What We Can Learn From Counting Calories

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            At one point in time in our day to day lives’, we have all counted calories for a variety of reasons! From gaining weight to enter a competitive division of sport, to losing weight to fit those old blue jeans from high school, an act of maintenance, or simply counting out of curiosity. Sure, there are many reasons why to do it, but what exactly is a calorie? And, why do we feel the need to count them?

            Calories, or rather kilocalories, are a measurement of energy. In the world of science, a calorie is the amount of energy necessary to boil one gram of water for one minute. So what does that have to do with fueling our bodies? The human body is powered by several chemical reactions that need an input of energy in order to perform; from the firing of synapses, to the contraction of muscles, we need something to draw upon as a source of energy.

            It may come as a shock to you, but for muscle contraction to occur, you don’t use calories. Now, bear with me momentarily, as I geek out in my explanation about a bit of the science behind energy production – I promise, it will all make sense. What we utilize as energy currency in our body comes in the form as a molecule called adenosine triphosphate (or, ATP for short). To produce ATP we need to release the energy in molecular bonds that hold the molecule that we wish to breakdown together, such as glucose or fat molecules. So what’s the big difference between glucose and fat molecules in terms of energy? Glucose is a small constituent of larger carbohydrates, and each molecule of glucose contains four calories per gram; whereas, fat molecules contain about nine calories per gram. Therefore, the amount of energy that is stored in these glucose or fat molecules is measured in CALORIES!

            We are constantly burning calories even at rest; this is called our Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). This baseline measurement includes the utilization of essential muscles that involve subconscious effort such as the importance of the heart in the circulatory system, or the diaphragm to the respiratory system. But, there are other bodily functions that do require conscious effort to manipulate the BMR, such as: activity level, muscle mass, illness, and even injury can all have an impact. 

            Thank you for bearing with a little geeky glimpse into the science regarding the calorie; and, now without further ado, the inspiration behind this post. This post was inspired by Matt D’Avella’s recent YouTube video; in his video he spent thirty days tracking his calories, and what he learned was quite interesting. Counting calories doesn’t necessarily need to be viewed solely in terms of improving one’s health or losing weight; but, stemming from one of the core principles of mindfulness practice, is that awareness manifests changes with our views and in turn our actions. Thus, counting calories can make one aware of a couple things: 1) how many calories are in your food, and 2) how many calories are needed.

            A great example of this practice in motion during Matt’s video was when he got an ice-cream sandwich that was estimated to be worth roughly a thousand calories; which, in the grand scheme was close to half or more of his daily caloric need. With his newfound awareness of his caloric need as well as the amount of calories contained in a delicious ice-cream sandwich, he was burdened with a decision. A classic blunder of to have, or have not? To eat the treat and risk over-eating his caloric need, which would lead to weight gain; or, remove the risk and not exceed the caloric needs? These are two extremes, and Matt decided to meet somewhere happily in the middle where he ate some, and saved the rest for another day.

            I personally had a similar eye opening experience with I was doing a food journal for one of my nutrition classes in university. At the time, I had a goal of losing weight and increase my fitness regime to include: running twice a week, weight-lifting, and daily commuting via biking. Despite my best efforts, racking up the kilometers biked day in and day out in the process, the numbers on the weigh scale were not dropping – and, believe me, this confused me to no end. So I started food journaling, and found out that my healthy favorite go to breakfast (for the girl on the go) of two apples with peanut butter straight from the jar came out to about 1000 calories. Like Matt, I too was getting more than half of my caloric intake before I even left the house in the morning. And the calorie count of the morning doesn’t just stop there; it was subsequently followed up by a regular day of eating including a couple of snacks, and a second meal. So no wonder why I wasn’t losing weight.  

            If you’re interested in tracking your calories, my favorite way is by using My Fitness Pal – although, there are many similar programs, so find something that you find to work best.  If you’re not ready to count your calories, but want to gain some awareness around your food choices, food journaling can be very eye opening as well! All you really need is a pen, and a note book.

            It’s a common truth that we all have good days and bad days when it comes to eating well. Are you regularly eating over or under you caloric need? Are you noticing your body changing? How stable is your energy throughout the day? These are the questions that you can answer by looking at your regular eating patterns; counting calories, or food journaling, is more about the long term patterns that show up.

            Check out Matt D’Avella YouTube video linked below and maybe you might be inspired to track your calories, or eating habit for a bit. If you have any questions or comments feel free to comment below and I’ll answer as many as I can.

Happy journaling!

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