How many times have you obsessively tracked and restricted your daily calorie intake to only find the scale won’t budge? If the answer is too many times to count, you’re not alone.
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We are often led to believe that a calorie = a calorie = a calorie, but it’s not as simple as that. Many popular weight loss programs are based on the basic math of eating fewer calories than your body burns each day. While this simple science of creating a calorie deficit makes sense in theory and has been sold to us for years, there are many reasons why it doesn’t work.
No one can argue that excessive calorie consumption causes weight gain and obesity. Calories are energy and our bodies need energy to function. However, too much energy consumed without increasing the amount of energy burned means that the extra energy has nowhere else to go and is stored as fat. Reducing and tracking calorie intake may work in the short-term, but over time can lead to a frustrating lack of results after an initial weight-loss period.
Many people believe that as long as you eat fewer calories than you burn, you will lose weight, no matter what types of food you consume. This oversimplification is severely flawed as the kind of food you eat is arguably much more important than the caloric content of the food.
Different types of food can have vastly differing effects on our bodies and metabolisms. Not every individual body and metabolism is identical, and the same holds true for food. Not all foods are created equal and our bodies react to them and process them in different ways as they move through different metabolic pathways.
Consuming processed “junk” foods, provides our bodies with a lot of energy, very quickly. This is why when we are feeling hungry and tired we often want to reach for less than healthy choices such as chips, a chocolate bar or some white toast. They make us feel great almost immediately because they spike our blood sugar. However, this spiked blood sugar will then crash, leaving us hungry and lethargic once again. This makes it so easy to reach for more and thus, consume more calories. When we are tracking calories, the numbers will add up very quickly if this kind of food is being consumed. This makes it very easy to over-eat while not even filling satisfied or full.
If you are looking to lose weight, eating less is definitely a good idea. However, instead of counting and agonizing over every calorie, focus instead on eating real food.
Real foods are those that are whole, unprocessed and as close to their natural, un-altered state; think whole fruits and vegetables, full-fat dairy, grass-fed meats and whole grains. These foods help keep blood sugar stable, tell your brain when you’re full, help your body function at its best and most efficient by providing it with the nutrients it needs and keep cravings at bay. Consuming something like 100 per cent fruit juice may not seem like it is bad for us, but when a piece of fruit is juiced, it takes it further away from its natural, whole state. Eating a whole piece of fruit is best as it contains the natural fibers, which help fill you up and facilitate a much slower breakdown of the sugars. Vegetables are low in calories, and take up much more space in your stomach than a calorie dense junk food, leaving you fuller, longer. These types of foods also take longer to break down compared to something like processed wheat, which has already been broken down and striped of nutrients. A recent study found that eating whole foods versus processed foods had a positive impact on metabolic rate.
While most people look to cut out calories from fat, it is important to not be afraid of the right fats. Low-calorie and fat-free manufactured snacks may seem like a good choice when you are dieting but they are often loaded with additives and sugars to make up for the lack of fat. These types of food products are often unsatisfying and not very satiating. The good types of fats, like the ones found in olive oil, avocadoes, nuts and dairy products will help you feel full longer, and are more satisfying so you may actually end up consuming fewer calories in the long run if you include these in your diet.
Of course, if you are constantly over-eating and not consuming a variety of foods, even if they are all real, whole foods, it is still possible to gain weight. While eating less is always recommended when you are trying to lose weight, the best thing you can do is eat better. When you eat better, your body will naturally function more effectively, you will feel fuller for longer, and as a result, you will eat less and lose weight.
Furthermore, the actual act of counting calories and tracking every bite can also be very stressful in itself. This added stress can lead to spiked cortisol levels. Cortisol is the hormone responsible for stress and increased levels of it in the body can lead to a bigger appetite and an increase in cravings for unhealthy foods, resulting in weight gain.
Next time you are looking to drop a few pounds, take a close look at what you are putting in your body as opposed to tracking and cutting total calories consumed. Keeping a food diary is a good idea to help you remain mindful about what you are putting in your body instead of focusing on the numbers. Just like true friends, quality is more important than quantity.