Weight Loss: Do Calories Really Count?

Weight loss is very seldom an easy process. Oh, there are a few lucky people who cut out diet sodas, or take a short walk around the neighborhood a few days a week, and "poof" it's gone.

That, and the people who NEVER seem to gain weight no matter how much they eat... or sit around doing nothing, is frustrating enough, right?

To make it worse, it seems like you cannot go anywhere, read anything, or watch a show on TV without getting some kind of advice on how to lose weight... often from people who apparently look better at age 40+ than you (and I) did in our teens!

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So, you finally realize that you are one of the unlucky humans who has to "diet" and "exercise" (OMG) if you want to drop the weight that has been sneaking up on you for the last few... well... years? You go to the library or Barnes and Noble (Here in Texas, we are lucky and have Half Price Books), or go online, and begin gathering the information you are going to need to get slim and trim again... or finally, for some of us.

If you are lucky, you will find a reference, or a couple that seem to agree, and get started.

Unfortunately, after a while, most people begin to realize that this weight loss thing is not going to be as quick and easy as they thought.

So, they go looking for more info...

That's when they begin to realize that maybe this process is not as simple and as straight forward as they thought!

Some people might have run into the problem early on in their research, but others may have put a lot of time and effort into what they thought was right, when, all of a sudden, they find other "experts" saying other things. Since both groups are often already frustrated with the whole process, it's not uncommon for them to give up.

One of the more confusing issues is whether or not calories actually matter, as it is often stated, whether calories count or not when it comes to weight loss. There seems to be a school of weight loss experts who claim that they don't.

Well, I have been researching weight loss, as an amateur observer, for several decades and have made the following observation.

Almost every respected major institution, facility, organization, or person has the same message: Calories DO count. This has been shown again and again in many strictly controlled and monitored studies.

In fact the basic weight management equation is:

More calories taken in than used = Weight Gain
More calories used than taken in = Weight Loss

So, where does the confusion come in?

There are many things which can contribute to our weight moving in either direction. Our genes, age, sex, lifestyle, learned habits, and even where we live.

With so many factors contributing to gain or loss, it's easy to lose sight of whether it is the number of calories which were important or if other things were actually the influencing factor.

After all, if two siblings who appear to have about the same body type and seem to eat pretty much the same foods, but have significantly different body fat levels, it's easy, without careful research, to assume that the calories they consume are not really important.

One example of how the matter of whether or not calories count can confuse the issue, is that of the effect of sugar.

Now, many today recognize that sugar is a source of "empty calories", i.e. calories that come with no other nutritional benefits other than a temporary increase in blood sugar. This usually produces a quick burst of energy, but this tends to die out fairly rapidly, often leaving the person feeling less energetic than they felt before the sugar.

This is complicated even more by these two facts:

1. Sugar is often present in foods but in forms we don't recognize. As a rule of thumb, if a product ends with "... ose" it's probably a sugar.

2. Sugars and other carbohydrates (bread, pasta, even fruit) are converted into glucose, a form of sugar the body can use.

So, not only may you be getting more sugar (empty calories) than you think, but darn near everything other than protein becomes sugar shortly after you eat it anyway!

Still, we haven't addressed the calorie issue, but we're about to.

As we age, if we are ill with certain conditions, or if we gain too much weight, or if we eat too many sugars and or "bad" carbohydrates, our bodies may reject the glucose which is usually offered to their cells for energy. This is the result of a condition known as "insulin resistance".

I won't go into the mechanics of that for the moment, but, what happens in this case is that the rejected glucose gets stored as fat. This situation can also eventually lead to type 2 diabetes.

Now, you can combat this by cutting out sugar and simple carbs, and eating a diet which has more fiber-rich foods. In this sort of diet, the same number of calories as in the diet full of sugar and simple carbs will NOT produce as much fat gain and can even help with weight loss.

So, am I saying that the "amount" of calories does not count?

Nope! After all, the fat stored in the first case could be burned off by exercise, as can the energy from calories in the second example. It will be the balance between "use" of the calories and the "amount" which will actually contribute to weight gain or weight loss. It's just that it is "easier" to store fat with the wrong diet choices.

While calories DO count, the source of those calories, and other issues, can affect the results in terms of weight gain, loss, or maintenance.

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