume on a healthy weight-loss diet—not to mention the high level of health that they can achieve.
Q. Hey, wait—didn’t you say that you don’t like the word calorie? Then why does the Diet Solution Program suggest calculating calorie requirements?
A. In the Diet Solution Program, calorie calculation is simply a means to an end. You use the ideal number of calories that results from the equation to determine the correct number of servings of each food type for each meal. That’s it—from that point on, you can forget about counting calories!
Q. If I don’t count calories, then how will I control my eating habits?
A. Use the Allowable Servings Guide in The Diet Solution: Start Eating and Start Living to plan meals. However, over time, you will learn how to meet your body’s nutritional needs without referring to the servings guide. Humans are born with the ability to “know” when the body has received enough nourishment and when it needs more. My professional experience indicates that, unfortunately, most yo-yo dieters and other people who have battled weight problems don’t know how to “listen” to the body’s cues in response to the foods and portions they consume. The good news is that this ability can be (re)learned.
Q. What do you mean by “listen” to my body?
A. The Diet Solution Program is a lifestyle shift that teaches you how to determine the best foods and portions for your metabolic type. Even after just days on the plan, you will learn to pay attention to how you feel after eating. For many people, this experience of “listening” to the body will be new. However, by letting your body be your guide, you will learn how to eat your way to optimum health.
Q. Can I really expect to maintain a healthy weight without counting calories or referring to servings guides or other charts?
A. Yes! It’s how I live my life now, and you, too, can learn to recognize when your body is adequately nourished. After many years of dieting, I reawakened my body’s innate ability to tell me when I’ve had enough food and when I need more by following the same plan I present in the Diet Solution Program. Every day is different; some days I require more food and others less, depending on my levels of exercise, stress, and even hormones. But I don’t need to count calories to know whether I’ve had enough; my body tells me, and I know how to listen. Whatever you do, don’t be lured into the trap of forever counting calories, because that approach is not sustainable—or healthy—in the long term.
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