Do Calories Matter? Mike Dougherty, DC

If you have tried to lose a few pounds in the past, chances are you’ve tried to eat as little as possible to reach your goal. There’s also a good chance you were able to drop a few pounds in a short amount of time but were you able keep it off? It’s more than likely you may have gained the weight back and possibly even a couple extra pounds. What’s the reason for this? Why does it seem so hard and even more frustrating? Well, for one, our bodies are not as simple as a combustion engine. We don’t just put fuel in and take it out like a car’s motor. Our body is a complex system that requires hormones and enzymes to break down the food we eat. The real kicker to thinking about this concept is the fact that the type of food we eat rather than the amount can influence our energy expenditure and fat loss.

 Fat loss and hunger control are influenced by neuro-peptides that arise from the brain as well as the gastrointestinal tract. Hormones are also released, sometimes in coordination with or because of these neuropeptides. The signaling your body receives from food, from circulating hormones, and from these neuropeptides can lead to feedback loops that can be negative to long term health if the signaling if flawed. Think about indulging in a sugary treat. In many instances, your body has the ability to secrete insulin (the major storage hormone responsible for dealing with spikes in circulating sugar levels) and control blood sugar while maintaining the body’s set point, or homeostasis. Now, even if you don’t consistently eat sugary treats, chances are the food you eat contains refined sugars, or high glycemic carbohydrates that can produce the same effect in regards to insulin. So now, we have a consistent unloading of insulin in a response to almost every meal. This wreaks havoc on the cells in the pancreas responsible for making this hormone. There becomes a disruption with constant elevation and abnormal secretion of insulin. This is known as hyperinsulinemia, or insulin resistance. Now, considering there is a faulty mechanism for dealing with sugar, the circulating sugar molecules in your blood are now unable to be processed. This is where high fasting sugar levels, associated with diabetes, come from. An excess of circulating sugar molecules can also lead to a multitude of symptoms including the destruction of small nerves and blood vessels, most commonly in the feet and sometimes the eyes. 

Now, this is only one example of how a single hormone plays a role in fat loss and energy expenditure. Hormones seldom work by themselves. Remember the complex interaction of hormones and neuropeptides that we talked about earlier. It’s not only food that can affect our hormone systems. When we put the whole picture together, we start to include talk about high stress, and lack of sleep and movement. All these factors play a critical role in in the development of accumulated fat and in some cases disease. 

So, I failed to mention the “C” word. Unfortunately, calories do count, but not to the degree you probably think. Amazingly, if you eat the right foods, your caloric intake will often increase but your weight won’t. The other factor to consider is that scale weight may not be the only telling tale. A comprehensive look at fat loss and body composition change has to factor in changes in girth. This is typically where we see the most gratifying results. 

When we eat the right foods, we restore satiety signaling, decrease food cravings, and help normalize hormone function. Eating the right foods doesn’t mean carrot and celery sticks or starving yourself of flavor. Understanding how to combine foods and which foods are better choices is sometimes a daunting task but effective for long term solutions to weight loss and health.

In order to bridge the gap between nutrition for weight loss and health, Performance Spine and Sports Medicine is conducting a seminar September 26th, at Gold’s Gym Lawrenceville. Stay tuned for more details to come!

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