Calories - The Simple Truth
A month or so ago, I attended a nutrition lecture by Martin MacDonald at my university. He is the founder of Mac Nutrition and has worked with a range of celebs including Vicky Pattison, Zoe Smith and Jenifer Ellison. He asked us as an audience to suggest topics for him to discuss, some of which were of great interest to me and others less so.
Overall, I thought that the talk was really informative, although occasionally topics were touched upon, sparked my curiosity and unfortunately no further detail was given. However, one specific idea has stayed with me over the past month and I thought I would share it with you.
Along with the rest of the population, I am aware that there are good, healthy foods and bad, not so healthy foods. I am sure that I am not alone in telling myself that as long as I’m eating the good stuff, and limiting the bad stuff, I will keep at a healthy weight. Whilst to an extent this is true, there is another dimension to this idea. What Martin was touching on was that at the end of the day, calories are calories, and it doesn't matter where they come from, if you eat more than you burn, you will gain weight.
I've thought about this idea for a while now and I can’t quite get my head around it.
Hypothetically, let’s say that I eat 1875 calories a day, comprised of exactly the same macro nutrients day in day out. In order to maintain my weight, I need to eat 2000 calories and so I decide to add in a snack. Let’s take two scenarios. For one month, I eat half a Mars Bar every day – 125 calories worth of saturated fat and refined sugar. For another month, I snack on a wholegrain slice of toast with a generous helping of pure peanut butter – 250 calories perhaps. At the end of each month, what would be the outcome with regards to my weight?
Logic tells us that the peanut butter sandwich is a much healthier option and so the month where I eat a Mars Bar a day should be the one where I gain weight. This is exactly what I would assume as well. However, by Martin’s theory, by choosing the Mars Bar, I am staying within my calorie limit. Opting for the peanut butter sandwich on the other hand, takes me over by 125 calories a day. Calories are calories, and if we eat a in a surplus then it doesn't matter where they come from, we will gain weight.
In all honesty I don’t know the answer to this scenario. The powers of logic tell me that a Mars Bar a day can’t be a healthy way to live, but if you can eat one and keep within your calorie limit, then in theory it shouldn't cause a problem with regards to weight gain.
I think what I took away from this lecture was that as much as you do need to focus on sugar content and fat content for health, if you are looking for a specific weight goal (whether it be losing, maintaining or gaining), it doesn't massively matter which macro nutrient you get the calories from. If you want to lose weight, you have to eat in a calorie deficit. If you want to maintain weight, then you cannot eat too much or too little. If you want to gain weight, you have to eat in a calorie surplus.
Despite understanding this theory in principle, I can’t get my head around being allowed to eat a Mars Bar every day, assuming I don’t eat over my calories from other foods. However, it has made me much more aware about the portion sizes I am eating. I used to scoff down a huge salad of chicken breasts covered in peanut sauce with nuts and seeds and a variety of fruits and vegetable toppings. I’d think that because it was just a salad full of chicken and healthy fats, it was fine. I couldn't understand why I wasn't losing weight. The answer must have been calories. Although it was all good for me on the inside, as I was eating more calories than I should, I couldn't shift the weight.
Since the lecture I have definitely started to think more carefully about how much peanut butter I put on my toast (and other general portion size things of course). No matter how many ‘healthy fats’ I tell myself PB contains, if I eat too much of it, it can’t be good for me weight-loss