Tuesday, May 15, 2012
You can’t see calories. You can’t hear them. You can’t even taste them. Even if you had a high-power microscope, you couldn’t identify the calories in a sample of food. That’s because a calorie isn’t a “thing.” It’s a measurement, like an inch or an ounce or a mile. A calorie measures the amount of energy produced when your body metabolizes foods — or more accurately, the macronutrients in foods.

When a certain type of food contains a certain amount of calories, what that really means is that as soon as your body metabolizes a certain amount of food, that food can provide a certain amount of energy. How many calories are in a particular food depends on how much carbohydrate, fat, or protein the food contains. (You can find the calorie content of these individual macronutrients in Chapter 3.)

If the number of calories you consume equals the number of calories you burn, you’ll maintain your current weight. If you consume more calories than your body uses on a regular basis, you gain weight and store those extra calories as fat. I’m sorry, but you can’t avoid it. If you consume fewer calories than your body burns on a regular basis, you lose weight. There’s no other way.

To lose weight and keep it off, you have to find your own individual balance between the calories you consume and the calories you burn. Exercise does boost your metabolism so that you burn calories more efficiently. The more you exercise, the more calories you’ll burn. Even when you increase your exercise, however, you only lose weight if you’re consuming fewer calories than your body needs to fuel all that additional activity. It’s that simple. If your exercise routine is very intense, you may find yourself ravenous after your workouts and, as a result, consuming too many extra calories to lose weight. The solution is to keep an eye on your total daily calorie intake and be sure to factor in some snack calories every day. That way, if your exercise routine leaves you hungry, you can use your snack calories to tide you over until it’s time to eat a regular meal.

As you age, your metabolism starts slowing down and the rate at which you burn calories drops by about 2 percent every ten years. If you’re still consuming the same number of calories at age 40 that you did at age 20, and you’re not exercising more, you can easily start putting on 10 or more pounds a year.

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