Calories get bad rap all the time. Seems that if we could, we'd remove them from our lives altogether, because all they cause is weight gain…
However, I think we really need to change the way we think about calories. What we know about them now is forced on us by the fitness and diet industry, so we'd by more of the stuff they're trying to sell us.
All that has made us think that calories are bad for us and we should do all in our power to cut, cut and cut them even more. However, that's far from truth!
What Are Calories?
Here's the most important thing: Calories are energy.
We need energy for every single thing we do. Sure enough, most of us know that we need energy to work out, because our treadmill or Fitbit says that we burned X calories during our workout. Health and fitness magazines tell us what are the best workouts for maximum calorie burn, and we tend to choose our workouts based on that information.
If you're “serious” about losing weight and leaning out, you better go for a run or do a HIIT workout, because obviously, walking isn't going to cut it because it doesn't burn enough calories!
At the same time, many of us are also super aware of how many calories there are in certain foods.
You can find about million articles on how to make your diet lower in calories and how to swap ingredients in recipes to make foods lighter, even if it means removing real food ingredients like butter and oil, and replacing them with not-so-great ingredients like margarine…
There are online calorie calculators that help you to tally your daily energy intake and make sure you know what foods to avoid so you don't get too many calories and “ruin your diet”.
To sum up, calories are often treated as something horrible that should be cut as low as possible. However, they provide us with energy. Calories are energy! We need energy for everything we do.
More Than Just Workouts
Working out is not the only thing that we need calories for, which is what a lot of people forget.
In addition, we need calories for literally everything we do in our lives. That includes getting up in the morning, walking, driving, working… but also our bodies' main functions such as breathing, sweating, digesting, even resting and sleeping take calories! Yes, you really need calories for sleeping, and you also need calories to even read this article.
Just existing takes calories — on average, 1 lbs of muscle burns 50 calories during one day, and 1 lbs of fat 9 calories a day. I don't want you to get caught up on numbers or start calculating anything, I just want you to know that every little process happening in our body, demands calories which is why we need them and shouldn't be afraid of them.
You may heard of the term BMR, basal metabolic rate. If you aim to eat less than your BMR, your health will absolutely suffer at one point. Maybe you set yourself a goal to burn more calories via exercise than you ate, which is never a good idea, as your body needs energy for a million other things than just working out. Read Amy's story to learn more about it!
Calories Are Not the Enemy
That way, all this talk about how we should reduce, limit and cut calories, gives people a totally wrong understanding of what calories are and what they are good for.
No one wants to tell us that calories are needed for living a healthy, balanced life. Cutting back on calories may make you skinnier, but being as skinny as possible should never be anyone's goal. Losing weight doesn't necessarily equal gaining health. Health should always be your first goal — something I've learned the hard way (but hey, I know it now!)
Besides, endless calorie cutting, by eating less and exercising more, may at one point start working in the opposite direction — you may actually gain weight. Check out my interview with Cari Li to learn how she actually ended up gaining weight on a really low calorie diet, while working out excessively and training her clients, which takes a lot of energy as well!
If you treat calories as your enemy instead of as your friend, you will run into some health problems.
Restricting Calories Will Lead to Weight Loss – At First
Let's say that you eat 1200-1500 calories a day, which is what a lot of diets tell us to do. At the same time, you run on the treadmill, do HIIT or bootcamps, lift weights or whatever else you're doing, in order to burn a certain amount of calories. I remember that this is exactly what I did years ago — I never left for a run without my watch that calculated all my calories, and I didn't return until I had burned 500 calories!
At first, you may lose weight, so you think this thing works great and you keep doing what you're doing. You're right, at first the simple math, burn more than you consume, works, and you lose weight.
However, after restricting your calories for months or years, your body becomes resistant and extremely careful in how it uses the small amount of energy you consume. It ends up shutting down some of the basic functions of your body, the ones that aren't absolutely necessary for you. Remember that it doesn't happen instantly. At first, you feel awesome because you love the new way your body looks and the negative effects have not yet started to show.
Extended Low Calorie Consumption Makes Your Body Sick
After some time on being on a low calorie diet, your body starts to get weaker. You may still be able to lose weight for a while or keep it same, but slowly, your health starts to suffer — because you're not eating enough calories.
Like we talked earlier, calories mean energy. When you don't eat enough calories, you don't have enough energy. Without enough energy, your body runs out of resources. It's forced to make choices: I have only so much energy, but I have too many tasks; what are the most important things that I have to take care of, no matter what, and what can I stop spending on?
There are many functions that aren't absolutely necessary for your body. You may start seeing some hair loss happening. You don't need hair to live! So your body is going to let that go.
You may stop getting your period, because that's not essential for your body. Not giving you a period is your body's protection mechanism as it doesn't want you to get pregnant — you're obviously not ready to have a baby when you're undernourished. There's no way you could provide safe environment for a baby.
You may feel extremely fatigued, which is a direct result of treating calories as your enemy and not your friend, therefore not consuming enough of them and burning too much of them. There's no other possible result than feeling fatigued because you simply have no energy. A car doesn't run without a fuel, similarly you can't run without calories.
I hope this made you understand that calories aren't something that we should always consume less of. It's the diet industry's goal to make us feel bad about our bodies, and when we feel bad because we carry body fat or aren't as lean as seems to be “acceptable”, then we want to buy their products. At the end of the day, by doing that, you may end up making yourself sicker.
Calories are your friend and something you need, not your enemy that should be minimized to the extreme or removed from your life!
Have you ever been on a low calorie diet for an extended time? Did you ever notice side effects, like fatigue, hair loss, loss of period, being cold, loss of libido etc? I'd like to hear from you!