When is a calorie not a calorie? If I eat too few will I enter ‘starvation mode’? Are all calories burned the same? There are plenty of myths and misconceptions about weight loss – here are the top four explained.
1 – Calories in, calories out, that’s all there is to it.
Although we’re all subject to the laws of thermodynamics, calories are not the whole story. It’s true that you gain weight when you consume more calories than you burn, and lose weight when your burn more calories than you consume – but different foods affect your body differently, and your body composition also plays a part in determining how many calories you burn at rest. 1000 calories of vegetables is better for you than 1000 calories of cake!
2 – Counting calories exactly is important.
While keeping track of your caloric intake and keeping it below a certain level is a great way to predictably lose weight, you can’t always rely on nutritional information to give you accurate numbers. Calorie counts on pre-packaged food can be inaccurate by up to 20%! The solution? Limit packaged foods by cooking from scratch, using whole ingredients that you weigh yourself to get a more accurate count. What’s more, calorie counts even of whole foods don’t take into account the energy required to digest those foods, which varies depending on their composition – if you eat 500 calories of protein, up to 30% of that can be burned just by digestion. So don’t worry about being 100% exact in your counts – it’s not possible anyway!
3 – All calories are burned in the same way.
If you run for an hour, you’ll burn around 750 calories. (although this number depends very much on your weight and how fast you run!) It doesn’t matter if those calories come from lettuce or pizza, right? Wrong! Different types of calories are used by your body in different ways, depending on the intensity of the exercise. The more intense the exertion, the higher proportion of carbohydrate you’ll burn. Conversely, steady aerobic exercise burns more fat. However, working out at high intensity builds more muscle, and the more muscle you have, the more calories you’ll use at rest. So what should you do? Mixing both high and low intensity workouts is a good idea, but for best results, pick any exercise you enjoy and will do regularly 🙂
4 – If you eat too few calories, your body will go into ‘starvation mode’ and you won’t lose weight.
Whilst it’s true that decreasing your caloric intake can lead to a drop in your metabolism as your body compensates, this drop isn’t near enough to let you gain weight if you’re consuming fewer calories than you need to stay alive – fat can’t appear from nowhere! ‘Starvation mode’ is an unfortunate term – your body isn’t starving, just compensating a little to the change in calorie intake. This may slow your weight loss slightly, but this isn’t a race – stick to your diet, and as long as you eat fewer calories than you burn, you will lose weight. You can help mitigate the effects by lifting weights to build muscle (increasing the percentage of muscle in your body increases the number of calories you burn each day, just by being alive), eating enough protein (protein requires up to 30% of the calories it contains just to digest, and helps preserve muscle), and taking occasional breaks from your diet.