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Why Calories Don’t Count – They Can’t Make You Slim, But Really Sick
Everyone matters – and no one knows why, or even what they’re counting. Interestingly enough, a unit of measurement that hangs over every ingredient label is a virtual number that has positioned itself as the standard for expressing how much food we should be eating. Its origin is somewhat obscure as well as why we use it. The concept was first defined by the French professor Nicolas Clement in 1824 as a unit of heat. Apparently, the calorie as a nutritional unit was brought to America by a man named Wilbur Atwater in 1887 and soon after popularized by author Lulu Hunt Peters in her bestseller, Diet and Health, with the key to calories, Peters outlined portions from 100 calories of many food items and before advocated calorie counting as a way to manage weight. The amount of food energy in a particular food can be measured by burning the food in a machine, called a “bomb calorimeter”, so the amount of ash and heat indicates how much “energy” was released and therefore how much “energy” there was in the food. The idea caught on, and people started counting calories—that is, calculating exactly how many calories were consumed when eating particular foods, or “burned” during different activities.
In the meantime it has been thought and accepted as a normative measure that an adult person needs about 2,500 Calories – or rather kcal (kilo-Calories) per day. The common idea is that if we reduce our calorie intake, we will lose weight. In our postmodern digital age, this method of counting is an undisputed convenience – with only one problem: as anyone who has been trying to lose weight will attest: it doesn’t work! Surely, as countless studies have shown, a reduced caloric intake leads to a longer life expectancy. But we don’t need calorie numbers, just common sense not to eat when we’re not hungry.
Well, why then do we obsessively rely on calories? Because it makes money, lots of money! Just consider how calories are leveraged commercially: low fat, fat free, low sugar, sugar free, diet sodas, NutraSweet, Equal, Splenda, Neotame, Ace-K, Saccharin and a plethora of other products thrive in the market on low or zero calorie pitches. However, despite the overuse and abuse, denigrating food as a source of life in calories hasn’t worked, as evidenced by obesity statistics. Counting calories as normative numbers is much easier than actually understanding the complex effects food has on our body and weight balance. Food activates many hormones in the body for various functions: some store fat; others release sugar; others help build muscle. Studies consistently show that diets based on the same amount of calories, but different proportions of fat, protein and carbohydrates, result in incomparable amounts of weight loss. However, the calorie myth is being exploited by the industry and consumers continue to count numbers that never match, rather than pondering how food is designed to fill their hearts with joy!
Clearly, food is not calories! Yes, whatever we stuff our stomachs to prevent that bad feeling of having to eat is quantifiable and the unit of measurement is the Calorie; but some calories make us lazy and sleepy, while others invigorate our minds and make us energetic and creative. Some calories create a sense of fullness and bring to mind the problems we are facing, while others fill our hearts and fill them with gratitude.
Deep in our hearts, we know that the same given number of calories – contained in meals – can create a wide range of different effects. We may also be aware that those meals that leave us feeling fatigued after eating make us sick and grumpy over time, while with others we can enjoy sustained vitality as we find ourselves in a good mood.
We’ve been tricked into believing the myths and failed to fix the calorie paradigm – why? Because calories fuel a billion-dollar industry, so why abandon the goose that lays the golden egg? When the concepts of calories were first introduced a century ago, the human knowledge base was very different from today. It was known that health is determined at the table and that we should sit down and eat slowly, chewing food well and following a balanced diet. The food has not been pasteurized or irradiated; it has been preserved by fermentation and other natural methods. People knew what and how to eat healthy from what they learned from their parents over the generations. There was no method to objectively measure the nutritional value of food, nor was there a need for it before the mass industrialization that brought us processed convenience foods.
Meanwhile, despite the obsession with calorie counting, we are getting sicker and fatter on the verge of bankruptcy in the health care system. Doesn’t this imply that calorie feeding is a futile task? So what’s the illusion? When crunching the calorie numbers, we focus on highly processed foods with most of the essential nutrients removed and synthetics added; natural food can do without calorie nutrition labels, as it has since the time of Adam and Eve. Furthermore, the numbers in labeled foods are arbitrary at best, trying to meet regulatory standards, which have been politically influenced in the first place. So we should be aware that we don’t actually know much about the actual health ramification of any set of numbers, let alone the accumulation of a variety of label values. For example, if we cut out fat because we want to reduce our calorie intake, we are unable to absorb fat-soluble nutrients and digest food well, and instead of losing weight, we may actually gain weight – this in addition to the fact that the food has lost its charm and tastes bland. Furthermore, it must be considered that the labels refer to what is in the package, but not to what arrives on the table, which could be a completely different food, altered by cooking. Cooked food is still a digestive challenge, however, because the heat during cooking destroys the enzymes that were in that food in its natural state in order to make it digestible.
