Limits of Calorie-Counting
Although it is important to be aware of calorie values when following a weight loss diet, we should not rely exclusively on calorie-counting to assess our progress. This is because calorie-counting assumes that all food calories are used by the body in the same way, and at the same rate. This is a false assumption. Here are a few reasons why.
Calorie-Content of Fats is Over-Rated
The caloric value of fats is over-stated because fats, especially in large amounts in the diet, may not be completely burned to carbon dioxide and water. Instead they oxidize partially and produce ketones (like charcoal that remains when wood is not completely burned to ashes). Until our kidneys get rid of them, ketones suppress appetite. This is why fats are used in some weight lossdiets. However, it is possible that the long term presence of ketones from such diets can damage our kidneys and liver, so be cautious in using this type of high fat weight loss plan.
Not All Food Calories Used For Energy Production
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) contain 9 calories per gram, but our body uses them for structural, hormonal and electrical functions rather than for energy. At high levels of intake, EFAs increase metabolic rate and increase fat burn off, resulting in loss of weight. During childhood, calorie containing protein and fat molocules are built into body structures. After injury, proteins and fatty acids are used to rebuild cellular structures and new tissues, rather than being used for energy and the metabolic rate is increased. These examples illustrate that not all calories are used for energy production.
We Burn Calories at Different Rates
Metabolic rate differs from one person to another, from one time to another in the same individual and varies with the total nutrient mix. Genes, hormones, nutrition, exercise and state of health all affect metabolic rate. Some people are born with a high metabolic rate and never gain weight no matter how much they eat. Thyroid activity affects metabolic rate over a wide range. The slower the rate, the less calories are burned and the easier it is to gain weight. EFAs, B-Complex vitamins and minerals including potassium, iron, magnesium, calcium and manganese, increase the efficiency of oxidation and raise metabolic rate, energy and activity level.
Health Status Affects Calorie-Burning
Our state of health alters our metabolic rate. During fevers and infections, much more energy is burned than when a person is healthy. In late stages of cancer, tumors eat most of the body's stores of energy resulting in loss of weight. Stress increases the body's fat burning rate. Some people lose 10 pounds in just a few days of serious worry. Other stresses also stimulate the body's fat burning mechanisms.
Extra Mental Activity Burns Extra Calories
The length of time per day spent awake makes a difference as we burn more calories when we are awake than when we are sleeping. The level of mental activity affects the use of calories. Our brain, although it is only 2 percent of the body's weight uses 20 percent or more of total calories burned by our body.
Environment Affects Calorie Usage
Environmental conditions effect the rate at which calories are used. Our body responds to changes in temperature, season and climate, raising metabolic rate to keep body temperature constant. Clothing conserves more or less calories, depending on what it is made from, how thick it is and how much of our body we cover with it. Our body loses more heat swimming in cold water than when surrounded by air of the same temperature, because air conducts body heat away less rapidly. Shivering also increases fat burning.
Satiety and Hunger Varies According to Foods Consumed
Hunger and satiation factors also influence whether the foods we eat keep us fit or fat. Different foods are digested, absorbed into our body, and made available for use at different rates and therefore have different hunger-stilling values. Fats may take as long as 5-8 hours to be digested, proteins take about 3-5 hours and complex carbohydrates take about 2-3 hours. Refined sugars take only 30 minutes. Even though fats contain twice as many calories as carbohydrates, they keep hunger satisfied three times as long and may therefore result in less weight gain than lighter diets.
We Absorb More Calories From Refined Foods
Because they lack fiber and bulk, high calorie refined foods also slow down intestinal activity. They take up to five times longer to pass through the intestinal tract than do natural unrefined high fiber foods (75 hours compared to 15) and the body absorbs calories during the entire time of their constipated passage.
Non-Nutritious Refined Foods More Likely to be Stored as Fat
Foods cannot be metabolised properly without minerals and vitamins. The energy that empty calorie foods contain becomes unavailable to our body and is stored as fat until (or in the hope that) we get the necessary minerals and vitamins at some later time. In the meantime we feel hungry and eat more. This too turns into fat unless minerals and vitamins are also provided.
Nowadays, it is easy to get the perfect number of calories every day and at the same time to suffer from malnutrition that causes degeneration of cells and tissues. According to some experts, the level of 21st Century malnutrition in the West, when all essential nutrients are considered, may exceed 90 percent of the entire population.
Don't rely exclusively on calorie-counting when dieting. In addition, make an effort to choose nutritious foods, take regular exercise, avoid stress and stay mentally active. And if you still fall off the diet wagon - don't worry. There's more to life than being thin!
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ANNE COLLINS WEIGHT MANAGEMENT