The Calorie Myth is Dead

Written By


Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.



“What is a calorie?”



“Calories are bad.”


“No that wasn’t the question. What is a calorie?”


“Uhh…they make you fat.”


“One more time: what is a calorie?”




“I have no idea.”


This is a snippet from a conversation I had with a gal recently as we were exploring the possibilities of trying new foods.


Like many, many women: Fearful of eating too many calories or fat grams, subsisting off a low-cal diet for years:



  • 100-calorie snack packs here…
  • 100-calorie yogurts there…
  • Diet bread
  • Sugar-free Jell-O, ice cream bars
  • Diet Sodas
  • Lean Cuisines and Healthy Choice frozen meals
  • Special K, Kashi and Fiber One cereal
  • Fat-free Cool Whip
  • Air-popped popcorn
  • Low-fat/no-fat options as the bulk of the diet: turkey sandwiches on wheat bread, apples, carrot sticks, celery sticks, green beans, cucumber slices, boiled chicken breast, dry tuna packets…


All because we’ve believed the SCREAMING messages from Slim Fast and Special K commercials, to the USDA guidelines (eat low-fat, heart healthy), Weight Watchers’ philosophies, personal trainers reminding us: “calories in, calories out”, Women’s Health and Shape magazine covers claiming “The Top Snacks with 100-Calories or Less” or “1200 Calorie Meal Plans” or “The Burn 500 Calorie Workout.”


Now, I turn the question to you…


What is a calorie?


What are your beliefs around calories?


And moreover…


What is a calorie really anyway?


(Pen drop.)



Don’t worry. You’re not alone.


It is kind of confusing when the words: “Bad.” “Fat.” “Weight gain.” “Not a good thing”—have been associated with these little boogers.


Simply put though, a calorie is ENERGY.


Technically speaking:


The energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 kilogram of water through 1 °C, equal to one thousand small calories and often used to measure the energy value of foods.”


Oooo…Sounds scientific…


In order to function, the human body needs energy, or in other words: We need calories.


And quality calories at that.


NEWS FLASH: contrary to popular belief, a calorie IS NOT a calorie.


In other words: Calories are not created equal, and the source of the calories makes all the difference in the world on your health, your body composition and the energy you get from your food in general.



For instance:


Take a 200-calorie donut, compared to a 200-calories of a chicken breast or an avocado.


Because they provide different vitamins and minerals, the body processes them differently.

And, moreover, when the calories are empty calories (i.e. NO nutrients, vitamins or minerals, such as the donut, or soda, candy bars, even processed, dead ‘diet’ foods), the body receives “energy”, void of the vitamins and minerals.


The result?


The body has no idea what to do with all these ingredients in your Dunkin’ Donut:



INGREDIENTS: Donut: Enriched Unbleached Wheat Flour (Wheat Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Niacin, Iron as Ferrous Sulfate, Thiamin Mononitrate, Enzyme, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Palm Oil, Water, Dextrose, Soybean Oil, Whey (a milk derivative), Skim Milk, Yeast, Contains less than 2% of the following: Salt, Leavening (Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Baking Soda), Defatted Soy Flour, Wheat Starch, Mono and Diglycerides, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Cellulose Gum, Soy Lecithin, Guar Gum, Xanthan Gum, Artificial Flavor, Sodium Caseinate (a milk derivative), Enzyme, Colored with (Turmeric and Annatto Extracts, Beta Carotene), Eggs; Chocolate Icing: Sugar, Water, Cocoa, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Soybean Oil, Corn Syrup, Contains 2% or less of: Maltodextrin, Dextrose, Corn Starch, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean and/or Cottonseed Oil, Salt, Potassium Sorbate and Sodium Propionate (Preservatives), Soy Lecithin (Emulsifier), Artificial Flavor, Agar.



