Why Calorie Counting is a Mistake
Why Calorie Counting Isn't the Answer
Will calorie counting help you lose the weight and maintain your weight loss for 6 months, 2 years, 20 years? Science says no, in fact a well known study actually documents the opposite effect. Dr. Heini and Dr. Weinser note in the conclusion of their study that "reduced fat and low calorie intake and frequent use of low-calorie food products have been associated with a paradoxil increase in the prevalence of obesity." (1) That's right, although men and women are choosing lower calorie options, they are still gaining weight.
This is not to say that if you count and consume less calories than you burn you won't lose weight, because you will. This is the weight loss formula pointed to by dieticians, nutritionists, and personal trainers every where as a fact about nutrition. My question though, is taking the time to keep track your calorie consumption sustainable? Will you keep the weight off? Is the world of calorie counting going to give you long term results? It was suggested by Prof. Van Gaal that less than 5% of cases are successful when using a calorie counting. That is a very small %. Why so few?
It's A PITA
First, calorie counting is a huge PITA (pain in the ass). You've got to document everything you eat and every exercise you do. This may seem easy when you start, but as the days and months go on this is a cumbersome task that gets old fast for most people. Yes there are useful websites and phone apps to help you with the process, but you still must take the time to enter the data. Most of you have crazy busy schedules and fitting in the time to write it all down takes up precious minutes you could be spending with your families.
Fats Are Good!
High fat foods that are so nutritious and delicious get a bad rep in a low calorie diet. 1 medium size avocado has around 340 calories, if you are on a 1,700 calorie/day diet that would be 20% of your calorie allotment for the day on one piece of fruit. Chances are you would skip the avocado for a lower fat option so you have room for a piece of cheese cake after your meal or whatever treat you fancy that day. The truth is, if you ate the avocado you would probably have an easier time losing weight. They are chalk full of fatty acids that burn hot, helping your body to burn off fat. They are rich in fibre that will help lower blood cholesterol levels and improve digestion. Avocados contain special nutrients that fight free radical damage in the body decreasing your risk for cardiovascular disease, arthritis, and certain forms of cancer. They also are a good source of vitamin K which is essential to the health of your blood and your bones. (2)
Good dietary fats are very important for weight loss. Essential fatty acids found mainly in algae, fish, nuts, seeds, and their oils are shown to increase the metabolic rate resulting in fat burn off. (3) We require fats in the diet so our bodies can metabolize the fat soluble vitamins and minerals. Believe it or not, weight gain is related to nutrient deficiency, so our digestion needs all the help it can get assimilating the vitamins and minerals necessary for life. Fats also form the basis of our hormones and hormonal imbalance is another big cause of weight gain. Consuming the right fats is the first step towards regaining control over your hormones.
Not All Calories Are Created Equal
Calorie counting allows you to choose between a 100 calorie apple and a 100 calorie cookie. Most people are going to choose the cookie. When digested, the cookie is immediately broken down into simple sugars and sent to your blood stream. Your body will then retain water to dilute the sugar until the pancreas can send out enough insulin to clear the sugar. As far as nutrients go, the cookie doesn't have much going for it other than energy. Whereas, the fibre in an apple draws out the digestion of the sugars in the fruit, so the sugar hits the blood stream at a slower rate. This allows your pancreas time to release insulin to carry the sugars from your blood to your cells to be used as energy. The apple also contains a host of nutrients and phytonutrients that protect against oxidation, promote heart health, promote digestive health, promote lung health, and are just good for optimal health. (4) Although a low calorie diet gives you the go ahead to eat the cookie, the choice will actually cause your body to gain weight in the form of water retention over the short term.
Finally, calorie counting can and usually does lead to self sabotage. You are hungry, your body isn't receiving the nutrients it needs, so what do you do? Do you stick to the low calorie diet? Absolutely not, your exhaustion and finally a lack of self control puts you in the mood to binge. Eating whatever you feel like until you are stuffed and feel sick. The whole time you're eating you beat yourself up over your failure. You don't understand why you can't stick to a good diet, why you always end up here, sad, frustrated, and down right angry. My experiences with calorie counting always ended up in this same spot. I have learned the hard way that calorie counting is not sustainable and really won't lead to sustainable weight loss. I did have victories counting calories, but my losses were dramatic and I always ended back in the same place. Frustrated with the same amount of weight to lose.
What Can You Do to Lose Weight if Calorie Counting isn't the Answer?
Quality Over Quantity
Rather than focus on the number of calories you are consuming, focus on the quality of calories. The best way to do this is to Eat Whole Foods! Pair whole foods with physical activity you enjoy and you will see the pounds start to melt off. Don't forget the 80/20 rule either. I have learned that you must allow yourself to eat foods that may not be so good for you in order to stay on track. Allowing yourself to be human will help to keep you away from emotional eating and binging cycles.
Whole Foods Diet
A whole foods diet is essentially a lower calorie diet because you will be consuming less of the processed empty calorie laden garbage, you will be focusing on eating a wide variety of foods, and you will eat mainly vegetables. The difference is that a whole foods diet is sustainable and takes the guess work out of what you should be eating.
I want to hear about your experiences with calorie counting. Have you had success? Let me know by commenting below!
Krystal Bernier, Holistic Nutritionist
(1) Adrian F. Heini “Divergent trends in obesity and fat intake patterns : The American Paradox”. The American Journal of Medicine 1997
(2) George Mateljan - Avocados
(3) Tsakos, Lisa, RHN, RNCP. The Weight Battlefield. Nu-Vitality Health & Wellness, 2001. Print.
(4) George Mateljan - Apples