So many people spend their time trying to lose weight by counting calories. The old theory is if you burn more calories than you consume you will lose weight.
Calorie counting is a very slippery slope. Sure, we all have that cousin who went on a super low calorie diet and lost a ton of weight and has kept it off for 20 years, but this is a rarity. The problem is a low calorie diet is not sustainable. You aren't going to spend the rest of your life eating a 1200 calorie diet. The first time you slip your body is going to store every extra calorie it can. Just to teach you a lessen it is going to store it as fat and will hold every bit it can to prepare for the next time you starve it.
Counting calories turns in to an obsession. You undoubtedly will obsess about the count of everything you eat, or even think about eating. You'll have the latest calorie counting app on your phone, you'll buy the latest gadget that tracks calories in and calories out. You'll even start to put calorie counts in to casual conversation because it takes over your life.. Seriously, I've had friends sitting around talking about how many calories were in the cocktail they were drinking. It just can become such a negative in our life, you look at food as a number and as the enemy when it truly is what gives our body what it needs to live.
So here are some of the MANY problems with counting calories:
1. When you start counting calories you turn off all connection you have with what your body wants to eat, when it wants to eat and why it wants to eat. You are feeding your body what the number on your goal is. You will do everything you can to hit that 2,000 calorie goal. Your mind takes over, you will think about that 2,000 calories all day and try to fit what you want to eat in to it. There could be a day when your body doesn't want the 2,000 calories but you're going to eat it anyway because now the number is telling you when to eat. You take away the intuition of fueling the body.
2. Calorie counting fuels a cycle of guilt and self-punishment. Without a doubt if you overeat you're gong to punish yourself, your mind will focus on missing your target. Then the next day you may even try to eat less than your goal amount to make up for going over the day before. Starving yourself more will lead to even worse hunger and cravings. This is where you start to doubt if you can do it, you start to truly obsess about failing and in time you either give up or fall deeper in to this trap of counting and depriving. This is no way to live, EVER! The last thing anyone needs in life is more guilt.
3. Calorie counting puts a number ahead of common sense. I'm sure at this point in this writing someone smarter than me is coming up with a list of things I have misstated or found some way to dispute what I say. Well Mr Smartypants, if you think that logically a calorie is a calorie and counting them really pays answer this: In the aerosol spray can of whipping cream in the picture above it shows one serving is 10 calories, there are about 33 servings in the can. So, on my 2,000 calorie per day diet I could technically just lean back and shoot about 6 of those cans of whipping cream into my mouth and it will have the same effect on my weight as eating a nutrient rich diet of the same calories.
Here's my most important point:
4. Calorie Counting is not Accurate, calories don't account for quality, source, nutrient make-up, how it is prepared, or the true nutritional needs of your body. If I put a handful of carrot sticks on a plate next to two fat free chocolate chip cookies and told you they are the same amount of calories could you honestly look at them and say they will have the same effect on your body? They are the same amount of calories so they should, but they don't.
Technically a calorie IS a calorie, the energy is the same. What your body does with those calories is not the same however. Again, lets' say your afternoon snack is a choice between some carrots and celery sticks or a small bag of potato chips. If you eat half the bag of chips they come to the same amount of calories as the celery and carrots. When you're finished with the carrots and celery your craving for a snack will subside. But that half a bag of chips is going to leave you hungry again in a very short time. The reason is the celery/carrots are giving your body the nutrients it needs, but the chips are giving your body very few nutrients. So in a few minutes after eating the chips you'll crave more.
A study was recently published in The New England Journal of Medicine and in it is stated "Focusing on overall dietary quality such as eating less processed foods, refined sugars, grains and chemically enhanced foods is more important for long term health and weight loss than monitoring calorie or fat intake."
There is a much better way. Choosing whole foods is a huge step. If you are eating food that is processed, is in a box or can, or has ingredients you can't pronounce you will never reach your goal. You have to learn to really listen to your body and let it decide when it is hungry, make sure you aren't just bored and in need of something to do. Respecting what you put into your body and what your body needs is so much smarter. Use common sense, if you hear on the news a new study that says something crazy like "eating bacon everyday adds years to your life", think that through. These so called studies are undoubtedly financed by the very company that is talking good about the product. Common sense will tell you this can't be true and probably isn't.
The most important nutrition advice I give my clients is to eliminate as much added sugar from their diet as possible. Sugar does some incredibly bad things to the body when taken in excess. The worst thing about sugar is it does not satisfy the nutritional needs of the body so shortly after eating a sugary item your body craves more. Stay away from food marked low-fat, fat-free, etc., Without a doubt these foods contain either higher levels of sugar, sodium or chemicals than we should take in. Avoid most white starches and move your body. One way or another you have to walk, bike, or whatever. It only takes 20 minutes a day to have a tremendous impact on your health. But as I have stated many times, you can't out exercise a bad diet.