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September 22, 2019: Counting Calories

My weekly Get Your Stuff Together Sunday email series gives you one actionable focus for the week that will make your life a little easier.

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I remember reading a statistic once that only 4% of people who start a fitness program actually achieve the results they were looking for. A huge problem exists around how calories work, and that causes so many people to fail. This week, we’re going to talk about some of the misconceptions about calorie counting and how to use it.

What is a calorie?

A calorie is simply a unit of energy. 1 calorie is the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius.

How do we measure that?

The amount of energy or calories in a given food is determined by using a device called a Bomb Calorimeter. Inside the Bomb Calorimeter, a unit of food is placed into a small oxygen rich chamber. Water surrounds the small chamber inside a tank. The unit of food is then burned, which in turn raises the temperature of the water. Based on the rise in temperature of the water, the number of calories, or the proposed energy contained in that unit of food is determined.

Problems with this measurement

There are several major flaws with this system itself and when comparing how the human body produces energy. The Bomb Calorimeter only takes into consideration the Law of Thermodynamics, and does not allow for the biological processes of the body.

Another major flaw with counting calories is that a calorie is a unit of energy, but much of what we eat is not actually used for energy. In fact, carbohydrates are the only nutrient that’s primary purpose is to produce energy.

A third problem is that no two people digest and absorb these nutrients in the same way, nor do they have the same protein and fat needs. Therefore, there is no accurate way to account for what percentage of fat or protein is used for energy and which is required to meet other physiological demands. So, calorie counts can be ineffective.

Problems with knowing calorie counts in food

Now let’s take a look at how this system is flawed when determining the calories contained in food. In the Bomb Calorimeter, 1 gram of protein produces 4 calories, 1 gram of carbohydrates produces 4 calories, and 1 gram of fat produces 9 calories. However, these figures are rounded off and approximate.

Another related issue is that there are a number of variables that directly affect foods caloric value. These include: soil and growing conditions, animals diet, length of storage, preparation and cooking, and ripeness.

If you like to be exact like I do, this probably gives you stress. It makes me nuts, for sure. Think of calorie counts as guidelines. I still use them to have something to measure. Overall, if you eat a diet of nutritious, whole foods - in moderation - you’ll be fine.

Next Sunday, we’ll talk about habits to avoid for a healthy lifestyle.

Want some expert help with reaching your health goals painlessly? Check out my programs! We’ll get everything taken care of in a way that fits into your current lifestyle so you never have to think about your health again.

Do you have a friend who could stand to G(her)ST? Feel free to forward this!

I hope you have a wonderful week,


Kelly Morgan, Ph.D.

Tsirona -

My weekly GYSTS email give you one actionable thing to do for the week that will make you life a little easier. As "they" say, "Fail to plan; plan to fail." Get these emails (and more!) delivered right to your inbox by clicking HERE.