Counting calories, specifically macronutrients, is very common in the fitness world. But, is it required to live a healthy, balanced lifestyle? Absolutely not. Can it be beneficial to reach your weight loss goals? Definitely. While counting calories isn’t always optimal or even needed for most people, it’s important to know why it can be helpful in certain situations.
What is a calorie?
We have all heard the word calorie before but do we really know the scientific definition? My guess is no. Let's break it down. A calorie is a unit of energy that we get from eating and drinking foods. Basically, your body stores and burns calories from the foods you eat to create energy. Let’s say you eat a protein bar that has 200 calories. Those 200 calories tell you how much energy your body can get from eating that protein bar. Calories are important because they fuel our bodies and allow us to perform daily functions. Without them we would have no energy to live our lives!
Why should we focus on calories?
. If you don’t care to lose or gain weight, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “I don’t care how many calories I eat.” If that’s you, my advice is to focus on eating whole, unprocessed foods, and to exercise daily to keep your mind and body healthy. Typically, the average person just wants to look good and shed some weight. The best way to do so is to be in a caloric deficit. This means you must track your calories. Let’s look at this from a physics perspective. According to the law of thermodynamics, energy cannot be created nor destroyed. Instead, energy is transferred. In short, this means you won’t lose weight if you’re eating too much. If you consume an excess amount of calories compared to what your body burns, your body takes energy from those extra calories and stores it as body fat. The opposite occurs when you are in a caloric deficit. Your body burns your stored fat because there are not enough calories to burn from the calories you eat.
Back in the day when obesity was rising, people were told to stay away from fats to lose weight and stay healthy. Society believed that the high calories from fats were the reason people were gaining weight. Remember, per every 1 gram of fat there are 9 calories. Imagine if you stopped adding a tablespoon of peanut butter to your oatmeal every morning. A tablespoon of peanut butter has around 8g of fat; that is 72 calories (8 g x 9 cals/g = 72 cals) you would eliminate every morning by removing fats in your breakfast! So, it only made sense to tell people to cut them out because that would lead to less calories consumed daily. When the fat-free trend was not helping with the obesity epidemic, society was then told to cut carbohydrates out of their diets. But what happened? People were still gaining weight.
So, what does this mean?
The macronutrients are not the problem. We now know that over-eating will cause weight gain. At the end of the day, no matter what the diet is, you will not lose weight if you are eating too many calories. You must eat less calories than what your body burns to lose weight.
If you want to lose weight, make sure you are in a caloric deficit.
If you want to gain weight, make sure you are in a caloric surplus.