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You Might Be Eating More Than You Think...

Last post we talked about 'energy out' or how our body burns calories. This week we'll cover how it's easy to underestimate your 'energy in' or calories consumed.

Quick review:

  • Eating more calories than you burn = gaining weight

  • Burning more calories than you eat = losing weight

The tricky part of the equation above is that it's not always easy to be sure how many calories you are absorbing/consuming. Here's why:

  1. The number of calories in a meal likely doesn’t match the number of calories on the labels or menu. Food labels can be off as much as 20-25%.

  2. The amount of energy a food contains in the form of calories is not necessarily the amount of energy we absorb, store, and/or use.

  • We absorb less energy from minimally processed carbohydrates, and fats, because they’re harder to digest.

  • We absorb more energy from highly processed carbohydrates and fats because they’re easier to digest. (Think of it this way: The more “processed” a food is, the more digestion work is already done for you.)

  • We often absorb more energy from foods that are cooked (and/or chopped, soaked, blended) because those processes break down plant and animal cells, increasing their bioavailability.

  • We may absorb more or less energy depending on the types of bacteria in our gut.

Eating a diet full of whole, minimally processed foods will lead to you absorbing significantly less calories than you expect. Plus whole foods require more calories to digest.

Conversely, you will absorb more calories by eating lots of highly processed foods, plus burn fewer calories in the digestive process. Processed foods are also less filling (and higher calorie) so you end up eating more than you expect. This is why we don't start our nutrition clients with weighing and measuring food. Our focus is on food quality, eating until 80% full, and improving other lifestyle factors (sleep/stress) which affect hunger levels and discipline with food choices. More often than not, this is enough to help our clients get lean and have more energy.

Source: Can eating too little actually damage your metabolism? Exploring the truths and fallacies of ‘metabolic damage'.

By Brian St. Pierre, MS, RD

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