Do you count calories or have you in the past? If so, for what reason?
The majority of people count calories as a way to reduce their intake with the goal of weight loss. I'll be discussing calorie counting for that purpose here and if it is the most effective way to lose weight.
I personally do no count calories but have in the past. I've used apps, the old fashioned writing down everything you eat method, and what I call "guestimating" based off of portion sizes. I would have clients track what they ate since they all seemed unable to recall what they had for dinner the night before. To make adjustments to ones current diet, it's pretty important to know what that current diet looks like! I never shell out tips that I haven't tried myself.
I don't do calorie counting of any kind these days - this includes macro-nutrients too. I focus on where my food comes from, how it was prepared, and what's in it. I also focus on how I feel before, during, and after I eat. That might sound like a lot of work but it's important to know what foods you gravitate towards when you are feeling a particular way and how that makes you feel after. With that being said, I always advise clients to not count them. The obsession that could easily start is very similar to being obsessed with the number on the scale. Both can be so consuming you forget to pay attention to what really matters: the purpose behind your goal.
Reasons to NOT count calories:
1. Your body has no concept of numbers.
It only knows how much and what ingredients are coming in. The KINDS of foods you consume will have the biggest affect versus their caloric value. Regardless of the calorie count, what you eat can spike your blood sugar, satiate you, make your nervous system jittery, make you fall asleep, give you energy, or help you think clearer. Food companies have become very clever at getting you to notice their products and want to buy them with labels like "gluten free", "all natural", "no added sugar", etc. Seeing these claims should make you even more curious about the ingredients! Often these so called health foods are packed with all kinds of chemicals and emulsifiers your body can't digest. Low calorie or not, your body doesn't need anything artificial in it.
There is something called the thermal effect of food which simply means certain foods require more energy for the body to break down. These foods consist of protein, fat, and fiber. These are naturally filling and, when eaten with each meal, keep you full and not needing to count the numerical value of your meal.
Any kind of calorie estimate (key word estimate) you read on a menu, food label, or even a Fitbit, will never be completely accurate anyway.
2. Calories in versus calories out is a LIE
This is tied to the first reason to not count calories. If you have read in a diet book somewhere that in order to lose a pound a week you need to cut 500 calories a day, you are not alone. This idea that weight loss is a simple formula is one of the many reasons people get confused, mislead, and disappointed.
Your body processes different foods very differently, even if they have the same caloric value. Eating a burger with fries that adds up to 800 calories does not mean if you run for X amount of miles, those 800 calories will be gone. It is not a simple swap like that. What you eat becomes your skin, blood, cells, brain, etc. Anytime you eat something processed, you are putting toxins into your body.
3. You will gain back the weight you lose from dieting
"X" diet worked because you lost 15 pounds on it. Great. Short term weight loss is more detrimental than keeping that weight on. NO ONE can maintain a low calorie diet for the rest of their lives. Because calorie cutting doesn't alter your metabolism, other than making it sluggish, the second additional calories are reintroduced back into your diet, you will see your weight go up again.
4. You rely on "willpower" to keep your calories in check
We all know by now that using your willpower to change anything doesn't work since willpower is a myth! If you read my blog regularly, you'll know that relying on small steps and planning ahead works best. This really is the only way to slowly decrease your calories if you are someone that overeats. If your body is telling you that you're hungry, please don't use willpower to ignore it.
Most people suffer at night when all that willpower goes out the window and they find themselves craving sweets at bedtime. This commonly happens when you are dehydrated, skip breakfast and/or underrating during the day.
A big problem with calorie counting and using a diet plan that allots you X amount of calories per day is that it's so extreme. The body doesn't like anything extreme, but rather the opposite: homeostasis.
Going from 3,000 calories a day, for example, to 1,500 calories a day will put your body into a starvation mode and have it conserve fat and use muscle and carbs for energy. For your body to utilize fat for fuel during your workouts and more importantly throughout the day and as you sleep, it cannot be in starvation mode.
You will ultimately lose some muscle when you lose weight. The ratio is what matters. The goal is to retain as much muscle as possible while losing as much fat as possible. When you crash diet, or only do cardio, you are primarily tapping into your muscle and whatever carbs/sugars are available for energy. This is why so many people that lose weight by following a diet plan and don't lift weights, see results initially but then aren't able to maintain them.
When you lose muscle, you are losing the critical puzzle piece to long term weight loss. The more muscle you have on your body, the more calories you burn 24/7. How many times have you dieted, lost/gained weight, or both? Each time this process repeats itself, not only are you damaging your metabolism you are eating away at precious muscle tissue!
The takeaway? Weight loss and/or altering your metabolism takes time. It took longer than a few months to get to it's current state. Thinking you can undo all that with a diet in a few months will eventually have you starting back at the beginning. Thinking that you can change things by calorie counting pushes you further away from the basics of healthy eating:
- drink plenty of water throughout the day
- don't skip meals
- eat a combo of protein, fiber/slow digesting carbs, and fat at each meal
- take it easy on the sugar and processed foods that will leave you hungry for more
- always check for the ingredients of what you're eating
- don't eat it if you can't recognize the ingredient
- tune into how food makes you feel
- if you overeat, there's a reason behind it
Health Coach K