A Weighty Issue: Is a Calorie just a Calorie?

Newsweek published a story this week about a new HBO documentary called “The Weight of the Nation.” The article questions the public health advice we have heard for years about making sure that calories expended are higher than calories consumed in order to stave off weight gain. Gary Taubes, who wrote the Newsweek article, makes the point that not all calories are created equal, and argues that few people in the general public understand this fact.

While I would dispute the assertion that people working to address obesity believe that all calories are the same, I completely agree with the notion that we should be educating people more on the different types of calories in different foods.

While a candy bar may have the same calories as a turkey sandwich with cheese, lettuce and tomato on whole grain bread with an apple, we all recognize that there is a significant difference in the energy that these two food choices will provide and thus, to the number of calories a person will need to eat later to fulfill their hunger.

Several years ago, I came to the realization that my body is changing as I age and that I am no longer able to eat anything I please without gaining weight like I could in my childhood. I started to pay more attention to what I ate and learned about the value of protein and fiber in keeping full with fewer calories and the importance of portion sizes.

Portion sizes are complicated for a person like me who loves food. But once I started better understanding calorie counts, fiber and protein, I learned to make tradeoffs in order to allow myself to indulge occasionally in some of the less-nutritionally impressive foods that I really love, like mashed potatoes or strawberry shortcake.

I did lose weight, but I feel that was because I found a way to educate myself about the value of different calories and came to understand that exercise simply does not enable me to eat more – or at least not as much as I wish it did. This was the beginning of what will likely be a life-long journey for me to try and develop a different, healthier, more educated relationship with the foods I eat.

I think that every child should learn these things in school – not as a way to try to make children worry about their weight, but rather as a way to educate our kids about the things that make them smarter and faster and more energetic.

What do you think? Do your kids learn about healthy eating in school? Did you learn about these things when you were in school?  Do you have any resources to offer for people who are just starting to educate themselves on these issues? How do you think public health professionals and the medical community could encourage more people to learn about the wide variety of tools to help manage weight? Do you see a role that the food industry could play in promoting healthy eating? Do you think that the current initiatives to try to curb obesity in the United States are on track or do you have ideas about other ways that they could move the dime on this issue?

I would love to hear your thoughts. And thank you for reading!

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Filed under Fitness, Health, Policy, social pressures, Women

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