I had an “Ah Ha” moment the other day when I was studying my nutrition textbook. I realized that all these years I have never understood what a calorie is. At the height of my eating disorder, I took it to mean that the less calories I ate the skinnier I would be. I wouldn’t let myself eat anything over 100 calories back in the day. In the United States so much focus is put on calories, but what really is a calorie? My “Ah Ha” moment the other day showed me that calories are not at all what I think!
So what is a calorie in actuality? It’s ENERGY!!!! As I have learned, energy is not a food component. It is not something that is in our food like minerals and vitamins. In fact, when you talk about energy in foods you are really talking about the potential energy that a food contains. In order for your body to access that energy, many steps have to take place.
First you need to understand where the energy in food comes from. Energy is available in food because food contains carbohydrates, fat, and protein. These nutrients can be fully metabolized, or broken down by the body. Once fully metabolized, these nutrients provide energy in a form our cells and body can readily use. This energy is fuel that your body needs to function properly! FOOD IS FUEL!!!
Did you know that fat is a concentrated source of energy too? So much now-a-days we hear about cutting down on fat, and so many foods are now fat-free and low-fat. But, that’s not necessarily good for you. As I learned from my health coach, when fat is removed from food other things, like sugar, are added back in to make your food taste better which is why my health coach helped me to realize that there are good fats and your body needs fat to function properly. In fact, because fat is such a concentrated source of energy, if you remove it from the diet it can have a huge effect on the available energy your body has.
Consider this. There are Kilocalories and Calories. What is the difference? A “calorie” is energy. It is like the gas your car needs to run. A “kilocalorie” is a specific measurement or unit of that energy. It is a unit of heat. 1,000 calories equal 1 kilocalorie. So not all calories are the same.
“Because fat contains 9 kilocalories per gram, more than double that of protein or carbohydrate, foods high in fat are rich in calories (energy).”
–Discover Nutrition 4th Edition
And that was my “Ah Ha” moment! Calories are ENERGY! They aren’t bad for you! You shouldn’t restrict calories. By me restricting my calorie intake for so many years, I was depriving my body of energy! No wonder I always felt sick. Your body needs energy to function properly. It needs fat. It needs proteins. It needs carbohydrates. None of these things are bad for you! Calories are just a measurement that show how much potential energy a food can give you! Nothing more, nothing less! Make smart decisions. Eat whole foods. Nourish your body. Energy is good! Food is fuel!