Every diet, every nutritionist, and every organism follows three universal principles:
- The number of calories you eat determine your body weight.
- The macronutrients you eat determine your body composition.
- The quality of the foods you eat determine your health.
The Number of Calories You Eat Determine Your Body Weight.
I’ve dived deep into years and years of nutrition science research and have yet to find where this isn’t true. All academic research studies wherein calories are completely controlled for (not self-reported), end with the same result: the fewer the calories, the more the weight loss.
Counting calories is far removed from the day-to-day life of Americans. Have you ever done it? For how many days were you consistent? Did you count everything accurately, including that tiny corner ripped off from a cookie?
Every time I count calories, I lose body weight. Every time.
But recognize that you don’t have to count calories to have success. There’s just a direct correlation between weight-loss (or weight-gain) and calories consumed.
The Macronutrients You Eat Determine Your Body Composition.
Not all calories are created equal. For example, 2,000 calories of fat (222g fat) have a different effect than 2,000 calories of protein (500g protein).
Your body needs different amounts of macronutrients based on genetics, activity, existing body composition, goals, past meals, and other factors. For example, if you want to gain muscle and haven’t eaten all day – the protein calories in your next meal are important.
So while the quantity of food can be measured in calories or macronutrients, knowing the macronutrient distribution of the calories gives you a more granular understanding of fat (versus weight) loss, and performance.
This also explains why you might see a difference in diet approaches when macronutrient ratios shift. Not all calories are created equal!
The Quality of the Foods You Eat Determine Your Health.
What scientists have found in the blue-zones of the world (areas with little chronic disease or with many centenarians) is that they eat a lot of whole, unprocessed foods.
It’s not surprising to recognize that we need essential vitamins and minerals for our mind and body to remain healthy. Eating meats, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fruit will lead to a healthy, long life regardless of caloric and macronutrient intake.
But the other reason quality is so important is that when you focus on quality foods–quantity tends to fall in line.
The low caloric density and filling nature of whole foods can be one explanation. You fill up on a lower caloric cost than when compared to filling up on chips, ice cream, and bread.
The quantity of food you eat is reflected in your appearance while the quality of that food you eat is reflected in your health.
Here’s the caveat: quantity also affects your health regardless of quality. Losing excess weight, even if just by eating fewer donuts, results in health improvements.
So which is more important: quantity or quality?
In application, our nutrition coaches lean towards quality. But in terms of physiology, both are important!
Remember, multiple things can be important and true at once.