For many years I believed a calorie was just a calorie. Eat less, move more and you’ll lose weight – because when calories in are less than calories out you’ll lose weight and be healthy right? Well, while this works fantastically well for some people, it doesn’t work for everyone. In my years as a nutritionist I’ve been baffled by a few clients who have been doing lots of exercise, eating a low calorie diet yet their weight wasn’t budging. I didn’t think they were being dishonest purposely about their food intake – because why would they continue coming to see me if they were! I thought they must be overestimating portion sizes perhaps, or forgetting the extras. But I was wrong.
While calories most definitely DO count when it comes to weight loss, after research and experience with working with clients, I realised that a calorie is not just a calorie – there’s more to it. A calorie (or kilojoule) is a measure of energy, but it doesn’t determine how our body uses that energy when it comes to weight loss and health. Here’s why.
I’ve seen a few clients lately that have been struggling with weight loss. They’ve been highly motivated, active and eating a healthy, low GI, reduced calorie diet. By doing the calories in, calories out equation, they should have been losing weight! So what was going on?
Well one of these clients has something known as insulin resistant, also known as impaired glucose tolerance (IGT). That is, they don’t yet have diabetes, but their blood sugars are higher than normal. It’s a health issue that is worryingly on the increase issue, and there are hundreds of people who have it and don’t know it.
If you are insulin resistant, then you have to produce more insulin to help you get dietary carbs into your cells where you can use them. This means that in the early stages of insulin resistance you have high levels of circulating insulin. And what does insulin do? As well as moving glucose into the cell where it can be utilised as an energy source, insulin turns off fat burning, promotes fat storage and conversion of carbohydrate to fat.
On a diet that is high in carbohydrates, many clients with IGT struggle to lose weight. This is likely due to their high circulating insulin levels. Drop the carbohydrate intake, increase protein and some healthy fats and they lose weight.
Others without any diagnosed insulin resistance who struggle on conventional diets also seem to lose weight on a lower carbohydrate diet when compared to an equally calorie equivalent high carbohydrate diet. This was the case with another client. Interestingly enough, this client had a family history of diabetes. I imagine that her body is not an efficient metaboliser of carbohydrates, hence the struggle to lose weight on a high carbohydrate diet.
This doesn’t mean cutting carbohydrates is necessary for weight loss, just that certain people do lose weight better on a low carbohydrate diet. So what does all this mean for you?
Calories aren’t as simple as a number in a calorie counter. If you’re wanting to lose weight, reducing calorie intake is necessary, however if you’re struggling with weight loss you may need to look at an altered dietary regime to help you lose weight.
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