Back for Part 2 of Do Calories Matter?
Here, we will discuss the calorie focused theory and how we gain weight.
Calories in calories out theory
Many of us tend to look at the calories in food when we are trying to achieve a certain weight (gain or loss).
Calories In > Calories Out = Weight Gain
Calories In = Calories Out = Weight Maintanence
Calories In < Calories Out = Weight Loss
From this perspective, it seems to say that we can eat whatever we want. Because only calories matter. It is saying that a calorie’s worth of beef, butter, ice cream, rice or beer have the same effects on the body (fatness and weight).
We also hear common terms like #IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros). As long as it fits within your macros (protein, carb, fat), you can eat it. For example: I can have burgers and fries twice a day because it fits within my calorie needs/macros.
But is 500 kcal of junk the same as 500 kcal of real food?
Are we gaining weight simply by EATING TOO MUCH?
Based on the calories in calories out theory, we gain weight by consuming more than we expend (which is true from a mechanic point of view).
Calories in > Calories out = WEIGHT GAIN
Sounds easy enough?
We are humans! We are not perfect machines where mathematical equations simply apply. There are MANY other factors that affect weight and metabolism. Counting calories disregards the quality of food and its effect on our metabolism – hunger, appetite, energy usage and storage, satiety etc.
Did you know that certain foods can “trigger” hunger?
This also goes against the Second Law of Thermodynamics which states that energy transfer is not 100% efficient. There will be losses. It means that what we eat does not necessarily become energy that we can use.
This is why people respond so differently towards food. We all have that one friend who can eat the world, not move a muscle and yet, not gain a kilo.
A different perspective
The diagram is from a paper by Prof David Ludwig and Mark Friedman. They challenged the theory of gaining weight simply by consuming more calories.
They proposed the alternative model B, which shows how the quality of the diet can increase fat storage, drive hunger, decrease basal metabolism and the cost of energy to move muscles (muscles use less energy), ultimately leading to weight gain.
So, how do we gain weight (FAT)?
Let’s take a look at 2 hormones – insulin and leptin
Insulin is one of the hormones that play a major role in managing fuel concentration in the blood. It comes out to drive nutrients into STORAGE in the liver, muscle and fat cells.
According to the same research paper, poor quality rapidly absorbable carbohydrate rich foods (white rice, refined starches, sugars, high GI foods etc) can cause spikes in insulin levels (more so compared to proteins, unrefined carbs and fats).
Insulin is VERY efficient, so much so that it quickly stores the fuel (i.e. in fat cells around the waist). Since all of it is in storage, your blood circulating fuels suffer a sudden drop.
As your body is running low on fuel (because it is stored away), you’d feel tired, lethargic, moody and HUNGRY. This is also known as the “SUGAR CRASH”! And as a result, you EAT…… again!
It becomes a vicious cycle and it all starts with eating insulin spiking foods.
High insulin levels promote fat storage AND prevents the breakdown of fat. It has been identified that insulin is the main culprit when it comes to overweight and obesity .
The scary thing is that all of this can be happening even when a person is eating in a calorie deficit! Studies have shown that when the number of calories remained the same, a diet with transfat promoted weight gain compared to a diet without transfat .
Leptin is a hormone that responds to the body’s fat cells. When fat stores are FULL, this hormone is released. It acts on several organs and glands (muscles, thyroid gland etc) to overall increase energy expenditure (move more) and decrease energy intake (eat less).
If something is “metabolically wrong” (i.e. insulin resistance) or if a person is obese, this signalling gets messed up. Instead of telling you to move more and eat less, it does the total opposite! .
High insulin levels can also cause the body to stop responding to leptin.
These are perfect examples of how the quality of food (type and concentration of carbohydrates) acts in a neurohormonal way to push you to MOVE LESS, STORE MORE and EAT MORE!
Tackling obesity becomes more than just behavioural change. It is not just about telling someone to eat less and move more. As we’ve seen, you can gain weight and be metabolically obese even if you are eating less.
It goes beyond that.
It is looking at the QUALITY of food.
Looks like we cannot “outrun” a bad diet. I always thought we could. You’d be pleased to know that my ice cream and cake intake are now very much under control.
So, what WOULD happen if we just ate less?
Calories In < Calories Out = Weight Loss?
Stay tuned for Part 3!