When Is A Calorie Not A Calorie?

When it’s in a carbonated soft drink.

My cousin read an article on aspartame that really scared her – scared her off her Diet Cokes, even.  She switched to drinking one regular Coke a day and maybe one regular Dr. Pepper.  Her activity level remained the same and she carefully remained within her 1300 daily calorie budget.  In a month, she gained five pounds and felt like a can of exploded biscuits.

A soft drink bottle filled with sugar cubesI’ve talked about calorie budgets and how I lost weight by staying within the one recommended to me by LoseIt.com.  There’s more to it than that.  I changed what I ate – more veggies, less starch, nothing processed.  I did not eat my 1500 daily calories in the form of three candy bars,

Why? Because the body processes calories differently according to their origins.

While I talk in terms of budgets, calories aren’t pennies, they don’t all spend the same way.  A calorie is the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius. (My chemist mother would be so proud right now.) What we refer to as a calorie in dietary terms is actually a kilocalorie, or a large calorie.  It is the amount of energy required to raise a kilogram of water one degree Celsius. In terms of water, a calorie really is a calorie.  In terms of food, a sugar calorie is a whole different kettle of fish than a, um, fish calorie.

Massive oversimplification warning!!  Your metabolism is the process that breaks down all of the energy you take in (food) and converts it to energy you store (fat) or into energy you use (beast-mode lifting or just breathing). Your metabolism has to work harder on some foods to break them down. Fish is harder to break down than the liquid sugar in soft drinks; so, your body is going to actually use energy to metabolize the fish while the cola is pretty much going straight to your butt.

Let’s say in this 1300 calorie budget, it takes 1200 calories to maintain basic life functions (which is pretty close to accurate for women), the surplus 100 must be burned or they get stored.  Let’s say that those extra 100 are from protein and that your body uses five calories to break them down (that’s not an accurate number, just an illustration).  You burn 95 of them on a walk but you actually burn all 100 of them because of the metabolic burn.  Now, let’s say that those 100 calories came from a soft drink, but that your body needs only one calorie to break them down.  You burn the same 95 on your walk, but you burn only one extra because the sugar was so easily accessed. You now took in four more calories than you burned.

Ingesting 3500 surplus calories equals one pound of fat gained. Even at a rate of four a day, if you continually take in more calories than you burn, eventually, you will gain weight.  Small deficits or surpluses add up. Ounces make pounds – in both directions.

As Jeanna found out, it can take only a month for those ounces of soda to add up to five pounds.


3 thoughts on “When Is A Calorie Not A Calorie?”

    1. Hahahahaha! Thanks, Peggy! As I said, the process is way more complicated than I’ve outlined, but that really is what it boils down to – how easy is it for our bodies to release the energy? If it’s really easy, then more energy is available to be stored. If it’s difficult, more energy is used up in the actual process.

      Thanks for continuing to read and give your support!

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