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Why Calories STILL Matter

Take 5 minutes and look around the fitness blogosphere, and you will quickly see there are about as many different diet options as there are people writing about them.  But let’s keep things simple. Calories matter. Too simple?  You want to argue dietary dogma? You will be preaching to the choir (maybe even the choir director). You see, most folks are not ready for the deep dive into nutrition.  In fact, I guarantee if you have more than one diet book in your library, you did not read the book but merely skipped ahead to the “rules and recipes” chapters.  I am guilty of that, and I am someone you might consider “into nutrition”, an outlier, a nerd. And if you are ready to challenge me- then you probably are one too. I will concede that better calories produce better results, the old garbage in, garbage out adage.  I will concede that macronutrients will be important- LATER.  I will concede that if you are eating Frankenfood, you are doing damage to your body. In fact, most days I stomp my foot and loudly proclaim all of the above.  But I am shouting in the echo chamber. Those of us who “know” are far beyond the basics, and we can argue the science with the best of them.  But are we practicing what we preach?  Are we currently an example?  Or are we talking heads, so convinced of our own nutritional superiority that we forget the first step we all took back in the day?  Counting calories. Maybe, just maybe, it is time to return to the simplicity of calorie math, to do a little reset, to evaluate what is or is not working. It is basic math. Energy in> Energy Out  = Weight gain Energy in< Energy Out = Weight loss Whether you choose to get those calories in the form of protein, fat, carbs, or some lab-created amalgam (think neon-orange Cheetohs), the overarching number of calories that you eat DOES matter.  Eat more than you use, the scale goes up- that evil little device does not care if all 6000 calories were broccoli and chicken breast.  IT DOES NOT CARE. Why is this the easy way? Most people want the Cliff notes- the shortcut- the easy, quick, (fill in the adjective) way.  And that way is to watch your calories and move more. For most people, the idea of making huge dietary changes is daunting.  It doesn’t fit in their lifestyle or the way that their family operates.  Telling someone whose culture is founded on rice, lentils, and bread that they need to “cut the carbs and focus on protein”, is probably not going to fly and will likely cause some issues at mealtime.  Change is hard enough without adding the stress or guilt of dealing with angry family members. But if I say, you can eat everything that you always have eaten, just less.  That is manageable. It takes the stress out of forcing everyone else to change to meet your dietary restrictions. It’s doable, even if it is not much fun. Do I have to? We live in a world where food as close as the nearest corner. You don’t need to get out of your car.  Heck, these days you don’t even need to leave home.  Uber Eats to the rescue.  Food is easy, available, high calorie, low quality, and takes no energy to get.   It is easy to get our energy equation out of balance.  In fact, almost no one in the US knows what a serving size really looks like.  And for the record, WHO in the heck ever eats the listed serving size? Peter Drucker said, “What gets measured, gets managed.” Pareto proved that 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts.  Spend that 20% managing your calories and see 80% better results.  THEN, you can play with the other stuff like macros, food quality, limiting things.  But if you do those things first, and never understand the number of calories you are eating, you will likely fail. But, but, but… Now before anyone starts, yes certain diets may produce better-looking naked bodies.  Yes, certain diets may help with other conditions like diabetes, heart disease, or autism.  Yes, there is a certain amount of evidence that factory food labels lie.  There are myriad reasons to look at food quality, macronutrients, and other factors.  In fact, after the calorie thing is under control, I ABSOLUTELY recommend and encourage it.  And I probably will pontificate soon on what the next step should be. But again, let’s keep things simple for now. Eat less, move more.  We can experiment later.    

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