Most people who want to lose a few extra pounds decide to radically limit their caloric intake. In practice, this often means reducing portion sizes or the number of meals eaten without duly analyzing their quality or nutritional value. In fact, what you eat is far more important than how much you eat. Restricting calories in your daily diet does not work in the long run, since it disrupts the functioning of your endocrine system and enzymes.
When trying to determine the number of calories they should consume each day, most people make the same common mistake: they forget to take into account how many calories they need just to stay alive. The fact is between 50% and 70% of the calories we consume are used just to maintain body temperature, provide vital energy, build new cells and tissues and synthesize the biocatalysts that determine the normal course of vital processes and regulate body water levels.
Calories are the source of energy needed to support the functioning of all our inner organs. This isn’t about our physical activity, but our biological existence. Between 5 and 15% of the calories we ingest are needed to initiate the processes of digestion and excretion. It’s also necessary to consider our daily activity levels (physical, mental, and overall lifestyle), stress levels, unexpected life situations, travel, sudden changes in mood and the body’s individual functions, which depend on our unique genes, hormones and environment.
The problem with counting and restricting calories has a much broader aspect.
All the numbers related to calories and given on the fitness trackers are set without considering human biochemistry or individual factors. Meanwhile, the calorie content of our food is determined by burning food products in a calorimeter and measuring the heat produced.
Unfortunately, our bodies are not steam engines! They do not burn the food we eat in a fire and convert the heat into mechanical work. The assumption that the human metabolism is governed by the same rules as a calorimeter is just as paradoxical as taking life on earth as proof of an analogous form on K-PAX. Every metabolic pathway in our body starts with a specific molecule (or family of molecules), and converts it into another molecule—usually consuming energy in the process, not producing it.
The hundred-year-old method of counting calories — 4 calories per gram of carbohydrates and protein and 9 per gram of fat — is unfortunately the source of many nutritional myths.
Even if these popular calorie counters were correct, it’s still not important how many calories a person consumes, but how many he or she absorbs. This can be seen with a simple example: if we eat fat with fiber (broccoli with butter), less fat is absorbed by our bodies, as the fiber that comes with it reduces its bioavailability. Whether a gram of fat has 9 or 900 calories means nothing if it’s not absorbed.
It should also be stressed that, unlike carbohydrates, proteins and fatty acids play other important roles in the body besides that of a basic energy source. When utilized as building blocks, fats and proteins are not used as energy or energy stored in our fat cells. Diets based on the theory of calorie restriction fail to take this into account, and assume all calories are equal.
Limiting calories seems logical in theory, but it’s ineffective in practice.
When we go on such a diet, the body compensates by slowing its metabolism, which means that less fat will be burnt, and more stored. This precise mechanism shaped over the course of evolution has served us well and kept us alive for millions of years. A slowed metabolism guaranteed human survival during famines, when food could be scarce for any number of reasons. But for those threatened more by gluttony than starvation, this energy-saving mechanism is a curse rather than a blessing. When a person starts eating normally again after a long, strict diet, the fat-storing enzymes become activated and rise above normal levels, while the metabolism remains slowed, which causes the person to gain back all the weight lost, and sometimes much more.
This is how the human body protects itself in case of another potential famine. We must admit the body learns quite quickly, and its prophylactic measures are astonishing in their logical foresight. It can also be seen that, after going off the diet, the individual has not actually burned off the detested fat, but instead has lost 20-40% of his or her muscle tissue relative to total body mass.
When we compare this muscle loss to the intended fat loss, it turns out that the structure of the body improved only insignificantly while on the diet. Once the diet is finished, the fat comes boomeranging back, but the muscles fail to regain their former shape and condition, and their general share of body mass remains greatly reduced. In this absurd chain of events, we can observe the following successive stages:
- Fat and flabby;
- Less fat, but flabbier;
- Fatter and flabbier than ever before.
This isn’t rocket science; it’s clear that such a diet is a blatant injustice. Our months of sacrifice come back to bite us, and we lose our motivation to take wise, responsible care of ourselves and the quality of our lives. However, that doesn’t mean giving up is the only way out of this vicious cycle. Rather than restricting calories, I suggest changing your diet to one that is more effective for your body. Eat according to your own metabolic type, and you’ll soon notice closely coordinated positive changes, which will inspire you to continue to work toward improving your well-being.
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