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Calories nutrition

Why calorie counting isn't working for you

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Calories Photo: SportSG

There are a wide variety of apps freely available that can help you count calories and monitor your weight. As you attempt to maintain a healthy calorie count, take note of the following two assumptions, which may be undermining the effectiveness of calorie counting for you:


1.    All calories are created equally

Unfortunately, not all calories are created equal – the most extreme being empty calories, which are from solid fats or sugars that gives your body little or no nutrition. It’s true that our body requires energy from calories for activity, but we also require a variety of nutrients to maintain a healthy immune system.

If you have kept to a strict calorie-counting diet but consumed mostly empty calories, you’re not going to see any weight loss at all or worse still, you could suffer from malnutrition because you don’t get enough nutrients for your body.

Foods such as margarine, gelatine, cakes, cookies, candy, ice cream and soft drinks contain empty calories, so it’s best to eat them only in moderation. Moreover, such foods often leave you feeling unsatiated. Opt for a higher amount of protein in your diet to reduce your appetite.

Nutrients also determine the quality of calories. High quality calories can be found in broccoli, avocados, chicken, eggs and beef, which are also high in fibre or induce hormones that facilitate the burning of fat.

The amount of energy required to process and absorb such calories is termed the “thermic effect of food”, which supposedly comprises 10% of a day’s total calorie burn. Foods that are equal in calories but differ in protein, carbohydrate and fat ratios will thus result in varying amounts of nutrient storage. This means that processed foods of equal calorie count to whole foods could result in the storage of more fat and other undesired substances.

Calories Photo: SportSG


2.    All bodies respond equally to calories

Studies of over-eating and under-eating have shown that despite similar degrees of calorie intake, different bodies lose and/or gain weight at disparate rates. In fact, we may not even absorb 100% of the calories we eat.

This doesn’t gel with the enduring assumption that 3,500 calories will correspond to a pound (about 0.45 kg) of gain or loss, depending on over or under-consumption. In fact, a landmark experiment from as far back as 1999 showed that 16 men and women gaining weight at vastly different rates despite being fed an equal excess of 1,000 calories a day for 8 weeks. Only one individual gained the “correct” weight of 16 pounds, while another gained only 3.

Clearly, our bodies’ metabolisms affect our ability to digest and utilise calories (and therefore weight gain or loss) to a great extent, and it is by no means conclusive that restricting your diet by certain amount of calories will ensure a fixed amount of weight lost.

Conversely, cutting calories excessively will cause your body to slow its metabolism and burn muscle rather than fat, which will lead to weight gain instead when you finally resume a normal diet.

CaloriesPhoto: SportSG

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