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Calorie Confusion
The Real Reason Some People Don't Lose Weight

Losing weight is more than simple calories in and calories out.
Losing weight is more than
simple calories in and calories out.

For years, what we've been telling you about calories, isn't entirely true. Let's start with a little background.

Our concept of food calories or kilocalories comes from 19th-century experiments. A calorie is the amount of energy needed to heat one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius. From those experiments, we learned that per gram, fats have about 9 calories, alcohol has about 7 calories while protein and carbohydrates have about 4 calories each.

Using that basic formula, we know that to lose a single pound of weight, you need to cut 500 calories from your diet or burn 500 calories more than normal, every single day, for seven days. At the end of the week, if you eat 3,500 calories less than normal, or burn off 3,500 calories extra, you'll lose a pound. It's all very neat and clean.

But the real world isn't like that.

Here are four reasons why that simple formula doesn't work so well, and how you can make adjustments so change CAN happen.

Reason #1

How food is prepared, alters the calories. Let's say you're going to eat some vegetables. If they're steamed, baked or boiled, their cellular structure starts to break down from the cooking. That makes digesting them easier when you eat them. Good if you need quick energy, but bad if you're trying to lose weight.

The faster you digest a food, the quicker your stomach will register it's empty and send out more hunger signals. Eating a 400 calorie vegetable puree soup won't fill you up as long as a 400 calorie vegetable platter, simply because the digestive enzymes in your stomach have to work longer to break down everything on the platter.

That doesn't mean you should avoid cooked foods. But you should be aware that the more a food is cooked, pulverized and processed, the quicker your body converts it to energy and stores the remainder as fat. When you want to lose weight, add more whole foods to your diet.

Reason #2

Higher fiber foods take more energy to digest. A study conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) found that if you eat a 170-calorie serving of almonds, your body only absorbs about 129 of those calories. More than 40 calories are burned off in the digestion process. But that's not shown on any nutrition labels.

Compare two people eating 2,000 calories a day. If one is eating 15 grams of fiber and the other is eating 30 grams, the one eating more fiber can easily burn 10% more calories a day. That's over a pound a month. Bump up your fiber intake to help drop the pounds.

Reason #3

Protein can take twice as much energy to digest as carbohydrates. That's because of something called the thermic effect of food. Protein is also better than carbs at reducing the hormones that cause hunger.

Typical Americans get about 15% of their calories from protein. If you're trying to lose weight, you should look for ways to replace calories from carbs and increase your protein so it makes up at least 25 to 30% of your total calorie intake.

Calorie Recommendations

So how many calories are we SUPPOSED to eat in a day? Here's what doctors have been saying for years. The suggestions are reasonable, but remember there are LOTS of variables.


Not Active 2,000 - 2,200 1,600

Moderately Active 2,200 - 2,400 1,800

Active 2,400 - 2,800 2,000 - 2,200

Reason #4

As you lose weight, your metabolism drops. Restrict food and your body goes into "starvation mode." It hangs onto fat and dials things down to become more efficient.

If cutting out 3,500 calories can help you lose a pound the first week, you may need to cut 3,600 the second week, 3,700 the third week and so on. That's not only difficult to do, it can also damage your metabolism. People who yo-yo diet without exercise, may have lowered their metabolism so much, only a starvation diet will help them drop the pounds.

The way to counter that is by building muscle. The act of exercising burns calories, but the muscle you build also helps to raise your metabolism. Calorie burning during a cardio session typically lasts for the length of the aerobic workout. But when you add muscle, it keeps burning extra calories, even when you're not exercising.

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