Why Calories Count
A recent post by Marion Nestle, the co-author of Why Calories Count says it all about the use of her latest book: “People are so confused about calories that we have to come to think of them as the C-word. Nobody wants to talk about them…The only way you can tell whether you are getting enough or too many is to observe their effects on your belt size or your weight on a scale.” It’s no wonder why this book caught our eye. Written by Nestle, a nutrition professors at NYU and Malden Nesheim, Professor of Nutrition Emeritus at Cornell University, the book is a repartee on calories as we experience them. The book is less about dieting than a historical, political and scientific view of the ins and outs of calories.
Cutting Calories Works, but Cutting Carbs?
Beyond the history of how calories are measured, how metabolism works, and the role of food policy on our diets, the book does a great job at explaining why high-protein or low-carb diets may not work in the long run. It mentions an important quote from the Report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010: “No optimal macronutrient proportion was identified for enhancing weight loss or weight maintenance. However, decreasing caloric intake led to increased weight loss and improved weight maintenance.” Not only does it cover the issue of hunger hormones, but also the body’s leaning toward maintaining a certain weight and the psychological issues behind a person’s ability to resist pressure to overeat in general.
The Weighty Issue
The general consensus of losing weight seems to revolve around eating less and moving more, but the book adds an important addition: eat better. The battle of weight maintenance is won by replacing high-calorie foods with those with less calories. The strategy to do this starts with understanding the calorie density of foods. Research shows people eat about the same amount of food by volume day-to-day despite the calorie count. Therefore adding more low-calorie dense foods and lowering high-calorie dense foods will reduce overall caloric intake by helping control hunger and maintain that full feeling longer.
A recent Yahoo Health! Survey found 71% of respondents pointed to exercising more as the best way to lose weight, but exactly how many calories you burn a day is hard to figure out. First there’s body weight and then there’s intensity. As these numbers change, the amount of calories burned changes. That is the heavier you are, the more calories you burn during physical activity. As you lose weight you will burn less calories doing the same form of exercise at the same intensity. In addition, the higher intensity the exercise the more calories burned. These two facts are covered more in depth in the book to explain why and how physical activity is important to maintaining weight loss. The book also explains the increased calorie expenditure after exercise, and even calories burned during fidgeting or spontaneous non-exercise activity, which the book says has been found to account for 100 to 800 calories burned a day.
The book takes a broad issue and helps go beyond the numbers to explain why calories count, and more importantly why counting calories can help you better understand nutrition and how you eat. Because people overestimate their caloric intake and physical activity, yet underestimate their food portions, counting calories is the best way to eat less, move more, and eat better.
Why has counting calories made a difference in your weight loss, maintenance, or weight gain journey?