As it is with many of the bodies systems and processes, there are regulatory mechanisms in place to achieve homeostasis - balance.
The long-term constancy of body weight is achieved by a complex network of regulatory systems but can be divided into 3 categories. Energy intake; Energy expenditure; and Energy Storage.
Energy cannot be created or destroyed, but it can only be transformed from one form into another. Plants capture energy from the sun to synthesize the macronutrients protein, fats, and carbohydrates. Animals achieve their energy needs from chemical energy stored in plants (or other animals).
Simply put, we need energy to function properly and optimally. That energy is found in our food, drinks, and correlates with the diet consumed. A unit of energy is more commonly known as a calorie.
The average human consumes approximately one million calories per year.
The body needs calories (and other nutrients from food) for a wide ranging variety of mechanisms. The obvious is providing energy for movement and activity. Simple activities like folding the laundry, making your bed, or walking the dog, all burn** calories. Did you know that even to keep your heart beating, your lungs breathing, eyes blinking, hair growing, and even sleeping - all require energy.
**Calorie: the energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 °C. Energy in the body is eventually degraded as heat, hence the term 'burning calories', or "burning off energy"
Calories tend to be viewed in a very weight gain/loss orientated context. Many weight-loss programs centre their philosophies around counting and controlling caloric intake. Calories are not bad for you. Remember, your body needs calories for energy! The biggest problem lies in the simple formula of eating too many calories for the amount of energy needed by the body. So, if energy intake (calories) chronically exceeds 25kcal/day, a person will become morbidly obese.
Government guidelines suggest:
|| 2000kcal/day for women
|| 2500kcal/day for men
Yes, you guessed it. You are part of an intricate numbers game that you are participating in willingly or (more commonly + worryingly) unwittingly.
In true homeschooling fashion, lets all learn and remember an equation:
Energy balance (weight management) = energy intake + stored energy - energy expenditure
So if the calories we are consuming + the stored excess energy from calories is greater than the energy we expend in a day through body processes and exercise, there becomes an increase in body energy stores; primarily as fat (weight gain).
Conversely, if the expenditure of energy is greater than the calories consumed the body will begin to utilize stored excess energy from the muscles, liver, and fat.
With this formula in mind, it seems simple. Eat less, and exercise more. To some degree, and for many that have chronically over consumed, this is the greatest step that can be taken in naturally tackling weight loss. However, under eating can also pose significant risks such as nutritional deficiencies, the slowing down of resting metabolic rate, and negatively impacting metabolism. This in turn can make it more difficult to lose weight and procure the optimal nutrients from food.
To confuse things even more, not all calories are created equal. A 100kcal apple provides the same energy as 100kcal can of soda, however an apple provides additional nutrients such as fibre, vitamins, minerals and naturally occurring sugars. A soda derives most of it's energy from sugar, it will be fast acting, and has some but very little additional nutritional benefits.
As opposers to calorie counting would say "count nutrients, not calories". Do not get hung up on the numbers to the detriment of choosing natural, plant-based whole foods. And remember, just because something says 'low cal' or zero calories...does not make it healthier!
And there we have it! When it comes to calories, nutrition, energy, and satiety a general common sense approach prevails. Choosing oatmeal over sugar laden boxed cereal for breakfast, fruit instead of a candy bar, or a smoothie versus a glass of juice. It's not just about being healthy(ier), but it goes deeper into respecting our bodies with the fuel it needs to optimally support our daily needs. Challenge yourself to make swaps in your own diet. Start reading and understanding food labels. Pay attention to the ingredients. Begin to notice how you are feeling before and after the foods you consume. Notice if the energy spike is short, or long and sustained. Drink more water to avoid over-eating.
Oh, and don't forget to exercise daily!