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Experience Successful Weight Loss by Understanding Common Myths about Calories

written by: Melanie Greenwood • edited by: Donna Cosmato • updated: 6/3/2010

There are a lot of myths about calories out there. Learn how to achieve successful weight loss by understanding the truth about calories.

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    All About Calories

    Calorie-talk seems to be everywhere. As more and more people become weight and health-conscious, restaurants are beginning to offer “lower-calorie” meals, and “100-calorie” snacks are showing up on grocery store shelves.

    However, there are a lot of myths about calories floating around out there. Read on to learn what calories are, and why three common myths about calories aren't true.

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    What are Calories Anyway?

    Successful weight loss requires an understanding of calories. All reputable health professionals agree that healthy, sustainable weight loss occurs only when a person uses more calories than he or she consumes. But there is a lot of confusion about what calories actually are.

    Calories are a measurement of energy. A higher-calorie food provides more energy to the body than a lower-calorie food will. There is no relationship between calories and nutrition (some high-calorie foods are nourishing, such as nuts, and some are not, such as sugary soda). No matter what foods a person eats, if the energy (calories) the food provides is not used, it will be stored as fat.

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    Calorie Myth # 1: Some Products Can Make You Burn Calories Without Doing Anything

    It is true that a person's body uses calories even when the person is sitting on the couch watching TV. The body requires a certain number of calories to sustain life and keep organs functioning. The amount of calories used simply by existing is called the basal metabolic rate (Redmond, 2009).

    Despite advertisements to the contrary, the only way to raise basal metabolic rate is to gain lean muscle mass and reduce fat. That requires the two things those looking for successful weight loss via “miracle weight-loss products” don't want to do: exercise and eat healthy, lower-calorie foods.

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    Calorie Myth # 2: To Lose Weight, Eat Lots of “Negative-Calorie Foods.”

    The idea behind the concept of “calorie-negative foods” is that certain foods, such as broccoli, celery, and cabbage, take more energy to digest than they provide to the body, thus eating them results in a net calorie loss.

    Dr. Donald Hensrud, of the venerable Mayo Clinic, believes that while is it theoretically possible for a hard-to-digest foods to produce a net calorie loss, no reputable scientific study has shown that "negative-calorie foods" actually help weight loss. (2010). There is nothing wrong with adding brocoli, celery and cabbage to one's meals. These foods are healthy. However, restricting one's diet to only “negative-calorie foods” eliminates many essential nutrients and could result in malnutrition (Hensrud, 2010).

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    Calorie Myth # 3: Fewer Calories are Burned at Night Than During the Day

    Many people believe that they shouldn't eat at night, because calories consumed then won't be burned the same way that calories are burned during the day. This isn't true. The body burns calories the same way regardless of what time it is (Redmond, 2009).

    The real reason nighttime eating is a problem is that most people have met their basic calorie needs for the entire day by the time they finish eating dinner (Redmond, 2010). Any evening snacking results in excess calorie consumption and therefore, weight gain.

    Eliminating evening snacking can help weight loss efforts, but so can reducing calorie consumption during the day, so that there's “room” for a bedtime snack. Either method is fine as long as it works. For more information on nutritious snacks, read "How to Make Healthy Popcorn with Little or no Fat."

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    Further Reading

    Ready to take control of calories and experience successful weight loss? Check out these websites:, and, or read "Experience Successful Weight Loss by Overcoming Destructive Mindsets," or "Smoothie Recipes for Weight Loss."

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    Hensrud, D. (MD). (2010, 19 Jan). Negative calorie foods: Diet gimmick or weight-loss aid? Mayo Clinic. Retrieved 31 May, 2010 from

    Redmond, C. (2009, Sept). The Truth About Calories. Body + Soul, 26, 90-95.

    TLC Staff. (n.d). What are calories? How are they measured in food? The Learning Channel. Retrieved 31 May, 2010 from