Calories and Optimal Food Intake – Part 2

In the Paul‘s last post we looked at the basics about calories and metabolism. Now let’s see how calories affect weight management:

Whether you are trying to lose weight, maintain weight, or gain more, calories matter.

Calorie restriction is counterproductive and does not work because when you consume less energy than your body requires, the body adapts.

When you do not eat enough calories, the body has the ability to slow down thyroid hormone output in an effort to maintain energy balance. Your thyroid is responsible for fat, carbohydrate, and protein metabolism.

Your body will begin to hold onto fat stores because it is in starvation mode and instead uses muscle to provide energy. Muscle is highly calorie intensive to maintain and in a prolonged calorie deficit it is one of the first things that the body looks to get rid of, and in turn will further slow down your metabolism.

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The body will also slow the digestive tract in an effort to conserve energy. The digestive tract is responsible for breaking down food to its simplest form so that the body can use the nutrients to function. When a person is not consuming enough calories the stomach empties slower and the lining of the intestinal tract can shrink.  The digestive tract can become so severely damaged that it cannot properly digest food, and this can lead to malnutrition and electrolyte imbalances.

Not only is a restricted calorie diet not the ideal way to lose body fat, it can actually cause negative side effects in other ways, and even increase your fat storage!

When you are under stress both physically and psychologically (a reduced calorie diet creates stress on the body), the body secretes a hormone called cortisol. The primary function of cortisol is to convert amino acids found in the muscles into glucose (blood sugar) to give the body extra energy to overcome the stress.

In a way, this means more ‘sugar’ is produced by the body as a reaction to stress. When cortisol is chronically elevated it makes the body think it needs to store fat around the waist, so that it will have a source of easily accessible energy. High cortisol also makes you unable to make rational food choices, by activating the part of the brain that makes you crave pleasurable foods.

In short, restricting calories can ultimately make the body react in the same way it reacts to stress – by conserving energy stores as fat (the opposite of what you want to achieve) and causing you to crave more (probably sugary) comfort foods.

Time to Eat - Clock

Another hormone that is affected by a restricted calorie diet is insulin. In a healthy body, insulin behaves like a key that opens the door of the cell so that glucose can move from the blood, and be pushed into the cells where it is either burned or stored as fat. Insulin plays a primary role in managing body composition by mediating fat burning and energy levels and is thereby involved in the development of lean tissue.

When you don’t eat you experience ‘low blood glucose’. In reaction to this, adrenaline is released to elevate the blood sugar and keep you going. This leads to spikes in blood glucose and insulin, causing insulin resistance.

Constant spikes of insulin (also caused by the consumption of simple carbohydrates or sugars) can eventually result in insulin resistance. This occurs when your cells are less affected by insulin and the receptors don’t properly bind with insulin. In other words, the body is desensitized to insulin. Insulin then does not properly function as a key to the door of the cell, and the energy gets stored as body fat.

In conclusion, the bottom line is that restricting calories really doesn’t help your mental or physical health. Focus on the quality of your food and not the quantity, rather than reducing calorie intake to reduce body fat. Begin by consuming more calories to build up lean tissue and speed up the metabolism, and then restrict calories to better reduce body fat.

Here are a few more tips for optimizing your daily calorie intake:

  • Eat frequent meals 5-6 times a day.
  • Have ready to eat meals available.
  • Don’t wait until you are hungry to eat.
  • Add good clean fat.
  • Invest in a good protein powder.
  • Eat calorie dense foods.

By Paul Magnus

 


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