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What If The Myth About “Calories In and Calories Out” Is Not Right?

It sounds quite ridiculous to compare consumed and burned calories when it comes to weight loss, different foods contain different nutrients and can’t possibly have the same effect on our body.

These foods also have an effect on how our hormones work. That’s why we can’t only depend on the number of calories when dieting, the kinds of foods we eat are just as important.

What Are Calories

Calories measure energy – 1 calorie is how much energy is needed to increase the temperature of a gram of water by a degree in Celcius. Actually, this is measured in Joules. 1 calorie = 4.184 joules.

In fact, even calories are not right, we should be talking about kilocalories (kcal). 1 kcal is needed to raise the temperature of a kilogram of water by one degree Celsius.

What is energy then? Energy is what makes systems work. Our body needs energy to think, move, breathe and much more. There are a countless number of chemical reactions going on in our body and all these need energy, thus calories as well.

What Does It Mean – Calories In, Calories Out

When we think “calories in, calories out” (or CICO) excess weight comes from eating way too many calories. Those who believe in this, think that it is not important what you eat, as long as you count the calories. They say that we can only lose weight by eating less and moving more.

There is 3,500 calories in 1 lb of fat. By eating 500 calories less every day, you will lose 1 pound in one week. The idea here is that all calories are equal and it doesn’t matter which foods they are in.

Well, it is right that obesity is usually caused by consuming too many calories and that calorie deficit leads to weight loss, it’s just too simple to be the absolute truth.

We know that different foods affect our body in a different way, their metabolic pathways are different as well. Only keeping calories in mind when it comes to metabolism is not the right approach.

What About “Too Many Calories”?

It’s very important to keep track of how much energy we consume and how much we spend. The 1st law of thermodynamics states that we can’t destroy energy, only change its form. That means that if more energy enters our body than leaves, the rest is stored as fat.

Eating more calories than spending makes us gain weight. If we spend more than we eat, weight loss occurs. This physics law can’t be broken.

But we still don’t know why this happens. We don’t know why some people are eating way more than they should?

Does it come from a number of decisions including deciding to eat more and work out less, or maybe there is something else that causes it, like hormones for example?

It’s a fact that everything we do, think and desire comes from our hormones. We can’t say that laziness or greed causes us to eat too many calories.

How Different Foods Have A Different Effect On Hormones

Maybe it’s wrong to think that all calories are the same. Different macronutrients (carbs, fats and proteins) use different pathways in our body. Here are two examples:


When it reaches the liver, it can turn into glucose and be stored here as glycogen. However, once the liver has too much glycogen, it leaves there as fat. If we have too much fructose, it may cause resistance to insulin, which again causes fats to be stored.

That means that if you eat around 100 calories in the form of fructose, it could raise your insulin levels and lead to increased appetite.


Now, we also have 100 calories in proteins. Around 30% of the energy in it goes to digesting. Protein could also makes us feel more full and boost metabolism. It could also build muscles, which are tissues that help to burn calories all the time.

As you could see 100 calories of protein is very different than 100 calories of protein. This means that all calories are not the same.

Fructose will lead us to increased calorie intake when we compare it to protein because how it effects our hormones and our brain.

For example, if we drink a bottle of soda per day for years, the effect on our body will be very different from what it would be if we had eggs for breakfast to get the same calories.

There are people who think that all foods may be bad if eaten too much of them. It is not true. You can’t eat too much broccoli or eggs, you get full fast and can’t continue eating. Ice cream, however, is easy to have in huge amounts.

How Macronutrients Affect Appetite

If you change the macronutrients you eat, your appetite will change as well. You can see this when comparing low-fat and low-carb diets.

People who are on a low-fat diet must cut back on calories to lose weight while those eating a low-carb diet are allowed to eat until they are full. Both lose weight just the same.

Studies have shown that low-carb diets decrease appetite and make you lose weight even without having to count calories. Even if low-fat dieters cut back on calories, they still lose less than those who don’t eat carbs.

These studies indicate that it’s not important to just focus on your calories to consume less. This happens automatically if you change what you eat.

Calories Out Can Also Change Based On Your Food

There is one problem, if you stay on a diet for too long, your metabolism will slow down. Even if you cut some calories, your body and metabolism will adapt soon and you won’t lose weight any more. Now you have to cut some calories again, and again….

Our body tries to hold on to its mass. Our body fat setpoint is managed by the hypothalamus. If you change the amount you eat but not the foods, this set point will not change. If our weight starts to go below this point, the brain decreases calories out and increases calories in.

What If We Have It Backwards

People believe that if calorie intake increases it triggers weight gain. Maybe it’s the other way around, what if weight gain causes higher calorie intake?

Teenagers who grow fast eat more than they spend. But it doesn’t turn into fat, it goes to grow muscle, skin, organs and bones. This growth is not driven by increased number of calories, instead it’s lead by hormones and other physiological processes and this drives the teenager to eat more calories.

Maybe it’s the same thing with obesity? Maybe we eat more calories because of weight gain? Maybe the fat mass of an obese person grows because of some hormones?

We can show you a simple example, birth control pills and antidepressants often cause weight gain. The pills don’t contain calories, but they change hormones, which then cause this weight gain. Increased calorie consumption comes after this change of hormones occurs.

Eating Is Often Subconscious

We are not robots, we don’t decide on what to eat and when to eat based on some mathematical calculations. Our decisions are based on our emotions. Often we can’t think logically and control our emotions.

For some, it may be a weakness, but it’s simply in human nature. You have probably made a number of decisions with your logic that you haven’t been able to keep up with. These changes may be too difficult to follow through, and the same goes for deciding to eat only healthy foods or cut your calories by 500.

Some people are very motivated and can control things completely, most of us can’t. It’s especially hard for those who already have a tendency to be overweight. People who can control their calories and manage portions have to do it for their whole lives – not possible for most.

Health Is Not Just About Weight

Other health benefits of foods must also be considered when dieting, not just the calories. Different foods affect our body differently. Trans fats may cause inflammation and insulin resistance which could cause serious problems like diabetes or cardiovascular disease.

Fructose is also a good example if you have a lot of it, insulin resistance, high cholesterol and obesity can follow shortly.

Many foods have a negative effect on our health, calories or no calories. Also, if you are of normal weight, you are not automatically of the best health. All obese people are not unhealthy.

Good nutrition is so much more than just calories.

Bottom Line

It’s wrong to say that body weight depends on calories you consume and calories you burn. This doesn’t take any of the complex metabolic processes into account. It doesn’t see that different foods have different effects on people and that all that really depends on hormones.

This article was sent to us by the team behind Nutritionly.com.

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