Limbo members don't count calories for the simple reason that the human body doesn’t count calories. It understands energy in the form of glucose. That's part of the secret behind their incredible weight loss successes.
Counting calories sounds simple; eat less than you use and you’ll lose weight. But a calorie is something that is measured in a laboratory - the human body doesn't understand or count calories – it measures energy in the form of blood glucose. For effective, long-term weight loss we need to forget about calories, see what our bodies see, and begin to balance our overall energy system instead.
What is a calorie?
In a laboratory, under certain conditions, a calorie is the amount of energy it takes to heat 1g of water from 0°C to 1°C. The food industry used to work this out by taking a sample of the food and literally burning it in a device called a bomb calorimeter, noting the temperature of water after the sample was completely burnt.
Nowadays, calorie information shown on food packages is estimated using something called the Atwater system, which itself uses average values for the energy content of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates.
What do we mean by energy?
Although energy can be measured by calories, a calorie’s worth of energy doesn’t exist until we’ve broken down the food - chewed it, swallowed it, mashed it in our stomachs, released it into the small intestine (the process of digestion). Only then does it become energy that our bodies can use. One person's body may be more or less efficient at this process than another's.
And your body doesn’t count calories, it understands energy in the form of glucose.
What about calories on food labels?
When it comes to food labels, the calories are an estimate of the amount of energy that could, potentially, be released when you’ve eaten and digested the food. But there’s the problem, our stomach and the rest of our digestive system does not live in a lab.
The process of breaking down food into something our bodies can use is complex, constantly adapting and responding to everything else that is going on in our bodies at the same time. That includes a huge range of factors, including but not limited to; our genetics, our history, whether we slept well, are fighting infection or just exercised, our stress levels, are we eating at our desk or with friends, and what else we've eaten.
Our bodies are in a permanent state of flux and, therefore, require individualised, and adapting management of their energy system and nutrition.
For example, car manufacturers tell us how many miles per gallon of fuel our car will travel. But we know that if we are just driving around town, stopping and starting and going short distances we will get fewer miles for our money. Calories are the same. The environment in which we break down the food to get the calories out is always changing, affecting the amount of energy we get.
And finally, the energy values in the constituent components were measured in controlled laboratory conditions. This introduces a fair amount of error. If you throw into the mix the simple fact that none of us are walking, talking laboratories then it's easy to understand why calorie counting doesn't add up.
But surely calorie restriction works?
Yes - restricting the number of calories that enter your body is likely to lead to weight loss. You could live off 1,500 calories of cake every day and lose weight. But you would also be hungry, tired, and severely lacking in essential nutrients.
There is a better way
Our bodies measure energy in the form of glucose, which it transports around the body in our blood. With recent advances in technology and the development of continuous glucose monitors (CGM), such as those used by Limbo, we can now see what our bodies see.
When combined with an app on your phone, CGMs let you watch, in real time, your level of energy and how it is affected by your current environment. This window into your energy system allows you to make informed decisions on what you need to keep in balance.
Calories. Osilla EV et al. 2021. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499909/