EAT: Calories are Calories, But Achieving Acceptable Outcomes Is What Really Matters

Photo by: jujuly25

Diet is an endless source of controversy.  That’s what happens when culture, science, and personal preference collide.  One of the schisms in the Church of Eating Right involves whether to focus primarily on calories consumed (this group musters behind  the catch phrase: calories are calories) or whether to focus primarily on the impact foods have on personal performance.  Of course, both points are valid, so let’s develop this discussion a little bit more.

Nobody eats as much as CastleGrok.  He is also the consummate experimenter and chronicler of the effects of food choices on his athletic performance.  Based on the results of his experiments with different foods, he tweaks his diet for better performance as an endurance athlete.

On the other hand, the AthleteCreator tweets: Whoa! You mean all I have to do is stay within my weekly caloric guidelines for my goal and I can eat donuts?  Yup, as long as you eat sufficient protein and account for those calories in your overall total as well.  Brilliant!  He goes on to ask the question:  What’s the difference between 500 excess calories from a donut and 500 calories from chicken and veggies?

The AthleteCreator is correct.  There is no difference between calories.  Calories are just a unit of measurement.  500 calories = 500 calories.

But, CastleGrok is also right to be concerned with how particular foods impact individual performance.  Even from a mechanistic point of view, the type of fuel that you put in the tank will impact your engine’s performance.  Of course, the Athlete Creator is being provocative, he eats nutrient dense foods most of the time.  Just as he would not put 31,000 calories of diesel fuel into his Honda Civic, he is not advocating a junk food diet.  He knows that quality food is necessary for quality performance.  Similarly, with his high levels of calorie burning, CastleGrok could substitute a donut for some of his bananas or raw cauliflower and not expect to gain weight.

For both CastleGrok and the AthleteCreator, the goal is to achieve an acceptable outcome.  How you define an acceptable outcome depends on your individual interests.  If your primary interest is maximizing performance as an endurance athlete, then substituting low nutrient donuts for high nutrient kale likely won’t help.  If your primary interest is cutting weight (or maintaining a certain weight), but you find that a life without the occasional donut is not worth living, then you will have to balance these competing interests to reach an acceptable outcome.  As the AthleteCreator points out, you can enjoy your donut, as long as you don’t exceed your established weekly caloric guidelines (for more on this point, you should read the article 4 Ways To Ruin Your Caloric Deficit at JCD Fitness).

In either case, once you have defined an acceptable outcome, you can experiment with different methods that serve your interests and tweak these methods through self-experimentation.  Try different approaches to see whether they take you closer or further from where you want to be. Use only that which works, and take it from any place you can find it.  -Bruce Lee



EAT: The Underground Guide to Eating Right

EAT: Consult Your Biological Clock to Optimize the Effectiveness of Vitamin and Mineral Supplements

EAT: Do Nutrition Labels Increase Food Cravings


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6 responses to “EAT: Calories are Calories, But Achieving Acceptable Outcomes Is What Really Matters

  1. Adam,

    How dare you spoil my fun be outing me as eating clean *most* of the time! Hahahaha!!

    Kidding. If my computer hadn’t crashed, I planned on divulging my “secrets” earlier this week. Of course, you put it in much more eloquent terms. 😉

    • Sorry about that, but you were having too much fun stirring the pot on twitter. Thanks for the compliment and enjoy your weekend (whether there are donuts involved or not).

  2. Thanks for the mention. The piece by Bruce Lee is one of my favorite quotes of all time.

  3. Thanks for the add 🙂

    I have a mug that says “I never met a calorie I didn’t like.” Thats 100% the truth taste wise, but I have demonized types as your article points out. Doing so brought me back from the dead, which I blame a lot on my atrocious appetite.

    I’ve been highly fruit based lately. Sometimes sitting down to 1,000 carbs. Although my joints & arthritis haven’t felt inflamed like the old sugar days, the sugar does makes them ache, even if it comes from real food. Not quite as bad as a good healthy dose of tomato paste or sauce though 😉

    30 bananas the last two days. Not as many as DurianRider, but I’m eating a hell of a lot of other stuff too. Money in my wallet has been spontaneously combusting as a vegetarian. My stomach is very efficient at squeezing/pissing out the water in the plants almost immediately, keeping me in a constant state of consumption. The cheap bulk juicing carrots keep me out of poverty Ha-ha.

    I lived practically free eating paleo. Remember #SurvivalMonths? Oct-Dec I didn’t buy groceries.

    • stoffainkorea

      For some reason, the part of this comment that stuck with me is appetite. After laying off refined carbohydrates for a while, I noticed how I felt full after a meal. Whereas, I have cleared plates of pasta and felt like I could still eat more.

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