Calorie Confusion

confusionUnderstanding calories, your energy requirements and the source of your calories is an important part of knowing how and why we put on weight. Mainstream media would have us believe that the current obesity epidemic is due to the fact that we are simply consuming too many calories. Cut down our calorie intake and our problems will be solved. If only it were that simple!  

The main problem is a fundamental lack of understanding of how calories work, especially calories derived from different sources i.e. carbohydrates and fats. The current calorie debate is therefore at best confusing and at worst highly misleading for most people. The simple fact is that a calorie derived from carbs will have a profoundly different effect on your metabolism to one derived from fat.

Energy Requirements

For sedentary adult human beings, daily energy requirements are somewhere in the region of 2000-2500 KCal.  Whether you are overweight or not, LCHF or not, this is your daily energy requirement and in order to function properly, this must be met one way or another.

Energy Derived from Carbs

Let’s consider an adult male called John, whose primary source of fuel is carbohydrates. Let’s also assume that John’s daily calorie requirement is 2000 KCal. John starts his day with breakfast, say 500 Kcal of carbs. The problem for John is that because he is consuming carbohydrates as his primary source of fuel, some of this will not/ can not be used as fuel. Instead, it will spike his blood sugar leading to a similar spike in insulin, resulting in almost immediate weight gain via a process known as lipogenesis (fat storage). So, out of the 500 KCal of carbohydrates John has consumed, a significant amount, let’s say 20% or 100 KCal could not be used for fuel but was instead converted to fat, leading to weight gain. By lunchtime, John’s blood sugar has crashed and he now needs 500 KCal for lunch PLUS the 100 KCal shortfall from breakfast, total 600 KCal to prevent the hunger pangs he is experiencing. John therefore consumes 600 KCal for lunch of which 20%, 120 KCal this time, are again wasted to lipogenesis!

Sure enough, by dinner time, John’s blood sugar has crashed and he is feeling hungry again. In order to meet his energy requirements this time round, John now needs 500 KCal for dinner PLUS the 120 KCal shortfall from lunch, total 620 kCal. So he takes on 620 KCal of carbs, again 20% of which or 124 KCal this time are “wasted” to fat gain. I think that by now you get the point??!!

On and on John goes, constantly chasing that 2000 KCal requirement and never quite getting there. He is constantly hungry and irritable due to large swings and crashes in blood sugar and, more significantly, he is CONSTANTLY GAINING WEIGHT!

Energy Derived from Fats

Now let’s consider Mary. Mary is fully ketogenic and her primary source of energy is derived from fats. She also has a daily energy requirement of 2000 KCal. She consumes her 500 KCal “fatty” breakfast. For her, ALL the fat is consumed/ remains available as energy consumption. For her there is NO/ MINIMAL insulin spike resulting in zero weight gain.

Further, once she has used up all her breakfast calories she has a choice for lunch. She can either a) skip lunch and burn her “on-board” fat reserves resulting in some weight loss or b) consume a fully satiating high fat lunch with no weight gain penalty. Either way the choice is hers and, since she is fully ketogenic, she will not experience the intense hunger pangs, blood sugar crashes and irritability that John does. Mary can continue like this throughout her day, fully meeting her energy requirements. More importantly, Mary’s weight WILL NOT go up. If anything it will GO DOWN!

Effects of Calorie Restriction

So, in light of the above what happens if we follow the advice that MSM has to offer us and restrict our calories in order to lose weight? Let’s restrict calorie intake to say half of daily requirements i.e. 1000 KCal/day for both John & Mary and see what happens now..

For John the news isn’t good! On his high carb diet he wasn’t meeting his requirements anyway and now it’s even worse. His blood sugar is constantly low and he’s constantly feeling irritable. Since his carb intake is still high in absolute weight terms, he has no chance of getting into ketosis and losing weight. He’s just going to feel crap ALL THE TIME!

For Mary however, the news is not nearly as bad. For her on her high fat diet, calorie restriction means that she will from time-to-time simply dip into her on-board fat reserves to meet daily energy requirements. Since her primary source of energy is ketones, she doesn’t have to worry about feeling hungry or experiencing crashes in her blood sugar. Life just carries on as normal. The only change for Mary is that she will experience some weight loss which she is quite happy with!

Conclusions

I hope this post has managed to blow away some myths about weight loss and calorie restriction. Remember, it’s not the amount but the type of calories that you are consuming that’s important.

Finally, if you just ensure that you have a fully ketogenic diet at all times, you will never have to worry about counting a single calorie, EVER!!

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