A Calorie is a Calorie - Or is it?

A calorie is certainly a calorie and as it pertains to the body it is a measurement of energy. We measure the energy we consume and burn, express it in calories, and all body mass changes are a reflection of calorie balance. Those are the facts that live inside the "Laws of Thermodynamics." But, different foods entering the body containing the same calories can have different energizing or calorie-burning effects. In other words, a 2000 calorie/day diet of French fries in one big meal won't allow you to burn as many calories as a 2000 calorie/day diet of balanced healthier foods divided into 4 or 5 meals. In fact, on the former diet, you probably couldn't move at all after a day or two, causing you to burn less than half the calories than you would if you were consuming the healthier food plan. With all that said, below are the facts related to body composition changes:
  • Total intake calories are determined by personal statistics & the body composition goal, which is often time-bound or dictated by the demands of the sport or desired appearance. The ratio & makeup within those calories can be manipulated to improve performance and daily calories burned.
  • One single fact determines the rate of weight/fat lost: the average daily calorie deficit, which is the difference between how much energy is expended and the amount supplied – (and you can’t spot reduce). The dieter should proceed at a pace that does not compromise health or performance gains – if progress stops, eat less and/or burn more.
Calorie Confusion
From a recent Los Angeles Times article came the "calorie is a calorie - or is it?" comment that only helped to confuse people - and it did so purposely because that makes it news. From the article about the study: "Over the course of a day people burned more than 300 additional calories on average when on a very low carbohydrate diet compared with a low fat diet". The author of this small preliminary study stated "that's equivalent to an hour of physical activity without lifting a finger."

Translation
The media re-opened the "calorie Pandora's box" that was closed a long time ago. People do need to know it is ALL about calories (just as this study actually points out, but it gets lost in the media spin) so they can pick the calories/foods they want or that make them feel best so they can stick with it and reach their goals. Following a number as opposed to a diet allows the freedom of choice. A list of foods doesn't. And anytime you come to a weight loss plateau, you need to reset the calorie balance accordingly (EXACTYLY the way our program informs you to after you enter a measurement/weight). Your mass change is a product of a specific calorie imbalance, an undisputable fact; therefore, it is an easy equation to give you the next steps expressed as a number, NOT foods or activity. You pick the foods or movement to add or subtract. A calorie balance reset is always necessary at some point during weight loss because of natural adaptation to lost pounds, fitness improvement (e.g. cardiovascular and movement efficiencies), changes in daily routines, etc. in order to stay on goal. While the goal calorie deficit (the difference between calorie output and intake) will always be accurate, the formula to achieve the deficit (actual calorie output [or workload to achieve it] and intake) will continue to change. The good news is that all adjustments are made by eating less and/or burning more, no matter how you come to a plateau. This also eliminates the need for knowing exactly how many calories are in a pound of fat - who cares? Because as mentioned above, if progress slows or stops, eat less and/or burn more.

Different Diets, Same Outcome
Now let's get back to diet differences and calorie burning. This is what the media didn't highlight or discuss at all regarding the study mentioned above.

Health results
The very low-carbohydrate diet raised c-reactive protein (an inflammation marker), cortisol (stress marker) and "bad" cholesterol - all not good.

Longer term studies
The above study was 4 weeks using 21 subjects. A two-year study found no difference in calorie burning between high- and low-carb diets. Most importantly, three studies lasting 1-2 years have tested low-fat versus low-carb diets on over 1200 people. The results: no difference in long-term weight loss or regain. GET IT YET?!

Study punch line
Frank Sacks, professor of cardiovascular disease prevention at Harvard School of Public Health, made this million dollar comment, "If people in this small preliminary study really burned more calories on the low carb diet, it's odd that all body weights were exactly the same after 30 days." In other words, they either consumed more or someone's calorie measurement tools were flawed, or a combination of the two.

