The Active Calorie Diet
by Leslie Bonci
The calorie concept that so many of us live and diet by is grounded in a system developed back in the 19th century by American chemist Wilbur Olin Atwater. To determine how what we eat gives us energy, Atwater burned small samples of various foods in controlled conditions and measured the amount of energy released in the form of heat. Then he calculated the amount of energy that would be lost in undigested food parts (such as fiber) as well as in our waste products. The calorie counts he arrived at — and they are ballparks, not absolutes — have stood as gospel ever since.
Problem is, over the past 150 years, a lot has changed about how — and what — we eat. Before microwaves, white bread, and fast food, people ate mostly whole foods that they bought at the market or grew in their own backyards. When you eat foods that are close to their natural state — like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean cuts of meat — your body has to work to eat them. You need to work to chew them. You need to work to digest them. They create what scientists call a thermic response, which means that you burn calories just by processing them. Because whole foods are more difficult to digest and have more matter that is indigestible, your body doesn’t necessarily absorb all the calories from those foods, either. Not only does the process consume energy, but a high percentage of the food just passes through. It’s not so easy to get all the calories out of beans, broccoli, or brown rice. These are Active Calories.
In contrast, take a look at the french fries, bagels, pastries, pasta, chicken nuggets, burgers, pizza, and other processed foods that we love so much for their convenience. That fast-food chicken sandwich has gone through so much pulverization, you barely have to chew. The whole digestive process is being bypassed from the beginning, and we’re losing the ability to burn calories naturally. In short, it’s easy for our bodies to take in all the calories from an overcooked potato, a ground-up burger, a glass of juice, or a Boston cream doughnut. These are what I call Couch Potato Calories.
Think such small changes in our food supply couldn’t possible make such a big impact on our collective belly size? Think again. In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Japanese researchers surveyed 450 female students about their eating habits and then classified the food they ate according to how difficult it was to chew. Across the board, those who ate the foods that required the most work had significantly slimmer waistlines than those who at the softest, easiest-to-eat foods.
Animal studies are equally striking. In another study out of Japan, researchers fed one group of rats their usual hard pellets and served a similar group of rats pellets that had the same nutritional and calorie content but had been softened so that they were easier to chew. After just 5 ½ months, the rats that dined on the softened food had gained enough weight to be classified as obese and had higher levels of deep, dangerous belly fat, while the rats eating their normal chow had no such changes. Simply changing the texture of food is enough to trick your body into storing more belly-bloating fat. Many of the Active Calorie test panelists were shocked at how full they felt and for how long on the Active Calorie Diet. “I could polish off an entire box of Oreos or a big bag of chips and still be hungry, but I couldn’t even finish some of the breakfasts on this diet,” one of the panelists told me.
That’s just the beginning. As you’ll soon discover, there’s more to Active Calories than just texture. During my 20-plus years overhauling my clients’ diets, I’ve discovered a gold mine of Active Calories — all supported by solid scientific evidence, as well as many happy clients and pounds lost. In the Active Calorie Diet, I target four specific types of Active Calories — chewy, hearty, energizing, and warming (CHEW for short) — that will help you lose weight simply by eating! That’s right. You’ll learn about dozens of foods that will not only stimulate your body to burn more energy but also blunt your appetite to slow down the flow of calories.
Your meals will elevate your resting energy expenditure (that’s your metabolism), so your fat-burning engines will be set on high all day long. What you eat will even boost the number of calories you burn when you work out. One British study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that when women ate a breakfast rich in fiber-rich “hearty” Active Calories, they burned twice as much fat during a 60-minute walk later that morning than when they started the day with Couch Potato Calories. Why is that? Because Couch Potato Calories sail from your belly to your bloodstream in the blink of an eye, spiking your blood sugar, which your body then burns when you walk or exercise. Hearty calories are digested more slowly, so your body has to pull energy from your fat stores as well.
What else will Active Calories do for you? How about lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and even some types of cancer? How? By making your body work the way it was meant to work. When your digestive system is fully engaged with the proper flow of food, your blood sugar remains level and controlled; you’re less likely to overeat; and, as mentioned earlier, you increase your body’s ability to burn fat — especially the deep abdominal fat that smothers your heart and other internal organs, driving up your blood pressure as well as your triglyceride and cholesterol levels.
Finally, by filling up on Active Calories, you’re effectively cutting the number of calories your body will store because you’re burning more and absorbing fewer than you would if you ate the same number of Couch Potato Calories. Protein-rich foods make your body work so hard to digest them that you burn about 20 percent of the calories from those foods just by processing them. Warming foods like hot peppers can raise your metabolic rate five percent. As you’ll soon see, even certain carbs can crank up your calorie burn.
But don’t just take my — or other scientists’ — word for it. Take it from Suzanne Coglio, 48, who lost 12 pounds in just one month of eating a diet chock-full of Active Calories. “I love that this diet is grounded in real food. We weren’t forced to eat bland foods like cottage cheese or to be so restricted that there’s nothing you really want to eat,” she says. “There are so many foods and combinations of foods in this plan that I would never have thought to try. It’s been terrific. Now, instead of dreading eating, like I do on so many diets, I look forward to it. I’ve been very surprised by just how good good-for-you foods could be! Ant they’re all real, flexible food choices you can live with. I love it.”
The best part: Not only is the food delicious, easy to prepare, and good for you, but it will also make you feel good. You’ll have more, longer-lasting energy and fewer blood sugar spikes and crashes. In addition, the meals you eat will leave you happy, full, and satisfied instead of rummaging through the kitchen cabinets 30 minutes later.
Leslie Bonci, UPMC Center for Sports Medicine, 3200 S. Water St., South Side. 412.432.3674. sportsmedicine.upmc.com.