I know, it’s a pretty tough habit to break. We were all raised on the calorie myth, and we’ve been believing it for so long, that it seems as if it’s normal, that it’s right, that it works! But does it? I’m going to let you into something fairly new in the diet/nutrition world: You should stop counting calories, lose weight and gain control.
The trouble with the calorie in /calorie out method
There is a lot of science that says that this whole calorie thing is not your friend, and will not help you in your health or weight loss journey.
Dump the calorie myth and start eating in a way that is in harmony with your body and how it reacts to the foods you choose to eat.
At first glance, the idea of calorie counting makes sense, it seems a reasonable thing to do if you want to lose weight, right?
Um, well, wrong.
Here’s the thing: Everywhere people are getting bigger, obesity rates are sky-high in just about every country you care to look at.
Yet in most of those countries people understand calories, they know how to count them, they have access to a never ending supply of lists of calorie values for every food under the sun.
All you have to do is make sure that you consume fewer calories than you use in energy, and your weight will drop.
No worries, a calorie is a calorie. Eat a 100 calorie piece of fruit, or a 100 calorie piece of meat or half a donut – it’s all the same.
Well no, it isn’t all the same.
Anyone who has ever tried to follow a calorie controlled diet knows this. Even if some weight is lost, you probably felt hungry all the time.
When you finally caved in and dropped the diet, the weight came back. More often than not you end up heavier than you were in the first place.
So what is going wrong?
The problem, says cardiovascular research scientist James DiNicolantonio of St. Luke’s Hospital, is the idea of calories themselves as a weight loss tool.
“Every country around the world is having a problem with obesity, and so far nothing has worked,” said DiNicolantonio. “But it’s important to note that we’re not dying of obesity, we’re dying of chronic metabolic disease.”
Metabolic disease is something we should all be avoiding, it’s not only a health disaster, it prevents the weight loss which was probably the reason that the person started counting calories in the first place.
This problem shows up when we eat the wrong sort of foods, not when we eat too many calories.
The calorie in/calorie out method of weight loss completely ignores the fact that our bodies react to different foods in different ways.
Different foods have completely different, and sometimes opposite effects on our metabolism.
The calorie system categorized the three main food groups as follows:
- carbs: 4 calories per gram.
- Proteins: 4 calories per gram.
- Fats: 9 calories per gram
By looking at this, it would be reasonable to suppose that by reducing fats and eating just carbs and protein, our weight will drop and all will be well.
That’s if you ignore the different effects these food groups have on our hormones.
Insulin and its reaction to the foods we consume.
Some foods, especially simple carbohydrates such as flour, bread, white rice and pasta send our blood sugar soaring. Our body then reacts by pumping out the hormone Insulin.
And guess what message Insulin sends to our bodies?
Insulin is the hormone that tells our bodies to go into storage mode, to push all that glucose it has from the carbs we just ate straight into our fat cells.
Insulin also deals with our blood sugar, and brings the levels down to normal as quickly as it can.
This is normal and healthy. There is a sweet spot for our blood sugar levels, and it’s dangerous for our levels to be either too high or too low.
The problem with eating too many carbs is that the ensuing surge of blood sugar causes us to pump out a big dose of Insulin, and fairly soon after that happens we experience low blood sugar as a result.
It is this low blood sugar that signals to us that we’re hungry, and so eating the wrong sort of foods sets us up for a cycle of feeling hungry and over eating.
This has absolutely nothing to do with our will power or ability to stick with a calorie controlled diet, and everything to do with eating the wrong sort of foods that react in a negative way with our hormones.
So, eat that donut and get a surge of sugar, followed by Insulin, followed by hunger OR eat something that doesn’t set this negative and damaging process in place.
It’s not about the calorie count, it’s about the type of foods we eat, and how our hormones react to them.
Another bad side effect of the general obsession with calories is that it stopped us eating fats.
Fats contain more calories than proteins or carbs according to the calorie police, so we all swapped our fats for more carbs in the hope of getting thin.
What did we eat instead of fat?
To keep calories low, we stopped eating fats and swapped instead to increasing our consumption of carbohydrates.
Out went healthy, vitamin absorbing fats such as olive oil, avocados and nuts. Instead, we all started chowing down on bread, pasta, rice, potatoes.
To make things even worse, the food industry responded to the low fat, low calorie mantra by producing endless amounts of “diet” foods.
Fats were replaced with sugars, playing havoc with our insulin levels as well as setting up chronic levels of inflammation in our bodies.
Chronic inflammation has a massive negative effect on our health and is implicated in a long list of diseases including cancer and neurodegenerative diseases.
The rest is, as they say, history.
Never before have so many people been not just overweight, but also unhealthy if not flat out sick.
Everyone started eating “low fat” junk food and ditching the avocados and almonds, and no one bothered to ask how this could possibly be healthy for us.
