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A calorie is not a calorie. They’re not all created equal. There, I said it.

For decades, you have likely heard that your weight depends on balancing your calories. You have to burn every one you consume or it gets stored as fat. N=1. Easy! Just eat less and workout more and you will develop that dream six-pack or great butt.

But why would so many people struggle with their weight, if losing pounds were this simple?

There is about a 97% failure rate for diets in the first year they’re attempted. Most of these are based on some form of calorie restriction and almost never work in the longterm. First, beyond diet, we need to look at hormones. In many cases, a hormonal imbalance may need to be addressed before any real weight loss can occur. (This is not an article on hormonal imbalance, but, as an aside, many of those hormonal issues can be addressed through proper nutrition and lifestyle such as reducing toxicity at home, eating whole, organic foods, decreasing stress, drinking plenty of clean water and getting proper sleep.)

Second, here’s the reality about calories: A calorie from a leafy green vegetable such as kale or Swiss chard is much different than a calorie from a Twinkie or soda. You will not get fat by eating green leafy vegetables (unless you're adding lots of oil to them). In terms of nutrient content on a level of 1 to 1000, Kale has a perfect ANDI (or “Aggregate Nutrient Density Index”) score at 1000, whereas refined sugar gets between 1 and .4. 

Your body is getting the vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fiber it needs to function at an optimal level when you eat the right kind of calories. When you bombard your system with processed foods and empty calories, though, your body remains hungry and is in fact starving for those essential nutrients.

This has become the paradox of our time: fat, full, but starving. Much of the unhealthy foods we consume actually make us hungrier. For instance, think about having only one chip, cookie or french fry). Our brains don’t register the calories being consumed, so we want more and more. 

To add insult to injury, most of these processed foods have a host of preservative chemicals in them that only add to our toxic burden and further aggravate any hormonal imbalances we might be experiencing. What we end up with is modern day America, where one third of the population is obese. A large majority of U.S. citizens are walking around with full stomachs and large waistbands, but are literally starving for essential nutrients. They are eating the wrong foods.

It is not just about eating fewer calories: we need to start eating better calories.

The quality of your calories is vitally important to your health and weight loss. You can eat as much of the good foods with high ANDI ratings as you want. Get real, whole foods, still in their natural states. Rid your kitchen of all processed foods that come in bags and have more than five ingredients. 

You no longer have to be hungry all the time because you’re on a diet. Eat until you are full! Change the quality of your calories and you will no longer have to count them so much.

photo credits: kait ebinger

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