COUNTING & RESTRICTING CALORIES
Have you ever counted and restricted calories to lose weight, or at least have thought you should?
I don’t count my calories, but used to when I struggled with my weight.
Well, I sort of used to.
I tried maintaining food logs and then using apps, but found them very time consuming, tedious, tough to be accurate with, and to be quite honest, obsessive and frustrating.
So I never lasted very long.
I tried so many strategies, but in the end just felt completely out of control around food – ironically until I stopped trying to control it.
The thing is, the ‘calorie in vs. calorie out’ formula is only part of the weight loss puzzle. If we were machines, that’d be the whole story, but our bodies are complex, unique and very individual – especially as it relates to nutrition and weight loss.
Unfortunately though, we’ve been taught for so long that counting and restricting calories is what we need to do. The formula goes like this:
- To lose fat, we need to burn more calories than we eat.
- One pound of fat = 3,500 calories.
- Between intake and output, we need to create a deficit of over 3,500 calories.
- Therefore, we should count and restrict our calories to create this deficit.
I’m writing this post today because what we’ve been taught is misleading, and can be downright painful.
Today I’d like to fill in the holes, and ease some struggle…
Although the “calorie in vs. calorie out” formula for weight loss is mostly true, it’s NOT the whole story.
And half a story may as well be the wrong story.
I don’t ever count calories anymore, and ironically no longer struggle with my food, eating or weight.
This freedom from food – and food obsession – has changed my life and I want to share that success with you, because as creator of the Nourish Challenge (a lifestyle-based program based on the methods I used to regain my health, and sanity around food) I’m passionate about supporting people in their nutrition and health goals.
And, my heart sinks when I hear of people still struggling with counting and restricting their calories in order to lose weight.
And here’s why it’s a story full of holes…
The “calorie in vs. calorie out” formula doesn’t account for these THREE really important things:
- The kind of food you’re eating (eg. Coke Zero, dirt and chalk are all low in calories, but it doesn’t make them good for you – even though they may help create the calorie deficit you’re looking for.)
- Add all processed foods with labels like “fat-free”, “calorie-free”, “diet”, “sugar-free”, etc. to the above list.
- The body’s own innate wisdom (eg. what foods our bodies like, which ones they don’t, when to eat, and when to stop).
- This intelligence often gets bypassed when we’re focused strictly on caloric content.
- The play of hormones over our strongest calorie burner: our base metabolism.
- Our base metabolism is the energy our body uses performing the most basic functions that keep us alive like respiration, digestion and circulation.
For sake of trying to keep this within a newsletter and not turn it into another book, I’m going to focus on just the third point: the play of hormones on our metabolism.
Research is now finding that spiking blood sugar and insulin levels has a more powerful impact over food cravings, fat burning and our overall health than previously thought.
Chronic inflammation, the underlying cause of most chronic conditions including:
- obesity and metabolic dysfunction
- joint pain and arthritis
- premature aging
- autoimmune diseases
- heart disease
- and more
In fact, it may be even be the main culprit behind Counting and restricting calories doesn’t necessarily keep blood sugar level or support long-term weight loss. In fact, it can actually do the opposite if you’re not ALSO doing these two things:
- Consuming REAL whole, nutrient-densefood
which as mentioned earlier is often not the typical no-calorie or low-calorie processed foods people counting calories often choose;AND
- Balancing meals (and snacks) with high-fiber foods (focus on veggies, beans and legumes over fruit), lean protein and healthy fats (think omega 3’s).
Together, the above recommendations
- stabilize your blood sugar and insulin levels;
- promote fullness, satisfaction and energy;
- boost your feel-good, happy endorphins (ever notice how cranky you are on a no-fat/low-fat diet?);
- fire up your metabolism (good-bye fat!);
- help reduce chronic inflammation and protect against chronic illness.
When our metabolism is fired up with the appropriate balance of nutritious foods, activity and recovery we can often actually consume MORE calories and yet still be very happy, healthy and efficient fat-burners!
So to recap…
When you focus on real, whole-food based, nutrient-dense foods that don’t create spikes and valleys in your blood sugar or insulin levels, and you listen to your body’s wisdom, you’ll never need to count calories ever, EVER again.
Sound good so far?
Here are some quick and wicked how-to’s:
We can help our bodies become effective metabolic fat-burning machines in a many ways. Below are just six that I’ll share from the Nourish Program which really helped me:
- Eat mainly real, whole, plant-based foods with a focus more on veggies than fruit.
- Keep it simple: “If it was came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.” – Michael Pollan
- Balance meals with a lean protein (plant-based more often), a vegetable (hello fiber, complex carbs, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants!) and a healthy fat (think plant-based fats and omega 3’s).–> WHY? Aside from the nutritive benefits, protein, fiber and fat all take more time and energy to digest. When added to a meal or snack, they reduce blood sugar and insulin spikes, and keep energy levels more stable. This is good for mood, healthy weight, and reducing chronic inflammation. Happiness for all!!
- Reduce/eliminate processed foods
- Just because it’s so good, I’m repeating it: “If it was came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.” – Michael Pollan
- Stop eating once satisfied, not stuffed.
- Let your body be your guide, and “Tie the sack off before it’s full” – German Proverb.
- You can always go back for more if you’re still hungry.
- Your parents aren’t watching – you actually DON’T need to finish everything on your plate! Don’t like waste? Me neither. Left-overs are super fast and easy next-day lunches. But if you’re not a left-over fan, throw it out. Yep, you heard right… eating more than you need does not make it “well used”. It just lands somewhere different and it’s better in the waste can than around your waist – or worse, your internal organs.
- Exercise – specifically strength train. To highlight one of countless benefits, muscle is hot metabolic fat-burning tissue – the more you have, the more calories you’ll burn even while sleeping. (Muscle atrophies with age and associated hormonal changes, so strength training is even more important for women, and men after the age of 40yrs.)
- Slooow down and enjoy! Slowing down helps keeps the blood sugar and insulin levels down as the influx of food is not as quick.
- Sleep 7-9 hrs a night. Studies reveal that sleep impacts two important hunger-related and fat-burning hormones: grehlin and leptin. Get your zzz’s for a controlled appetite and to burn fat easier!
To conclude, for weight loss we DO need to create a caloric deficit, however, for healthy and successful weight loss we can do so without counting calories and depriving ourselves.
For more info, below are a few added resources for your interest:
- The “Diet Doctors”: For a fascinating debate between Colin Campbell, PhD and Dr. Eric Westman (who both present strong research supporting completely opposing diets on the prevention and cure of cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes and other chronic illnesses) click here.(From what I can gather, the only two factors their respective diets have in common are first, a whole-food based approach that reduces, if not eliminates, processed foods; and second, consuming foods that prevent blood sugar and insulin spikes.)
- For the science-lovers interested in learning more about acute vs. chronic inflammation, click here. (Warning: it’s sciency!)
- Get a list of high fiber foods here.
- Get a list of foods rich in omega 3’s here.
- What are these hunger-related hormones, leptin and grehlin?
- Michael Pollan makes healthy eating SIMPLE! Check out his Food Rules book here.
- Why counting calories is the “wrong” story: “Science Reveals Why Calorie Counts Are All Wrong”