Losing weight is definitely a struggle, and don’t let anyone ever convince you otherwise…if they are trying to tell you it’s easy, then they likely have never struggled with their weight. Many times you hear people say weight loss is “calories in vs calories out”…oh, if only it were that simple. If you saw my previous blog on calorie restriction and skipping meals (find it here), then you already know there’s a little more to it than just what you’ve eaten vs what you’ve burned off. Our bodies are equally complicated and simplistic, all at the same time. The body’s actual metabolic process is extremely complicated (see photo inserted to the right, these are the basic metabolic processes. Click the image to make it larger). But even as complicated as our metabolic processes are, your body still doesn’t recognize “dieting” from starvation, or exercise from fight or flight. Our bodies are designed for survival, we are built to store calories…and some of us just do that better than others 😉 .
When we consume carbohydrates, our bodies break those down into sugars and use them for instant energy. Now, if we have a carbohydrate rich meal and go sit on the couch (or if we’re in the car on a road trip) then our body is going to break all of those carbs down, into sugar, and whatever we don’t use (which if we’re sedentary, it won’t use much) it will break down further and store it as fat! Yikes, right?! That’s why you want to spread those carbs out throughout the day!
Another fun fact about carbohydrates, did you know that meals in prison tend to have higher carbohydrate content than the average meal, because the higher carb amount makes the prisoners more lethargic and they have less fights…interesting huh? That’s why so many of us are ready for a nap after a heavy meal…it’s called carb overload 😉 ….it’s like jamming a huge wad of paper in a paper shredder, that shredder will work much more efficiently if you feed it one paper at a time!
Now that we’ve covered all of that, lets get into calorie vs calorie…If you consume 240 calories of Coca Cola (a 20oz bottle) vs 240 Calories of broccoli (that’s equivalent to a bunch and a half of broccoli at the grocery store), in the calorie in vs calorie out mindset it will take the same amount of energy to burn that off. But your body is going to metabolize them differently, and that’s why that mindset doesn’t work. An article on Dr. Hyman’s website says:
“Coke and broccoli trigger very different biochemical responses in the body—different hormones, neurotransmitters and immune messengers….The Coke will spike blood sugar and insulin and disrupt neurotransmitters, leading to increased hunger and fat storage, while the calories of broccoli will balance blood sugar and make you feel full, cut your appetite and increase fat burning.”
So, as you can see all calories are not equal. Depending on what you have consumed, they can trigger a different reaction in the body, or may be broken down differently. You should also know where your calories come from…when you look at the back of a nutrition label it will break down how many grams of carbohydrate, protein, fat, etc that you’re consuming in said product. But do you know how they get a total calorie count on your food? They calculate it this way…you get 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate & protein, and you get 9 calories per gram of fat. Did you know that alcohol is 7 calories per gram?! Meaning, it’s closer to a fat than a carbohydrate.
Besides just counting calories, there can be a little more to it that can help you decide if something is a healthy carbohydrate vs a less healthy one…If you have ever noticed when they show how many grams of carbohydrates are in a product, they actually break it down into how many grams of sugars contribute and how many grams of fiber (if any) contribute to the total carbohydrate count. When you’re looking at the carbohydrates on your nutrition label, if it has dietary fiber listed as contributing to the total carbohydrate count in the product, you can subtract the dietary fiber from the total…that is how many grams of carbs that will break down and effect your blood glucose levels (for more information you can click the pic, and it will direct you to a site that will give your more information on fiber). Dietary fiber also helps with satiety and fullness (especially if you are drinking fluids when you eat), fiber can also bind to toxins in the body and help flush them from the system, it helps maintain a healthy gut, and helps keep your bowels moving (Yes, I had to go there…your BMs are important! You can tell a lot about your health by your bowel habits!!…go here for another article on fiber benefits).
Dietary fiber can be broken down even further into soluble and insoluble fiber…although it is rarely broken down that way on a label. But since fiber is not actually broken down in the body it actually BLOCKS some of the absorption of sugar in your digestive tract! So, it helps to keep your blood sugar from spiking and making you feel like junk!
So, are all calories equal? No, definitely not! Like referenced earlier, 240 calories of Coke is straight sugar that will cause a spike in blood sugar, in addition to the spike from caffeine…only to crash later. 240 calories from broccoli, on the other hand will provide a good source of fiber, iron, vitamin k, and vitamin A (one of THE most important vitamins!!) among other nutrients. Am I saying that you should never drink a Coke? No…I’m just saying that broccoli is a better choice 😉 LOL. A Coke every once in a while is okay…but just be aware that you could spend those calories more wisely on something else.