Busting the Myth of Calories In vs. Calories Out
Thoughts from the Chair
Most of us have heard the assertion that losing weight is simply a matter of burning off more calories than you consume. It's based on the idea that if you use more calories in a given day through exercise or daily work than what you take in, the pounds will begin to drop off. The problem with this basic but fundamentally flawed contention is that it assumes incorrectly that all calories are created, and then metabolized, equally.
The three macronutrients -- carbohydrates, fats and proteins -- are all digested differently in our bodies and depending on the particular ratio of each in our daily diet, our metabolism can be positively or negatively impacted. The goal is to achieve an ideal ratio of macronutrients that will promote a fast metabolism and help regulate the hormones in our bodies that control our appetite and regulate our fat storage.
The key hormone we want to regulate is insulin because it controls fat storage. Insulin is released by the pancreas anytime we have a spike in blood sugar levels after ingesting a meal or snack high in carbohydrates or simple sugars. In response to insulin's release, glucose (sugar) is taken from our blood up into our muscle and fat cells for storage. If we're able to more effectively regulate the release of insulin through our macronutrient ratios, we can decrease the amount of sugars stored in our body as fat, which in turn will lead to weight loss or stabilization of a healthy weight.
A big part of the reason we have struggled as a nation when it comes to weight gain and the increased incidence of metabolic syndromes is related to more than a decade of focus on high carbohydrate and low fat diets. The high carb diet causes this continual spike in insulin which increases our fat storage. To make matters worse, many of us have increased our consumption of processed carbs while simultaneously limiting our intake of healthy fats.
The result is an unfortunate combination because healthy fats actually help slow down the conversion of carbohydrates in our body into simple sugars which then decreases the need for insulin spikes. When people trying to lose weight focus only on the balance of calories in and calories out, they usually restrict the higher calorie healthy fats. The result negatively impacts their metabolism and in turn causes weight gain and metabolic disorders.
To help regulate insulin more effectively we should focus each meal and snack around protein and healthy fats and then look to add in some carbohydrates in the unprocessed forms of fruits and vegetables. The fiber found in these unprocessed carbohydrates will also help to slow the release of sugar into your blood and prevent the spike in insulin associated with processed carbohydrates like bread, cereals and pasta.
Protein is important because it is the most satiating food source – meaning it makes us full faster and keeps our hunger at bay for a longer period after it is consumed. It has been shown in a study to help people eat less without having to make a conscious effort to do so. As an added bonus, protein burns more energy when our body metabolizes it and also helps build and maintain muscle mass so your metabolism stays revved up.
What it gets down to is that there isn't as much benefit as some people would have you believe when it comes to counting calories. What's far more important is making a conscious effort to balance each meal and snack towards the goal of regulating your hormonal release of insulin. In doing so, you can leave the counting to other less-informed dieters and spend more time and your newfound energy doing things that will make your life even more fulfilling and productive.
Stay healthy my friends,
Chair, My Healthy Lifestyle Employee Wellness Committee
(Editor's Note: In addition to serving as Chair for the Employee Wellness Committee, Daniel Ballin is the Administrator of Riverside's Therapy Group, Wellness and Outpatient Services and oversees all of Riverside's therapy services along with Riverside's Wellness and Fitness Centers in Newport News and Gloucester.)
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