“No, we’re not eating lunch.” My friend Janet said. “We’re having hot fudge sundaes for dinner, remember?”
“What does that have to do with lunch?” I asked.
My stomach was hungry and I was getting a little shaky. We’d been water skiing all morning and I was ready to eat.
“A hot fudge sundae has a lot of calories,” Janet reminded me, “so if we don’t eat lunch we’ll stay within our calorie limit for the day.”
“Oh” was all I managed to say.
I didn’t get it. But Janet was the smart one in our teenage duo. We had become friends in ninth grade when I was put into an accelerated algebra class without ever knowing algebra and as Winnie the Pooh says, “that’s a long story and even longer when I tell it,” so I’ll spare you the details. Suffice it to say, because Janet was thin and I was not, I looked up to her and her theory on how to be thin.
I tried to follow Janet’s advice on calorie restriction for many years, but it was hard. Often I’d opt to have lunch, dinner, and dessert especially in college where food was a dependable friend. But always in the back of my head, I remembered Janet’s admonishment of eating too many calories.
I can’t blame my world of calorie restriction solely on Janet though. It’s something we were all taught and still are. Many people, and women especially, watch their weight by counting calories. But here’s an interesting fact. Calories really don’t mean much.
When I learned that calories are defined by taking an item of food and, using a Bunsen burner, measuring the amount of energy used to take that food from solid to ash, I was surprised – to say the least.
I’m not a Bunsen burner I thought. And that’s the point. Calorie burning in a controlled environment is nothing like calories eaten by a human.
Because each of us has a different relationship with food, when we eat, the energy of the food can do any variety of things along with being used to keep our organs functioning and our brains working. As an example, food will function differently in a person who is stressed versus a person who is on vacation and relaxing. We’re each different and our bodies are different and as a result, each body burns calories differently. Even different kinds of foods will function differently in our bodies.
Knowing what I know now, if I were to go back 55 years to that summer with Janet, I would tell her that I could have my lunch and a hot fudge sundae (and dinner) too. My body needed to eat and restricting calories made no sense.
Having a hot fudge sundae and lunch would have made that perfect summer day even more perfect.