A long, long time ago, in the dim ages, calorie counting was pretty much the only way people dieted. Weight Watchers, the premier (and back then pretty much the only) group for losing weight, used mainly calorie counting for its member diet plans. And this wasn’t necessarily a terrible thing. Junk food was fairly new (OK, yeah, the ’40s was when McDonald’s and others began, but it wasn’t until the early ’70s that fast food became a sad staple of the American diet). So most people were eating what we call nutritional calories.

But more to the point, technically speaking, calories are the reason you gain or lose weight.

There’s a great online book to read on the web, called The Hacker’s Diet. It’s free.

You can find the book online at https://www.fourmilab.ch/hackdiet/.It basically describes your body as a bag of water. If you eat more calories than you use each day, the bag expands. If you eat fewer calories than you burn in a day, the bag shrinks. So, all you need to do to lose weight is to restrict your calories.

In reality, it’s not as simple as that, as the book recognizes with its subtitle, How to lose weight and hair through stress and poor nutrition. One of the biggest mistakes people make when thinking about diets is thinking too simply about nutrition and digestion. Put clearly, you are not what you eat. Not literally. You don’t get fat from eating fat. You don’t get cholesterol in your arteries from eating cholesterol. Your body is a more complex system than that.

The first inkling I got about this was when Robert Atkins original Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution Book made the point that if eating fat made you fat, then why did babies put on weight from drinking apple juice, which has no fat?

So…in the end, you need to recognize that out bodies are complex systems that take the food we eat and change them in many ways to fuel our bodies. In future posts, I’ll go into exactly what this means, but there are two lessons I learned here. 

First, no matter what diet you use, calories are a major factor of success. Too many kill your diet, but too few can hurt your plan, too (more in another post on this).

Second, all calories are not the same. The calories you eat need to be nutritious calories. To see what happens when the calories you eat are not nutritious, check out this CNN story about the boy who went blind eating nutritionally empty calories.

And come back for more posts that get into what diets are and what they really should be.