Weight Loss – Are Calories The Only Thing That Matters?


When it comes to weight loss, do only calories matter? The short, but surely controversial answer to this question would be yes. The only way to lose weight is to create a caloric deficit and force your body to burn the calories it has stored in the form of fat. If you eat too much, even if you only eat “healthy food”, then there will be no need for your body to burn fat for energy. Similarly, if you eat fewer calories than your body needs, you will inevitably lose weight, even if you eat junk food.

An experiment by Professor Mark Haub from Kansas State University shows this is true. Haub decided to prove to his students that calorie intake is actually the only thing that matters in weight loss and that the type of food eaten is irrelevant. To disprove the claim that the only way to lose weight is to eat "healthy" foods, Professor Mark Haub, decided to go on a junk food diet. He was eating high-sugar snacks and other junk food along with vitamin, mineral pills and one serving of a vegetable each day for 10 weeks, but he made sure his daily calorie intake did not exceed 1800. So, what was the result? Haub lost 27 pounds, reduced his "bad" cholesterol by 20%, his triglycerides by 39% and increased his "good" cholesterol by 20%. Before jumping to conclusions, this didn’t happen due to the junk food he ate. Losing weight alone can help you improve your health markers. Now this doesn’t mean that we should all go on a junk food diet.  But, it does prove a point: that when it comes to weight loss it does not matter what you eat -- only how much you eat.  Overeating will inevitably lead to weight gain, regardless of the source of calories.   

Do you need additional proof? Keep on reading….

A study titled "Comparison of Weight-Loss Diets with Different Compositions of Fat, Protein, and Carbohydrates" that was conducted by the Department of Nutrition of Harvard School of Public Health, proved pretty much the same thing. The researchers assigned 811 overweight adults to one of four diets, with different percentages of fat, carbohydrates and protein, but with the same calorie content. The results clearly showed that the weight loss achieved was more or less the same for all diets, regardless of which macronutrients they emphasized. This means that it didn’t matter, if the diet was low in fat, low in carbs or high in protein. Weight loss was simply a matter of calories. What is more, other studies have shown that the type of fat or the type of carbohydrate is also completely irrelevant. When it comes to weight loss, it doesn't matter if you eat butter or olive oil. Of course, olive oil is generally considered a healthier choice, but this doesn’t mean that it’s less fattening than butter.

So, what does all this mean? Should you simply use a calorie calculator and start eating junk food every day? Not, so fast! Even though, the type of food you eat is not actually important for weight loss, it is important for your health and for your long-term adherence to the diet. Certain foods, such as high-fiber foods and high-protein foods can help you feel full and content with fewer calories. On the contrary, high–fat and high-sugar foods are very calorie dense and won't keep you full, because you'll only be allowed to eat a small amount of food.

As you can see, the source of calories should be taken into consideration. This does not disprove the calories-in/calories-out model. This doesn’t mean that the model is flawed. Creating a calorie deficit, either by eating less or by burning more calories is and always will be the only way to lose weight (ok, apart from amputation or liposuction). Paying attention to the type of foods you eat will simply help you create a calorie deficit without feeling hungry and stay on the diet long enough to lose weight.

But, what about people who managed to lose weight without counting calories? Doesn’t that prove that the whole calories-in/calories-out paradigm is a myth? No. The fact that people lose weight without counting calories doesn’t actually mean that they consume more calories than they burn. These people usually follow diets that eliminate calorie-dense foods or foods that people are likely to overeat. For example, by replacing foods high in fat with foods low in fat, you will automatically cut down the number of calories you consume. Likewise, if you follow a diet that doesn’t allow you to eat sugar, you will eliminate most of the foods that trigger overeating.

It doesn’t matter if you agree with this article or not. You may be a low-carb fanatic that thinks that sugar is the devil, or you may be a strict vegetarian or a low-fat diet devotee. What does matter is to understand that calories do count and that it’s always important to exercise portion control.

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