What are calories? Think of a calorie as a unit of energy. Your body needs energy to function. In our diet, the majority of our calories come from protein (4 calories per gram), carbohydrates (4 calories per gram), and fat (9 calories per gram). When you eat, your body utilizes energy to break down the foods into energy – and this is why not all calories are created equal. Protein requires the most energy to break down, followed by carbohydrates and fat. This is called the “thermogenic effect” of food. But let’s not get too scientific – just think of it as fancy way of saying “the energy your body uses when processing the foods you eat for energy or to store.” Now it gets interesting because each person has a different energy requirement dependent upon age, weight, and body composition (percentage of muscle v fat), which is why losing weight can be such a challenge.
The body utilizes the calories from protein, carbs and fat very differently. So it’s important to have a balance of them in order for your body to be able to run at it’s best. If you’re short in one area, it’s unlikely that the other nutrients will be able to perform the duties of the missing nutrients, so the calories from those extras won’t be burned in exchange for what’s missing, they will simply be viewed as excess and stored. In other words, you can’t really rob Peter to pay Paul. Which is why people can go on super restrictive diets and not lose much weight. Or if they do lose weight, it’s likely mostly water and muscle tissue from the imbalance in their nutrient intake.
I could honestly tell you to divide your plate into three at each meal and eat a lean protein, denser carb source (starch/fruit) and veggie at each meal and we’d never need to track macronutrients because it would naturally fall into balance. But since the American diet is such a mess - full of convenience foods, processed foods, genetically altered foods - it becomes far more difficult for people to realistically have the drive/determination to adopt this type of eating all the time. Then we introduce cheat days into the picture that really negate all of the balance you have achieved throughout the week and alter gut biome and confuse your body only to have balance achieved again and then destroyed with another cheat day.
What I’m trying to do - and many other “real life” nutrition coaches are trying to do - is to establish some tangible boundary lines when it comes to food that encourage people to learn how to eat in a way that fits their lifestyle. It can include a small percentage of processed food because that’s realistic for most people’s lifestyles which makes balance and sustainability more achievable and realistic. This is why I say it’s not about perfection - it’s about learning your food one meal at a time. As you learn your food and start to achieve a more balanced diet (that even contains processed foods), you begin to see changes in the way you feel and perform, and typically changes in your body, as well (as an added bonus). But it takes time. We’re basically trying to change habits around food and to retrain metabolisms to what a balanced state feels like. Ultimately I want you to notice all those positive changes which make reaching for more wholesome foods an easier habit to adopt because you see and feel the benefits of including more of those in your diet (which is why I also set a fiber goal). The time it takes to gradually weed out processed foods to about 20% or less of your total caloric intake changes from person to person based on their current eating habits. And if you have already been eating whole foods but in the wrong balance or overeating those foods, we still have reprogramming to do as your body adapts to the caloric surplus and it becomes more difficult to dip into fat stores. So we need balance AND caloric deficit.
It’s not simple. Well, it is a simplistic approach but it’s not “easy” because it requires habit change. In the end, if you want to lose fat and improve your overall health, it truly is all about balance and eating to your body’s specific caloric needs. Using macronutrient goals is a concrete way of teaching people portions, balance, encouraging more “real” food but still being able to enjoy treats, thus making eatinFac
g less emotional and more freeing.