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What's the real truth about calories??

Jan 7, 2014

What is the Real Truth About Calories???

Counting calories isn’t rocket science. It’s more like basic physics, or at least the first law of thermodynamics—that energy can be changed from one form to another, but not created or destroyed. Burn the 3,500 calories that make up a pound body fat, and you’re that much lighter.

Still, if it were that simple, we could stop here, and anyone with a pen, paper, and a calculator could slim down without a struggle. Truth is, if you’re trying to lose weight, the source of your calories matters, as does the type of exercise you combine with a low-cal diet.

“If someone is consuming many calories from fatty, sugary, low-nutrient foods, clearly they won’t be getting all the valuable nutrients they need for their bodies to function optimally,” says Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN, author of Nutrition at Your Fingertips. “To sustain weight loss, it’s key to keep activity level up and mix up exercises so you’re using different muscle groups or stimulating your muscles in different ways.”

You’re not alone if you’re feeling a little clueless about calories. While 77 percent of Americans say they are trying to lose or maintain weight, only 19 percent track calories, according to a survey conducted by the International Food Information Council Federation. Only 12 percent can accurately target the number of calories they should consume in a day, while 43 percent have trouble estimating how many calories they burn during everyday activities.

Knowing the facts about energy intake and expenditure can help you pinpoint why the needle on the scale gets stuck. Here, Jeremy Bailey Owner of Fitness Together Chapel Hill helps set the record straight on 3 areas of Calorie Confusion.

Not All Calories are Equal

It’s like the adage, “What weighs more, a pound of feathers or a pound or rocks?” Erin Palinski, RD, CPT, says the math is simple: “If you eat fewer calories than you burn, you will lose weight. But this isn’t your free pass to take the Hollywood Cookie Diet for a spin. “Calories from protein and fats are more filling than calories from carbohydrate sources,” Palinski says. “If you are trying to reduce your calorie intake and are eating calories mainly from carbohydrates, you may find yourself hungry, making it hard to stay within your calorie range.”

The healthiest calories come from whole grains, high-fiber carbohydrates, lean proteins, and unsaturated fats, she says. These whole foods require more energy (read: calories) to eat, digest, and absorb compared with refined or processed foods.

The Best Diet is a Low-Cal Diet

Atkins, Ornish, Zone, South Beach—if you don’t know the difference, don’t worry. When combined with exercise, any diet that restricts calories should result in weight loss, regardless of which macronutrients are emphasized or downplayed, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana assigned 811 overweight adults to one of four diets emphasizing various levels of fat, protein, and carbs. Each dieter was instructed to slash 750 calories a day, exercise for 90 minutes daily, keep a food diary, and meet with a diet counselor. After 6 months, study participants across all groups lost an average of 13 pounds.

While macronutrients are important, a focus on calorie counting should trump restricting fat or carbohydrates.”Palinski, who agrees that tracking calories is the key to successful weight loss, suggests writing down everything you eat for a few days in order to calculate your usual calorie intake. “Subtract 500 from this amount without going below 1,200 calories,” she says. “If you stick to this calorie range each day, you will lose 1 pound per week

Real Results Require Exercise

You’ve cut calories and made a meaningful effort to consume a variety of nutrient-dense foods. You’re almost there, but there’s one more piece of the weight loss puzzle: EXERCISE!!

According to a study published in the American Journal of Physiology, scientists at Oregon Health & Science University found that diet alone was not enough to promote significant weight loss in primates. The researchers fed monkeys a high-fat diet for several years, then cut caloric intake by 30 percent for sedentary monkeys and made no changes to the diets of those that were trained to exercise on a treadmill for 60 minutes each day. After a month, the exercise group weighed less, while sedentary monkeys experienced declines in energy and lost no weight.

In the beginning, you can start slow then ramp up your exercise efforts. The heavier you are, the more calories you burn per minute. For instance, if a 120-pound woman ran for 20 minutes at 6 miles per hour and a 150-pound woman ran at the same speed for the same amount of time, the 150-pound woman would have burned a bit more calories. To make the most of your gym sessions, try short bursts of high intensity exercise, which burn more calories than consistent-rate cardio, like jogging on the treadmill at a set speed. In a study published in the International Journal of Obesity, Australian researchers found that 3-4, 30-45 minute, high-intensity interval workouts per week lead to greater reductions in total body mass, fat mass, and leg and trunk mass, compared with steady-state exercise at the same frequency.

You can achieve your goals with the help of Fitness Together Chapel Hill. Fitness Together Chapel Hill offers one-on-one sessions with experienced personal trainers who will develop a program tailored to your needs and goals. An important part of our program is Nutrition Together, which provides nutritional counseling to complement your workouts. Let Fitness and Nutrition Together help you create and maintain a sustainable exercise and nutrition program. Visit us online at


Schedule a complimentary fit evaluation so we can get to know you and your goals and build you a customized training program to reach them.