And therefore, it leads to…


-Leaky gut

-Fat storage

-Impaired digestion

-Low energy

-Mood swings

-Blood sugar roller coaster


-Prone to more stress and anxiety


Or try this, perhaps a “healthier” option in your mind:



220-calories of a Lean Cuisine Chicken and Vegetables vs. a 500-calorie meal of a hefty portion of chicken steak, broccoli and a sweet potato with some grass-fed butter on top.


A look at the frozen dinner’s ingredients’ speaks for itself.


ingredients: blanched vermicelli (water, semolina, wheat gluten), tomatoes (diced tomatoes, tomato juice, citric acid, calcium chloride), cooked chicken tenderloin (chicken tenderloins, water, seasoning [modified corn starch, sugar, potassium chloride, yeast extract, dextrose, spice, onion powder, garlic powder, paprika], soybean oil, isolated soy protein, salt, sodium phosphates), tomato puree (water, tomato paste), broccoli, fire roasted tomatoes (tomatoes, tomato juice, salt, citric acid, calcium chloride), carrots, yellow carrots, 2% or less of onions, water, soybean oil, sugar, modified cornstarch, garlic puree, basil, salt, potassium chloride, autolyzed yeast extract (yeast extract, salt), spices, cultured whey, xanthan gum.



This versus, well…chicken, broccoli, sweet potato, and butter (one ingredient in all of these).



We’ll take a look at one more example:



90-calories of a Fiber One Cereal Bar, compared to 100-calories of almonds.


Which one delivers more nutrients?


Uh…What is: Soy lecithin, vegetable clycerin, palm kernel oil, maltodextrin, barley malt extract, mixed tocopherols anyhow?


Repeat after me: A calorie is not just a calorie.


Even if you are “being good” by sticking to the specific calorie amount your My Fitness Pal app mandates you can eat today…or earning your Weight Watcher Points wisely by choosing to stock up on fruits and veggies, and stick to 1200 calories or less…or “making healthy choices” by opting for low-calorie everything…eventually your body is going to work against you (hello cortisol…stress…gut breakdown…low energy…and the effects of chronic undereating).




Because your body is not getting what it needs (nutritionally).


And even if you are eating “real foods” (i.e. “low calorie” real foods like carrots, broccoli, chicken, turkey), BUT still lack nutrient balance (i.e. restricting yourself or not getting in enough of these foods from a balance of essential fats, protein, veggies, some starch and fruit; or enough nutrients in your day)…your body is still not getting what it needs.


Bottom line?


The “Calorie Myth” is dead.


If you need some hard evidence: in terms of body composition goals, this ‘crazy’ fact explains why a person can lose weight and body fat, consuming a diet of 1800-2200 calories; while a person can gain weight or struggle to lose weight while only consuming 1200 calories.


Or why a person can even put on some healthy weight or muscle mass, if weight gain is a goal, by strategically consuming 2400-2600 calories (even though consuming 3500 calories equals a “pound” of weight gain each week according to a text book).


And, in terms of exercise, this also confirms the ‘why’ behind ‘why’ you see people exercising in the gym—day in and day out…logging their miles on the treadmill…or going for 6-mile runs…or spinning their wheels on StairMaster’s…and yet…still ‘struggling’ with food…weight…obsession about food…


They claim: “Why am I not losing weight?! I work out every day!”


Or, they feel a ball-and-chain magnetic draw to the gym: “I HAVE to workout in order to eat XYZ”—Using exercise to justify their right or need to eat in the first place.


Neither extreme is necessary.


When you can focus more on fueling your body to live your life to the fullest (and that comes from lots of great nutrients, as well as the occasional eating for the simple joy or pleasure of fellowshipping with other peoples or celebrating an occasion…80/20 people), the more FREEDOM from calorie-counting you will find.


Your THRIVE Project today?
Delete your My Fitness Pal or SPARK People app. Throw out the food log with all the numbers and calories on it.



And begin to instead re-wire your mind and your body to…be nourished.



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