When I started in health and fitness, calorie was King.
And Queen. And probably everything else. Prior to that, dietary fat was the sinister culprit that was killing America, one heart attack at a time. Dr. Barry Sears was not the first person to challenge the dietary fat theory- but he was probably the first that got some national traction. He also introduced a plan that did not involve counting calories, although there was a tremendous amount of weighting food. A group of scientists actually testified before congress (I believe this was in the 1970’s) about how important calories were- and essentially how bad dietary fat was- to the national health crisis. The thing was none of these fine people had actually worked with weight loss. They were just scientists who strictly believed in the calorie model, and since a gram of fat contains more calories than a gram of protein or carbs (4 vs 9) to them it was really simple. Cut dietary fat, lower caloric intake, skinny America!
Well that didn’t work out, did it?
And then in 2007 a guy named Gary Taubes published a book that challenged the whole calorie theory. Mr. Taubes took 7 years to research his book, and what he discovered surprised him. Essentially, he found out, by digging through the research, that there was an awful lot of research that showed the calorie thing didn’t always work out. In fact, when compared to other eating protocols, it often lost the bet.
But the greater scientific community rejected anything that suggested life was more complicated than counting calories. So all this interesting research was ignored or dismissed and much of it unpublished. After Gary Taubes wrote his book, it kick started the high fat craze which has had positive and negative consequences.
On the positive side,
Americans started realizing that counting calories was not providing the promised results.
On the negative,
Americans went from being fat-phobic to fat-on-everything-and-a-lot-of-it. The way this ran, if I was going to put it into a short statement looks like this: Americans were told to eat less fat and manufacturers and food producers worked to remove dietary fat from foods. The result was 1) our balance of healthy to unhealthy fats took a nose dive and 2) carbs went up.
So when some experts started saying that dietary fat was not inherently bad, and in fact we need some fat, carbs became bad. And it was true that a lot of the carbs that had been used to replace those tasty fats were overprocessed and under-nourishing, but I would argue that the reaction was strong, and while this was better than what happened with dietary fat, it still led to some issues.
Where does this leave us?
The calorie thing is an attempt to explain why people store bodyfat when they overeat. It ignores hormonal reactions to food, emotional relationship with eating, how low-grade systemic inflammation impacts metabolism, how genetic differences impact digestion and, individual metabolism in general.
What does all this mean?
It means that yes, overeating is bad for body composition, but this is different from person to person. Counting calories is math, and for many Americans, my belief is it is too simplistic of an approach. If you are interested in learning more about this and/or having a consultation with a professional click here and we will get you started today!