Monday, March 26, 2012

That Little, Bitty Thing

You can’t see them. You can’t hear them. You can’t touch them or taste them. But you can count them and cut them. It’s not a riddle. We’re talking about calories, and we are obsessed with them.

We all know we need enough calories to support our basic needs, but not so many calories that we exceed those needs. And, yet  more than 64 percent of us exceed those needs on a regular basis, regular enough that it’s resulted in an obesity epidemic, with chronic illness and type 2 diabetes mushrooming out of control.  One-third of all children consume too many calories on a daily basis, and as a result are overweight or obese.  Those pesky excess calories are everywhere—convenience stores, gas stations, pharmacies, bookstores, electronics stores, garden centers, department stores. Grocery stores offer free food samples, and of course you can expect a lot of calories from the food court at most malls.

Not only is food everywhere, including places it doesn’t really need to be, but there’s so much of it. This is where portion size meets calorie intake. Meals are super-sized, sodas come in 64-oz “Big Gulp” sizes, and those personal pizzas can house a day’s calories. Restaurant portions generally provide enough food—and calories to constitute a meal for two—or more.

If you’re one of the 45 million Americans counting calories, you need to also consider where those calories come from, and what they do once they’re on their way down your throat. While it’s important to be mindful of the calories taken in, it’s also important to be mindful of how those calories are stored and burned. Those 100 calories from the fun-size candy bar aren’t going to provide the nutrition you’ll get from a handful of almonds or walnuts, or an apple or a banana with 100 calories—but they will be stored as fat.  (And, don’t you appreciate how using the word fun-size makes it seem more OK to eat than if it said junk-size?)

The majority of us underestimate how much we eat, and how many calories we consume. But, if we’re mindful, we might be in for a big surprise, one that might provide the motivation to think first about the nutritional choices we make, and how those choices will ultimately influence our overall health and general well-being.

And if you’re wondering what a calorie really is, it’s a measure of energy, just as a volt is a measure of electricity, a pound is a measure of weight and a mile is a measure of distance. Technically a calorie indicates how much energy it takes to change the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius. (This would make more sense maybe if your body was made of ice, but, it’s not, and this is the definition.)

Now, are you ready to take on the “energy” of something you can’t even see, touch or taste? What do you have to lose?

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