Why calories shouldn’t be part of the weight loss equation

Sep 24, 2015

How many of us have been told that if we burn more calories than we eat, weight loss is inevitable? Do you know anyone or have you personally found that this theory doesn’t seem to apply, no matter how hard you work?

Weight loss has been made out to be so simple and it’s often defined by calories in versus calories out – so as long as you abide by this you will experience results, right? If weight loss isn’t happening in your case have you had the following thought process, “I must be doing something wrong, I’ll exercise even more, and I’ll eat less; that should work!”

Unfortunately, more often than not it doesn’t, so you’re not alone and I’ll explain why but in a nutshell our bodies are smart, we’re designed to survive this “famine” or period of “starvation” i.e. under-eating and high stress from exercise so it goes into fat preservation mode. It has your best interest at heart, though it’s not appreciated by us, who are desperately trying to shift weight (fat), tone up, or whatever our goal might be. Another slight kink in this theory, is not all calories are created equal…..

You might have spotted that none of my recipes contain calories. This is for a very specific reason. I personally don’t measure them and never have so I’m not going to promote something I don’t do and I also don’t agree with.

3 reasons why I don’t measure calories:

1). FOOD IS INFORMATION, NOT A MATHS EQUATION

Our bodies react very differently to calories depending on the source. They may go through similar digestive processes, but the biochemical reactions they trigger can be completely different depending on the nutritional makeup of the food.

Let me explain and put this into context.

Let’s compare how 1000 calories from spinach are metabolized versus 1000 calories from a fizzy drink, let’s use Coca-Cola as an example.

When you consume Coca-Cola your body quickly absorbs the fibre-less sugars, the glucose spikes your blood sugar, which stimulates the hormone insulin and subsequently signals to your body to store body fat since insulin is a fat storing hormones. Inflammation is increased, triglycerides are raised (essentially fat in your blood), and leptin, one of the hormones involved in appetite regulation, is blocked.

Leptin is responsible for signaling to your brain that you’re satisfied, and if the brain doesn’t receive this message, you are likely to continue eating. Hopefully you’ve learnt something already and have had an ah-ha moment and if you know someone that drinks sugar-filled drinks that is on a quest to lose weight, you’re forwarding this article onto them right now.

Many people who follow low fat, high carbohydrate diets experience the feeling of “never being full.” Does that resonate with you or do you know someone that says they’re permanently hungry and could always eat more?

Let’s now talk about spinach. If you were to consume 1000 calories from spinach – a high fibre option that barely registers an effect on your blood glucose – you don’t trigger the same biochemical reaction at all. Firstly, you wouldn’t even be able to consume 1000 calories from spinach as that would be crazy amounts and your jaw would seriously ache after so much chewing – leptin would kick in and let you know you’ve had enough and you would experience the feeling of being full… and incredibly nourished! We have an inbuilt stop-eating mechanism in our body but you have to eat the right things, otherwise this is never activated!!

So I encourage you to drop calories, and focus on eating whole foods and you won’t have to look at another calorie amount again because we’re not designed to be steered by calories, our bodies are much more sophisticated and smart!

Some naturally high fat (and therefore high calorie) foods are some of the most healthful we can eat in terms of promoting weight loss and reducing our risk of diabetes or heart disease. Avocados are a great example, a high calorie food full of helpful good fats that are good for you.

Low fat and high sugar diets promote weight gain particularly around the middle, which is the most dangerous region to carry weight for our health so if you’re going to check food labels, check the ingredient breakdown for added sugar as that is most commonly the issue, not fat, and if a food says ‘low fat’, let that prompt you to ask yourself, if it’s low fat, what’s been added instead….most often you’ll find sugar is your answer.

2). CALORIES ARE A POOR BAROMETER FOR HEALTH AND DON’T PROMOTE GOOD HEALTH 

Just because a food or a meal fits your calorie goal, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is healthy option as it doesn’t take into account the nutrient density of the food or what effect the food will have on your hormones or your digestive system.

Whilst it’s great to set health goals, I’d rather people shifted their attention to gaining a deeper understanding of which foods nourish your body and which foods zap your body’s energy and nutrient stores as that way true health can be achieved and if weight loss is the desired outcome, then that will happen as a side effect of feeding your body what it needs and being healthy!

If weight loss is your desired outcome, then most people will tell you that you have to lose weight to be healthy, when in actual fact, you actually have to be healthy to lose weight. Read that again and let that concept soak in as it’s too often not thought of that way round.

So a shift of attention to nutrient density from calorie counting would be much better received by the body.

I have never chosen a food based on it’s calorie amount, instead I focus on low human intervention foods as those foods will be a better health choice and give my body what it needs. It’s the same reason I don’t weigh myself, ever, because it tells you nothing about health, but is just a number. A number on a scale doesn’t measure how much energy you have, how much muscle you have compared to fat, how you feel mentally, how clear your skin is and how vibrant your skin is – those are much better checks for health so pay attention to those and how you feel in your clothes rather than how many pounds or kilograms your body amounts to.

So, focus on eating more real foods, avoid processed and packaged food, and focus on your health rather than your weight. Consider the other health-promoting components the food contains: the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, as these are essential to our health and well-being and are needed by our cells every second of every minute of every hour of every day.

Note, an avocado doesn’t come with a nutritional label, so when you move towards consuming more whole foods you naturally stop counting calories and life is much more simple!

3). IT CULTIVATES AN UNHEALTHY OBSESSION

Due to the diet brands out there which have promoted a calorie counting culture, people will stick within a tight calorie band just to hit their calorie goal. Nutrition label checking is all the rage which I agree with for seeing if there are any hidden ingredients in their, but generally, healthy food doesn’t come from a packet or have a barcode on so common sense should take over.

Top tip:: If it grows in the ground, if it runs swims or flies and if it doesn’t have a barcode – then enjoy it without a guilty conscience.

People have unique basic metabolic rates (the amount of calories burnt at rest) and this is often under-estimated and people eat too few calories for their needs which can cause issues with thyroid and adrenal health.
When you stop counting calories and focus on nourishing your body by eating real food, good fats and plenty of vegetables, you will have a rapid improvement in your overall wellbeing, but you will also feel satisfied, not to mention have more time in your life as you won’t be calorie counting. It changes your relationship with food completely and you’ll most likely end up eating more calories than you ever could imagine, and yet the weight will start to fall off, often for the first time in years.

I know it sounds too good to be true, but trust me on this one and take a leap of faith.  Have you noticed that our waistlines are getting bigger yet we are eating less fat and more sugar as a nation than ever before? This is no coincidence. Fat doesn’t make you fat, it’s sugar that does.

Which point did you find most useful, 1, 2 or 3?

All the healthy best,

Jess x

 

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Hi, I’m Jess! Nutritional Therapist  & Personal Trainer, sharing workouts & nutrition made simple from my island home in Menorca. My mission? To educate & inspire people to achieve & sustain their personal health & body shape goals. I love to hike, cook, and bring inspiring people together.

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