The Calorie Myth

Ever wonder why sometimes we eat less, exercise more and don’t lose weight?

Food was designed to give us energy. We consume calories so that we will have something to burn, which in turn gives us the fuel to keep going. The calories we ingest from fibre, carbohydrates, protein, fats and nutrients are metabolised at different rates and provide us with different amounts of energy. For example, if you have a soft drink the sugar will enter your bloodstream quickly and the calories you are not using at that time will be stored as fat. However, if the sugar you consume enters the bloodstream more slowly, your body has a greater chance to make use of the calories, meaning more will be burned and less will be stored.

Most of us fit into one of two categories when it comes to food and exercise. We either commit to regular exercise and eating well or we are happy to sit on the couch not caring about what we put into our mouths. But did you know that food contains hidden information that gets communicated to our genes, giving our metabolism specific instructions of what it should be doing. For example:

  • Lose weight or gain weight;
  • Speed up or slow down the ageing process;
  • Increase or decrease your cholesterol;
  • Produce molecules that increase or decrease your appetite.

We are genetically designed to accumulate fat as a result of our primal ancestry. We always needed to make sure that we ate enough to gain weight when food was plentiful, as we didn’t know when we would be able to source food again. This way of eating has carried over into today’s society, which has become more hazardous to both our health and our waistlines.

One of the most important principles of weight loss is never to starve yourself. The question is not whether you are eating enough calories, it is whether you are eating enough of the right calories. Our bodies have a minimum amount of calories it requires to be able to function. The reason why so many diets backfire is because we restrict the amount of calories we consume to drop below that minimal requirement.

If you eat less than the required amount, which is in the case of most diets, our body perceives itself as being in danger (starvation mode) and sets off an alarm in your body which slows down your metabolism and signalling you to eat more. Our bodies don’t like it very much when we don’t give it the calories that it needs, so as a result we end up eating more, and consume many additional calories.

So while we think that we might be in control of our minds and our willpower, the truth is we have very little control over the unconscious choices we make when we are surrounded by food. Therefore, the key to a healthy metabolism is learning what those responses are, how they are triggered and how we can stop them.

To recap, when it comes to weight management, it’s not about limiting our calories, it’s about being calorie aware and making sure that the calories we consume provide our body with the right nutritional needs.

If you follow some of the below suggestions, it may help you normalise your eating so that you neither under nor over eat:

  1. Eat from a smaller plate;
  2. Eat regularly;
  3. Cut out processed foods and eat real whole foods;
  4. Eat breakfast; and
  5. Eat mindfully.​

Remember that it is what you do every day that has an impact on your health, not what you do sometimes.​


Keren is the founder of Vital Assurance, and hopes to bring to you her passion for healthy eating and living.