Rationale Fitness: Why Calories are Stupid – Listen to Your Body Instead

I was watching to above video by Dr. Ken Berry about why calories don’t count and it made me realize that calories are stupid. Yes, I said it, calories are stupid. This fundamental tool of nutrition, weight loss and energy management is dumb. We count them, regulate them, restrict them and manage them. We have government regulations that dictate that they must appear on packaging, menus, and food descriptions. We have whole systems that dictate how many calories an average person should eat, yet as a whole, western societies are the fattest they have ever been. Why? Why can’t we seem to get a handle on calories? 

Because they aren’t real. 

What!?! What do you mean they aren’t real!?! The package says right on the back how many calories are in this food! 

Let’s apply some critical thinking. I mean, that’s one of the pillars of Gamin Lifestyles right?

So what is a calorie? Simply put, it is a measure of energy. Specifically – A calorie is a unit of energy commonly used to measure the energy content of food and the energy expended by the body. It is defined as the amount of heat energy required to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius.

Are you starting to see the problem here?

Let’s keep going.

Calories are often associated with weight management because consuming more calories than the body needs can lead to weight gain, while consuming fewer calories can result in weight loss. 

Um…that’s pretty subjective right? 

In the context of nutrition, calories represent the energy content of food and beverages. Our bodies require energy to perform various functions, including basic metabolic processes, physical activity, and maintaining body temperature. We obtain this energy from the food we eat, which provides us with calories.

Let’s break this down.

Calories are an abstract concept applied to physical processes. More so, they are an abstract concept that describes a very simple process, confined to a laboratory setting, in a controlled environment. 

Basically, to define a calorie, someone in a white lab coat burns a piece of food until it heats water. The human body is not a fire pit where macronutrients are logs. Does that describe your body? Does that describe real food? No, it doesn’t. The human body operates on a chemical process where molecules are metabolized and used for different functions like tissue building, digestion, thinking, etc. The caloric model does not accurately describe metabolism at all. In fact, there is no real way to correlate the two processes. Trying to do so is like setting fire to my house and saying it’s the same as the nuclear fusion that happens in the sun.

Check out this paper by Arturo Sanchez Lopes de Nava and Avais Raja in the National Library of Medicine that covers Physiology, Metabolism.

More so, there is no consistency in the caloric model. It is applied to just about everything. That is the peril of using an abstract concept to describe anything. Abstraction is bound only by human imagination. An analogy is money. Think about how many mediums of exchange we have?. They are all  tangible or digital representations of value – another abstract, and subjective, concept invented by humans.

 I gave you three examples of physical processes that the caloric model is used to describe. 

  1. How much energy a food contains
  2. How much energy a body uses
  3. What is the nutritional density of a food

These are all complex and distinct processes that are being described with one simple model. Don’t get me started on thermodynamics and calories consumed vs. calories used. That is for my next paper.

What this amounts to is that people have gotten in their own way, or better yet, in the way of their bodies. We are trying to game a system that we don’t need to game. Most humans already have a highly-tuned, extremely efficient food regulatory system. Most of us are born with it.

Taste and satiety. 

It’s that simple. Your body uses taste and satiety to tell you how much food you need. When a food stops tasting good, or you stop feeling hungry, you have filled your nutritional needs. It really is that simple. 

What isn’t simple is getting your body to the point where this regulatory system works correctly. Many processed foods, especially those loaded with sugars, hack this system and effectively use it against you. Instead of working to regulate your metabolism, these foods tap into the pleasure/reward system and work on your brain like a narcotic. These foods become addictive, so you crave more and more. I’ll cover this in more detail in another article.

So how do you fix this problem? Start eating whole foods that are low in carbohydrates. I am an advocate for no carb, high fat, high protein eating, i.e. carnivore, but, to start on a health journey, begin by cutting out all processed foods, including alcohol. Yes, alcohol is a processed food. In many ways it is the original processed food. Check out a Brief History Lesson on Alcohol with Author Edward Slingerland. The goal of eating whole foods is to allow your body to reset its regulatory system. Eat until your full, eat until the food stops tasting good. Don’t worry about counting calories. You don’t know better then your body. However you believe humans got here — evolution, creation, aliens — your body knows what it is supposed to do when it comes to food. Don’t over-complicate things. 

You got this.

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