When we eat raw foods like salad, fruits and nuts, we digest them easily, but what about cooked, roasted and grilled foods? Nature has engineered these amazing aromas to dissipate only from heated food to activate saliva, which releases digestive enzymes as you chew. In fact, chewing saturates food with enzymes that convert starches into maltose, so digestion begins right in the mouth. Therefore, the scents that emanate from cooking and baking are by no means a coincidence; rather, it’s a really clever design to keep us healthy, even when we’re eating suboptimally. Here’s another compelling reason to avoid processed fast food that doesn’t smell conducive to making our mouths water: It’s essentially a pile of dead calories. Eating too fast without moistening food properly means that undigested food reaches the small intestine and forces the pancreas to produce all the enzymes to turn starches into sugar.
The human species was designed to eat solid foods in bite-sized portions and shake them around before swallowing. This is how we differ from the feeding habits of sharks and snakes. It also seems that God intended us to eat slowly and mindfully so that our digestion can function optimally and the body can absorb all the nutrients contained in the food, to fill our hearts with joy.
It is interesting to observe how everything from the choice of food to the presentation, the environment and the circumstances in which we eat are all highly interdependent. The more food is cooked to be really soft and easy to swallow, the more conducive it is to being eaten without proper chewing. Fast food is usually served in high-turnover establishments, where everything is designed for a quick turnaround, so patrons instinctively agree by eating very quickly, usually taking the next bite before swallowing the first. It follows that digestion does not function properly under such stressful circumstances and nutrients – if any – cannot be derived, and as a result overweight people are a common sight in fast food restaurants, including children.
Then there is the almost forgotten aspect of thoughts and emotions. Most people are not taught that they can exercise healthy control over their thoughts or emotions, and are instead controlled by them. What is the link between digestion and stress? The gastrointestinal tract is a huge body of nervous tissue that lines the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and colon. It makes sense, then, that emotions play a huge role in digestive health. In reality, emotions condition digestion already in the mouth; the salivary glands are easily exposed to imbalance, while fear and great pain result in a dry mouth, so that we have difficulty swallowing. Disease processes affect the tongue, which has a profound effect on the digestion of starchy foods. In turn, positive, pleasurable emotions encourage salivary digestion and long-term health and vitality!
Why do we see TVs in sports bars and fast food restaurants, but not in upscale restaurants? Is there a connection between rampant obesity in America and the way calories are ingested? Does Americans’ poor health and addiction to prescription drugs have anything to do with the way meals are eaten? The Japanese, who outlive Americans by many years, generally remain healthy into old age and are of normal weight, eating meals made up of many very small portions, where decoration and presentation matter as much as the food itself. Even “bento’s”, packaged foods to be eaten on the train or in the office, are well wrapped as birthday presents. Nobody counts calories. The French created “nouvelle cuisine” in the early 1970s. It has become an immensely popular restaurant concept in Europe and features a wide variety of fresh foods, served in many small portions, each arranged like a work of art. It engages all the senses, like Japanese food, and everything about it fills hearts with joy before it fills stomachs. Calorie counting is completely redundant, as meals are spread out over a long period, giving your stomach ample time to signal to your brain when it’s full, so overeating isn’t a problem. In America we refer to the “French paradox,” which is our failure to understand that the French can eat fatty foods without getting fat, by how they eat, not by what they eat.
Could it be that diverting our attention away from calories to the true meaning of food could help restore a healthy America?
Calorie confusion is nothing new, finds the professor., Science Daily; November 20, 2006.
“IN FOODTURE WE TRUST, nourishment for the body and soul in times of difficulty”; Heinz R. Gisel; Xulon print; March 2009. ISBN 978-1607912651
“Human Saliva Enzymes; I. The Determination, Distribution, and Origin of Whole Saliva Enzymes”; Howard H. Chauncey, Fabian Lionetti, Richard A. Winer and Vincent F. Lisanti; Dental Research Journal, Research J Dent 33(3): 321-334, 1954
Related reading: http://www.vitalityconcepts.com/
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