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Why Calories only Count if you Count Them.

20th May 2015

“Healthy food is not necessarily low calorie food, however this is how many people define the value of what they eat. “

It is extremely hard in modern times to be unaware of the calorie content in food, it is printed on every packet, can, tin and now even bottles. It is undeniable that calories are present in ALL food. Food is essential in providing the your body with energy, not just for exercise, day-to-day tasks and simply moving, but to also correctly fuel your body so that it is able to carry out important internal processes such as keeping you correctly oxygenated, to pump the correct amount of blood around your body to efficiently nourish your vital organs, digestion, muscle repair and to actually metabolize the energy you provide your body with.
Every movement, every process in your body requires energy, something we ONLY get from food. Eating is a natural thing, it ensures your survival; EVERY living thing needs to eat to survive.

Although the calorie contents of food may be helpful for someone trying to lose weight, it can become an obsession in those with eating disorders, as your mind becomes warped as to the “job” of a piece of energy. With the nature of the disorders, sufferers feel that the food has to be earned, or burned off afterwards. This however is self destructive and simply not true.
Food can very quickly end up becoming an obsession. Many dieters and eating disorder sufferers plan their meals based on calorie content, and ignore the actual health benefits.
Calories are undeniably one way of measuring what you are eating, however if you begin to make choices based solely on the amount of energy a piece of food or drink provides, then you have developed an unhealthy relationship. It is important for eating disorder patients to begin to put calories to the back of their minds and focus on choosing food based on its, for lack of a better word, “health value”. This is easier said than done, however this is one of the only ways that you will begin to recover from an eating disorder, which is simply a level of control which has been turned up to the extreme. A way of working on toning this down is to begin to eat unknown calorie meals. Yes for someone suffering from an eating disorder this is scary, however how can you possibly count the calories of something that has not been counted.

Also, who’s to say that the number printed on a packet is strictly true? Each item of food whether packaged or home made, contains varying amounts of different ingredients, and so the number printed on a packet is not 100% reliable.
Yes vegetables, fruit and “diet” foods are low in energy, but this is because they are mostly made up of water. One cannot simply survive on water alone, and so if you are only eating fruit, vegetables and “low calorie” foods, it is no wonder people lose weight extremely quickly.
In order for a “calorific” value to be determined, there are several tests that need to be carried out. One of these tests, I actually carried out myself in my science lessons in school. It involved setting fire to a jelly baby, placing it in a sealed container surrounded by water and recording the rise in water temperature. A calorie by definition is a unit of energy, and so this experiment was designed to measure the amount of energy it took for the jelly baby to increase the temperature of the water. It is important to point out that this method IS NOT used today, and that companies now calculate the APPROXIMATE calorie content of food from the food components. It therefore proves the point that a simple number printed on a packet of food IS NOT reliable, and is subject to change.

Realizing this helped me come to the conclusion that calories do ONLY count IF YOU COUNT THEM. Your body does see food as energy, it cannot count but is aware of the amount that it needs for YOU and will “get rid” of the rest.
It is also important to note, that the guidelines set out on food packaging, is the RECCOMENDED intake for those looking to maintain their weight, however this does not take into account different peoples energy levels or their individual basal metabolic rate.

Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the minimal rate of energy usage by warm bodied animals at REST. This is something set by your body depending on your shape, muscle mass, activity levels and your height etc. As with energy in food, this rate can be measured by monitoring the amount of heat the body generates whilst in a state of complete rest. BMR is the largest component of total energy expenditure most of the energy being consumed in maintaining fluid levels in tissues. The energy breakdown in organs is generally the following:

  • Liver 27%
  • Brain 19%
  • Skeletal muscle 18%
  • Kidneys 10%
  • Heart 7%
  • Other organs 19%

This does not take into account other bodily functions that are constantly happening in the body.

Dieting and decreasing the intake of energy, will lower your BMR. This is a survival mechanism imprinted within the body, so that the body is still able to function on the energy it receives, and in doing so it will stop any “unnecessary” processes hence why eating disorder sufferers begin to lose their hair and periods, have extremely low blood and heart rates and can become very lethargic. Your body is telling you that it is in trouble.

To conclude, calories do only count if you count them. As far as your body is concerned, it is energy that is so desperately needed to keep you alive. As mentioned in the beginning of this post, food with the most health benefits is not generally low in energy however surely this is an indication as to the benefits it has. The level of energy will help your body to process the nutrients in the food correctly, and set you up for the day. Food is also essential if you are looking to build muscle mass, as one cannot build muscle if there is no energy available to do so. Once you can let go of obsessively counting an unreliable number printed on a packet, you can begin to live a life free of restriction and control, and begin to actually start living.
Does your body not heal your wounds? Does it not keep you alive despite everything it is put through? Your body loves you, begin to trust it to do what it needs to do for you and love it back.

Katrina xx