Calories are always equal, metabolisms are not

1600 calories of McDonald’s provides the exact same amount of energy as 1600 calories of kale.

In case you are not aware of what a calorie actually is, a calorie is the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water through 1 °C. Yeah, it’s a scientific measurement not something that is really open to interpretation.

A calorie does not change because you are obese, or young, or a man, or because you have curly hair or like to run every day. A calorie is a calorie no matter what.

Still Having Trouble? Let’s Try Visualizing Calories

You could go to McDonald’s and get the new Sweet BBQ Bacon with Buttermilk Crispy Chicken, large fries, and a large Coca-Cola.

810 calories (Sweet BBQ Bacon with Buttermilk Crispy Chicken) +

510 calories (large fries) +

290 calories (large Coca-Cola)

 = 1610 total Calories!!!


You could eat kale.

330 calories (10 cups of kale)

714 calories (6 tablespoons of olive oil)

480 calories (1 cup of blue cheese)

123 calories (1/3 cup dried cranberries)

= 1647 total calories

These two dishes provide almost the same amount of calories. The biggest difference is the amount of food each contains. For the kale salad, you would need to take in 10 cups of kale. If you have ever put away that much kale, then you know that eating that much will result in you have to making 4 or 5 trips to the bathroom in the next 24 hours. 10 cups of kale is a lot.

The volume of food from the salad is also probably more than most people can eat. The 1 cup of blue cheese alone is substantial, then top it off with about 4 bags of kale. I hope you are getting the scope of this in your mind.

If you are getting the picture, then you are seeing that the fast food item is what is called energy dense. These are foods that are high in fat and have a low water content. Diets with a low energy density, like the kale salad, can help people maintain a healthy body weight. By choosing the lower energy density option, you’ll get to eat a lot more food for the same number of calories.

There are other differences too. Last week I posted about how eating certain foods overwhelms our bodies causing them to skip the refuel, repair steps, and go straight into fat storage. Well, that is what is going on with the McDonald’s meal. The part that makes up the weight of the fast food since it isn’t water, but fat, sodium and sugars also completely overwhelms our metabolisms.

The energy dense content makeup of these fast foods is more than our bodies can handle. Our bodies do amazing things with good foods, but they kind of freak out when we indulge in junk foods. This freak-out and short circuit, doesn’t mean the calories are actually different, it means our metabolisms handles calorie surplus different depending on the nutrient profile. The calories are the same, if you only take in the amount of calories you need then you will not gain fat. If you have a calorie deficit, then you will always lose fat.

When our calorie needs are met, our bodies will store surplus fat much more effectively as fat stores than protein as fat stores. It’s not that both can’t be converted and stored, they can, just one makes it easier. That is because when our bodies are trying to make fat stores there is much more work going on to convert protein or fiber to fat than pure fat from our food.

Now the other part of this, which relates greatly to how our bodies handle the freak-out, is our metabolism.

We can both eat the McDonald’s and you gain 2 pounds of fat and I gain nothing. That is because our metabolisms can be very different. I am an athlete, I exercise every day vigorously, therefore, my metabolic rate is on the higher end because I expend so much energy. My metabolism burns about 2000 calories per day. Therefore I can eat that McDonald’s safely and as long as that’s my only meal of the day, I won’t gain any fat.

If I ate that, that would be my only meal of the day.

Someone else, on the other hand, may be a veteran couch potato, be 5’10” and average build. Their calorie needs might only be 1400. Yes, the surgeon general says ” the recommended daily calories for a male is…..blah blah…” but the surgeon general is meaning the average, ACTIVE male.

If I started holding down my couch tomorrow, watching tv, then my metabolism would slow down and my needs may also drop to 1400. Most humans have a similar metabolic rate given a similar active lifestyle. If you work out like I do, and eat the right amount of calories, you aren’t going to be obese with a super slow metabolism.

There are people who think that is possible but they are wrong and spreading false information. If your metabolism seems slower than others, it can be traced to attributes and lifestyle always.

Aside from lifestyle, your attributes like height and muscle mass directly influence the number of calories you need each day. This is the part that seems unfair sometimes. If you are 5 feet tall, and I am 6 feet tall, and we are proportionally the same in weight, do not expect to eat the same as me and not put on fat.

The taller you are and the more muscle you have, the more food you get to eat. Shorter and less muscular people have to be more careful about what they eat. Those meals at McDonald’s are not designed for small people, they really aren’t designed for anyone but giants. If you are below average in height, then you should plan on picking a lower calorie meal to stay within your caloric needs. If you don’t like eating that single meal at [insert fast food chain] being your only food intake of the day, then I would suggest you look harder at better foods. Energy-dense foods are bad for everyone in the first world, more so for people with lower caloric needs.

This can seem unfair I know but life’s unfair.


A Web Developer by trade, find me on Github
A motorcycle enthusiast at heart.
Most days I’d rather be in the woods anywhere.