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The Truth About Calories: Do They Really Matter?

The Truth About Calories: Do They Really Matter?


Most of my clients come to me because they’ve struggled with dieting for many years without lasting success. They’ve counted Points, calories, fat grams, sugar, carbs. They’ve measured and weighed their portions of food. But in the long run, nothing seems to stick.

This whole nutrition and diet thing can really be a pain in the arse, I know. And I want to be here for you as a reliable source for what’s real, truthful, and most importantly proven to work long term.

So let’s talk about the basics:

Calories. What are they and do they really matter when it comes to weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight?

Here’s the true definition of what a calorie is (simply put): a unit of heat used to indicate the amount of energy that foods will produce in the human body.

In other words, a calorie represents a unit of energy that comes from the foods you eat. This is basic science and the basis on which how your body is energetically fueled on a daily basis.

With that said, let’s explore calories for energy a little deeper.

I always like to use the analogy of a car and the gasoline that’s used to make the car run. Let me break it down a little further for you:

  • Your car needs gas to run. Without it, there’s no going anywhere.
  • There are different “grades” of gasoline to choose from: Regular, Mid-Grade or Premium.
  • No matter what grade of gasoline you choose, your car can only hold a certain number of gallons. Anything over that amount, there’s an overspill.

It’s the same thing with your body. You need energy to keep moving throughout the day and that energy comes in the form of calories from the food you eat. There are different sources from which your calories can come from, and this determines how your body will function on a daily basis.

Now this is the kicker: Just like the gasoline for a car, if you fill up on too many calories, there WILL be an overspill in the form of weight gain.

Okay, so I know it’s not that simple, but my hope is the car analogy gives you a different (and somewhat relatable) perspective on how your body works when it comes to energy and fuel. We’re not mechanical cars. I get that. And what’s even more important to remember is this:

Not all calories are created equal.

What that means is a 100 calorie bowl of sugary cereal won’t be utilized by the body in the same way as a 100 calorie bowl of berries. Therefore, instead of just counting calories, you need to focus on where your calories are coming from.

And then there are other factors, aside from calories, that affect your ability to lose and maintain a healthy weight and here are just a few:

  • Genetics (also known as Nutrigenomics)
  • Stress
  • Your eating psychology

So bottom line, do calories really matter? Yes, kind of.

Do you need to be obsessive-compulsive in counting and tracking your calories every single day? No, no, no.

Instead of wrecking your brain over calories, follow these basic health tips that work universally for just about everyone:

  1. Eat a variety of real, minimally processed foods. Make this the foundation of how you eat daily.
  2. Include a high-quality source of protein with every meal (this isn’t limited to animal sources – You can eat beans and other protein-rich plant foods).
  3. Make eating fruits and vegetables a priority, keeping it at the forefront of your mind whenever you’re planning a meal– this applies to eating out and eating at home.
  4. Eat to the point of feeling satisfied, not stuffed.
  5. Enjoy your favorite “indulgent” foods on occasion. This is so important that I wrote a book on the topic.
  6. Understand that the actions you do most often over and over again are what matter most, and not an occasional meal that may be “less than ideal”. In other words, give yourself a break because you’re not going to be perfect every single day.

This is the real, tried and true, prescription for weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight. No trendy name, no restrictions or exclusions. It’s really kinda simple.

I say let’s get back to the basics of eating and living and learn how to have a healthy relationship with food.

What say you? Let me know how this resonates for you in the comments below:

  1. What do you think about calorie-counting?
  2. What have you done to lose weight and keep it off for good?

Let’s talk about it!

Categories: Improved Health

{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Jessica July 26, 2016, 10:44 am
    I've only liked counting calories from the perspective of an eye-opening experience. Like when you look up the calories on your favorite dish at your favorite restaurant that you thought was "healthy"! Or your Starbs drink :( But I hate counting them! So thanks for letting us off the hook. And for redirecting us back to what really matters.
    • Christine Dyan July 27, 2016, 8:39 am
      Yes I agree, Jessica! It's great to know how you're actually using your calorie-bank with the food choices you make. Other than that, counting is just too OCD and who wants to live like that??
  • Libby July 26, 2016, 11:34 am
    Love the gas tank analogy. And I really appreciate your thoughts on equating food to energy. I often forget that's why we eat. haha. I've only found calorie counting helpful when I need to completely shift my focus back to being 100% present and intentional about what I'm eating. It's less about the actual number and more that it gives me something tangible to track - at least for a few days until I'm back into a healthy routine.
    • Christine Dyan July 27, 2016, 8:41 am
      The car and gas tank analogy is always a great "visual" image people can relate to. Glad it helped bring it into perspective, Libby!
  • Whitney Ryan July 27, 2016, 8:18 am
    "So bottom line, do calories really matter? Yes, kind of." Love that line!! Haha. Thanks for breaking this down and making it simple. You're so right about the grades of gas — like Libby said, it's easy to forget that food is body fuel, first and foremost. I've never been a fan of counting calories so haven't really done it. Any time I restrict like that, it takes the enjoyment out of cooking and eating. So I love your more holistic approach in eating a variety of foods and mostly fresh fruits and veggies. It's a much more doable plan!
    • Christine Dyan July 27, 2016, 8:42 am
      I always say we need to bring the enjoyment and pleasure back into food and stop treating it like the enemy. So glad you can relate in the same way, Whitney!
  • Jessie Ford Coots July 29, 2016, 12:05 pm
    Really love this, Christine. I've never counted calories much either and I have always wondered how people do it - it would drive me crazy! Thanks for helping us to see the bigger picture and that other things matter more in the long run - and you can still do good and right by your body by having an overall healthy relationship with food.
  • Carla Holden July 29, 2016, 2:09 pm
    Great article, Christine! I've calorie counted and years ago lost a ton of weight that way. But like anything, you have to be willing to keep at it in order for it to keep on working. I've also done low carb though and even though ingesting more calories than I would say on a low fat diet - I lost more by cutting out sugar/starch. I agree that not all calories are created equal and from experience I feel best with what you prescribe - protein at every meal, unprocessed food and not eating til stuffed! :D Thanks for the breakdown!!

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You work hard enough every day and your meals shouldn't be. Take the "Real Food, Real Fast 30-Day Challenge" Now and look and feel fabulous in 4 weeks! 

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