All those carbs spiked our insulin, regularly. We have even been advised to eat three, four or more times a day to “protect metabolism”
I still see food pyramids suggesting our diet should be carb heavy. Why?
What on earth did we eat for the millennia humans existed before the beginning of farming?
We evolved to eat meat, in big chunks, straight from the animals we killed. That’s meat on it’s own.
Not in a sandwich, or on a pizza or with rice. Just meat, and maybe a plant or two or a few nuts.
Plus of course, all the fat that the animal was carrying. Does anyone think that cavemen trimmed the kill, and just ate the lean cuts?
Yet if we follow the idea of calories, fats, which have a lot of calories are out, and grains are in.
No wonder this doesn’t suit our bodies, or our metabolism.
Heck, we don’t even have a sensor for calories. What we have are sensors for fats and proteins and carbs.
Our digestion cannot be simplified down to numbers. It’s too complicated, too interwoven with hundreds of different factors.
The trouble with calorie counts.
For calories to be accurate every single factor would need to be taken into account.
How ripe is the fruit? How good is an individual at digesting it? What about his gut microbes? What type are they? How many of the calories will they steal?
Does he or she have any issues with absorption, what is the individual speed of digestion? On and on…..
In other words, even if your body did give a flying fig about the calorie count of the foods you ate, nobody could ever give an accurate number.
Even the law allows a 20% margin of error when labeling foods with their calorie values.
The surprise here isn’t that someone ever thought that counting calories was a good idea.
The surprise is that anyone still thinks it’s a good idea, even in the face of so much science that now understands that our nutrition needs to take into account how we metabolize different foods.
So if you don’t count calories, how do you know how much to eat?
By eating in the same way that people ate long before calories were a thing.
They ate until they were full. They ate when food was available, and not all the time. They ate fats and proteins and carbs as and when they were available.
They ate the foods that we evolved with, that our bodies understand and can react to.
They weren’t suffering an obesity and metabolic crisis. That’s us, with our calories and our carb heavy food pyramids and our endless meals and snacks.
I even read some “serious” dietary advice that suggested “six small meals a day” to “keep the metabolism up” Six!!
Do you know what happens when we miss a meal or two or three? We survive, we don’t die. Our bodies are adapted to this situation.
We go into a state of autophagy that sharpens our minds and cleans out damaged cells from our bodies.
We use any fat we have stored for our energy needs, and our metabolism actually goes up, not down.
A missed meal and a day or two without food once in a while is actually beneficial, not bad.
Forget the calories.
Eating after throwing out the calorie app on your phone
You’re now ignoring calories, and trying your best to make friends with fats, but will this help you to lose weight?
Is it possible to eat in a more intuitive way, by taking note of how you feel after a particular food or meal?
The answer is that it is surprisingly easy to eat in a way that is in tune with your body, and will help you to maintain your correct weight, as well as giving many health benefits too.
- Eat only when you are hungry and stop when you are full.
- If you don’t feel hungry at breakfast time, miss that meal and wait for lunch.
- Don’t eat simple carbs that will spike your blood sugar and make you feel hungry in a few hours
- Base your meals on protein and healthy fats such as olive oil, butter, nuts and avocados.
- Eat nutritionally dense carbs such as above ground vegetables.
The take home message
We need to start believing that we are smart enough to know what we need to be eating.
We need to eat natural, nutritional foods that are not packed with artificial ingredients.
Dump the junk food and fizzy drinks and ready meals.
Treat simple carbs and especially all forms of sugar as the enemies of your health and weight that they are.
We need to eat more of what we are evolved to eat. These foods will help you to feel full, help you to absorb vitamins and minerals.
They will not send your blood sugar levels through the roof.
Listen to your body, don’t eat when really you’re just bored or tired or sad. Eat when you’re hungry.
Keep your carbs low, eat enough protein and enough fats to feel full.
Personally I am a fan of the keto diet, but if that’s too few carbs for you then a low carb way of eating will be more suited to your needs.
Base your eating style on how you feel. Take complete control of this. Nobody else knows how it feels to be in your body.
Listen carefully to what signals your body is giving you. If you feel tired a few hours after a meal you’ve either eaten too much, or too many carbs.
If you feel sick, if you think you’re developing type two diabetes, if you’re tired all the time – take a long honest look at your diet.
Is it nutritious, filling food or is it junk? Does it contain all the fats, proteins and carbs that you need?
There was a time when we ate what we wanted, when we wanted and yet at that time we ate well. We didn’t try to scarf down six meals a day.
We didn’t eat tons of carbs, ready meals and snacks. We missed meals when there was no food available, or when we weren’t hungry.
We need to get back to believing that we can do this, that we can be in charge of our own nutrition.
You will lose weight, be healthier and be in control.
Further reading: the amazing benefits of autophagy and fasting