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myth or fact: calorie edition

Calories are a topic of constant discussion in the world of food and nutrition. However, amid the countless conversations, myths and misunderstandings about calories have proliferated. In this post, we'll debunk some of the most common misconceptions that people have about calories, shedding light on the truth behind these crucial units of energy in our diets.

❌ All Calories Are Equal

Calories are all equal, in the sense that it's a unit of energy equivalent to the heat energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 °C. Other than that, one of the biggest misconceptions is that all calories are the same, regardless of their source. In reality, calories from different macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) can have varying effects on the body. For example, calories from plain ol’ table sugar can lead to different metabolic responses compared to calories from complex carbohydrates or protein. Does this mean there's a "good" or a "bad" calorie? Absolutely not! Don’t forget our steak and brown/wild rice example from last week’s post.

❌ Calories Are the Sole Determinant of Weight

Many people believe that weight management is solely about calorie counting. While calorie intake is a significant factor, other factors like the quality of food, macronutrient composition, hormones, genetics, stress levels, activity levels, metabolism, and more play crucial roles to body weight - many of which are outside of our control.

❌ "Negative-Calorie" Foods

Some believe in the concept of "negative-calorie" foods, which suggests that certain foods require more energy to digest than they provide. While it's true that some foods have a higher thermic effect of food (TEF) than others, no food has a negative-calorie content in the sense that eating it would lead to a net calorie loss.

❌ Calories Are the Enemy

Some individuals develop a negative view of calories, seeing them as something to be avoided. This can lead to unhealthy eating behaviors or restrictive eating, which won't provide the body with the necessary nutrients for overall health. Check out these blog posts and/or reach out to begin your nutritional wellness journey today. Trust me, food is not the enemy!

❌ Calories Are the Only Factor in Weight Loss

While a calorie deficit is necessary for weight loss, many people underestimate the importance of their genetics, lifestyle factors, environmental factors, etc. that are outside of our control. Focusing solely on calorie restriction without considering these aspects of health and wellness can lead to unsustainable food + nutrition practices and, likely, lead down a path of an unbalanced relationship with food, continuing the dieting cycle.

❌ Eating Fewer Calories Always Equals Weight Loss

Paradoxically, some people believe that drastically cutting calories is the fastest way to lose weight. However, extreme calorie restriction can slow down metabolism, lead to muscle loss, result in nutrient deficiencies, and cause the body to go into starvation mode. You might be surprised that it’s actually eating more and balancing the nutrient content of your diet that can be most beneficial.

❌ Calorie Counting Is Accurate

Many people assume that calorie counts on food labels are precise. However, there can be variations in calorie content due to factors like food processing, cooking methods, macronutrient composition, individual differences in metabolism, and more.

❌ Eating More Calories Means Gaining Weight

While consuming excess calories over time can lead to weight gain, a single meal or a few days off your normal routine won't necessarily cause immediate weight gain. Weight fluctuates for various reasons, including water retention, food volume, stress levels, and more. Don't forget, our bodies are not meant to stay the same weight our entire life!

❌ Calories Should Be Minimized at All Costs

If you haven’t guessed yet, this is just simply not true! This misconception can lead to a focus on calorie quantity over macronutrient balance. Nutrient-dense foods, even if they have more calories, are often better choices, when available, because they provide essential vitamins and minerals dancers need each and every day to keep dancing.

❌ Calorie-Counting Is Necessary for Everyone

Just no. I might even advocate that it’s not helpful for anyone except I do know a few diabetics who must consider their calories - mostly from carbohydrates - to determine their insulin injections. So… just like we can’t lump calories from all foods into one standardized category, I cannot lump all dancers or people into one category here.

Curious to learn more? Wondering if your daily food + nutrition habits are meeting your dance or performance needs? Schedule your free Strategy Session today, and let’s see!

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I'm a Nutrition Educator & Wellness Coach based in and serving Washington, DC and the DMV region. My lifestyle-focused method has successfully helped clients achieve personal results and enhance athletic ability, eMpowering performance in class, rehearsals, and on-stage. As professional dancer myself, I have gained nutritional balance and improved my own relationship with food through many years of practice and a Masters of Science in Nutrition from University of Bridgeport. I bring this depth of personal and academic experience to a variety of clients, particularly performance athletes and fitness enthusiasts. In my spare time, I teach yoga and manage Ballet Embody, a professional contemporary ballet company.
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