Bottom Line
Don't get crossed up about calories not being calories - they are from the technical standpoint and calories/energy are what we adjust one way or another to alter mass. It’s different foods that have different effects on people. Find a daily meal plan that allows you to stick to the calories necessary to achieve your fitness goals. You always want the greatest amount of healthy food/calories that can still accomplish the goal. Very low-calorie or low-carb diets won't get it done long term, AND, as noted in this four-week study, can be unhealthy.

Does 1LB of body fat really contain 3500 calories and will I lose 1LB/week if I cut 3500c/week from my diet?
If you maintain a calorie deficit of 3500c/wk, you will lose ~1LB weekly. But the key phrase here is maintain the deficit, which involves continuous intake and/or burn manipulations as the body adapts to weight loss and activities*. And your average weekly mass changes (body fat and/or weight) will verify the outcome. No mass change, no deficit. Average loss ~1LB/week, average deficit 3500c. Mass changes are rooted in the undisputable laws of energy and therefore a non-bias and human error free quantification method of calorie balance.

More info

3500 calories in 1LB
If you take 1LB of fat from foods sources and burned it in a bomb calorimeter, it would yield ~9calories per gram from the triglyceride content of the fat mass (Whitney, E and Rolfes, S.R., Understanding Nutrition, Wadsworth/Cangage Learning, Florence Kentucky, 2005, chapt 8). One pound (454gms) of fat mass from the human body contains many other components including a small amount of water, so 3500 calories is a good average to start from. Human fat cells including subcutaneous, visceral fat, ectopic lipids (lipids that are deposited where they shouldn't be as in muscle and liver) all would contain a slightly different amount of calories. The actual calories would depend on the fatty acids that make up the triglycerides (chain lengths, carbon positioning, etc.), protein content (yes, fat cells have vitamins, hormones/proteins), and water content as it also slightly varies. The latter issue is the main reason there are not 4086 calories in 454gms of fat mass from the human body since over 10% of the weight may be water. When weight is lost, it is lost from all these compartments and just as each pound of skeletal muscle can contain different calories based on triglyceride, water and carbohydrate content so does fat based on its unique contents. But again, 3500c/LB works great because pinpoint accuracy is not important when it comes losing weight/body fat.

Weight loss
The average number of 3500 has been chosen by the scientific community (meaning it is the evidence-based number, which are the rules we follow set by the ADA weight control guidelines), because it works; in fact any number close can work. No one cares what the true number is because, first of all, it can't be figured out, and second it makes no difference when it comes to losing fat. It is only a place to start, and if you are not losing fat you simply have to reduce calories and/or burn more. When you estimate how many calories someone burns, you now can give them a starting place of how much to eat to reduce weight. A caloric intake of 3500-7000c/wk below a person's caloric output works nicely to start and will continue to be reset as necessary to maintain the desired weight/fat loss. If they come to a plateau, they need to make an adjustment, so the exact number is irrelevant. Simply lower the intake and/or up the burn to maintain the same deficit, which is validated by weekly mass changes. This of course is how our program works. It doesn't care how many calories you tell it you eat or burn, it only looks at your mass change over time and makes the decision based on the laws of energy - NOT your recording. The dotFIT program simply resets your calorie targets based on the speed and direction your mass is changing mapped to your goal/timeframe so it's NEVER wrong. And finally, when the average person loses weight it's generally not all fat. In fact, if you do not supplement when using traditional weight loss methods, the average person loses 1/4 muscle and 3/4 fat for each pound lost depending on how heavy they were to start. This means the calories lost are all over the map. But again, no one cares what the number is. It's simply a number to make an adjustment from. (By the way lost muscle may contain ~500-800c/lb.)

*Example: you burn 3000 calories/day and lose 1lb week because you consumed 2500. After losing 15lbs you now burn 2600c/day because of less weight, movement efficiency, daily activities, etc. so you now must consume 2100c/day, STILL giving you the 1lb/wk loss. Or of course you can increase your workload to achieve the 3000 calorie/day burn again or a combination of the two.

Mass changes (measurements/weight) will always document the need and where to adjust, NOT your human record keeping.

Get Your Fitness/Nutrition Advice!

chat

Need Our Help?

question_answer