The Truth about Calories

December 11th, 2009

Calories are calories, whether they come from apples or chocolate fudge, right? Every time you eat, you take in calories. All foods, except water, have some. Your body is a machine that uses food calories as fuel. If calories in are equal to calories out you maintain your weight. All these facts are true. But, still myths about calories abound.

Myth #1: Sugar and fast food make you fat.

Truth: There is no specific food that causes weight gain. The only thing that makes you fat is eating too many calories. If you eat too much sugar and too many fast foods, you will gain weight. If you eat both in moderation you won’t. People who eat a lot of sugar or fast food also frequently eat larger portions, eat more often, and eat fewer good-for-you foods, like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Myth #2: Smoking is an effective weight loss strategy.

Truth: As a matter of fact, research has shown that smoking encourages the accumulation of belly fat. Smokers, even lean ones, have thicker waists than nonsmokers.

Myth #3: Skipping meals can help you cut calories.

Truth: People who eat many small amounts during the day are slimmer than those who eat few larger meals. Regular breakfast skippers are 450% more likely to be overweight. Eat when you’re hungry, stopping when you’re full is a simple rule that is difficult to follow. But those who do, usually eat fewer calories than people who sit down to a big lunch or dinner simply because the clock says it’s time to eat.

Myth #4: Eating calories at night makes you gain more weight.

Truth: Time of day doesn’t matter; it’s the calories that count. You can eat all the calories you need for an entire day between midnight and 6 A.M, if you wish. As long as you don’t eat any more during the rest of the day, you won’t gain weight. The warning against late night eating only has value if the calories eaten at night watching TV or coping with stress are on top of the calories you’ve already eaten during the day.

Myth #5: Exercise makes you eat more.

Truth: Research has shown that after 20 minutes of exercise people ate no more than those who had done nothing. The only difference was that those who had exercised thought the food tasted better. The only other problem is when you use the exercise as an excuse to “reward” yourself with high-calorie foods.

Myth #6: You can burn fat calories by eating certain foods, like grapefruit and cabbage soup.

Truth: The grapefruit diet says that if you eat half a grapefruit before every meal you will reap the benefits of the fruit’s so-called fat-burning enzymes. The only reason it would work is because calories are limited to fewer than 800 a day, although some versions require that you eat until you are full. Grapefruit has no fat, is low in calories and sodium, and is packed with vitamin C. But the very low calories — and deficits in protein, fiber and several important vitamins and minerals — can make this diet dangerous. Similarly, the cabbage soup diet proponents report feeling lightheaded and weak because the diet is too low in protein, vitamins and complex carbohydrates. You may lose weight, but you’ll probably be too weak to enjoy it. Remember, no foods can burn fat. Caffeine-rich foods may speed up your metabolism rate for a short time, but they do not cause any weight loss. The best way to lose weight is to reduce the number of calories you eat and increase your physical activities.

Some other things to remember…

One package does not always equal one serving.

Read food labels carefully to see if a package – even a smaller one – contains more than 1 serving. Many smaller sized packages may hold more that 1 serving. For example, a small bag of chips may hold 2 ½ servings. Eat the whole bag and you’ve eaten 2 ½ times the calories listed as a serving.

Fat-free and sugar-free are not calorie free.

Buying fat-free or sugar-free foods seems virtuous and can seduce you into eating larger amounts. But beware: some brands of sugar-free cookies and fat-free crackers have the same number of calories as – and sometimes more – than the regular versions. Few foods are calorie free. If a fat-free salad dressing has half of the calories of a regular version and you use twice as much, or you eat a box of sugar-free cookies, there is no calorie benefit.

Water can help you burn more calories.

Most people don’t drink enough water. It’s not only that it helps make you feel more full. When you have too little water in your body, your metabolism slows down and you burn fewer calories. Exercising, running errands and staying out in the sun can all make you mildly dehydrated. Water, juice, seltzer, mineral water, milk, and even caffeine-containing coffee and tea all contribute to your fluid intake. If you don’t urinate at least every 4 hours when you are awake, you probably need to be drinking more.

Too little sleep can make you gain weight.

People who sleep more weigh less. Getting too little sleep triggers hormonal changes that lead to increased appetite. Plus, the more hours you’re awake means more time to eat, and if you’re tired, you’re less likely to exercise — all adding up to extra pounds. Aim for at least 7 hours a night.

Being male has its advantages.

Not only do most men have more muscle mass (and therefore higher metabolisms) than women, but they may have a brain advantage as well. For women it may be their brains and not their stomachs that lead to overeating. A recent imaging study showed that a woman’s brain drives her to overeat when presented with her favorite foods or when she is under emotional stress. The same is not true for men.

So to make it really simple. Eat smaller amounts. If you consume more calories than you burn, you will gain weight. Consume fewer calories than you burn and you’ll lose weight. It’s just that simple.

Marketers of diet programs will try to convince you that you must consume specific ratios of calories from protein, carbohydrates and fat in order to lose weight effectively. The simple truth of the matter is the number of calories you consume determines how much you weigh. The kinds of calories you consume determines how you’ll feel.

By Karen Nelson

Categories: Diet & Nutrition, Exercise, Fitness, Health & Wellness, Lifestyle Change, Weight Loss

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