CALORIES are tiny little creatures that live in your wardrobe and sew your clothes a bit tighter every night.
Just kidding! Calories are units of energy used to measure the energy values of foods. To lose body fat or body weight, fewer calories should enter the body than leave it, which results in the basic formula for fat loss of eating less (calories) and moving more.
Although, this is grossly over-simplified, that's the basics of it. So yes, when it comes to fat loss, calories count. By God they truly do, and if someone ever tells you that they don't, kick them somewhere soft, like their head.
With new diets such as Paleo and clean-eating, you could be led to believe that by only changing the type of food you eat you will get less fat. This is untrue. You can still get fat by overeating healthy food too. Yes, it is more difficult to overeat nutrient-dense calorie-sparse foods such as broccoli, but what about that jar of peanut butter I saw you spooning into you?
An excess of healthy fat will make you fat in just the same way as regular old pizza, chips, and burger fat.
While the quality of food determines your health (think nutrients), the quantity determines your body composition (think calories). The commonality among fancy modern diets such as Paleo, clean eating, intermittent fasting, juice detoxes and meal replacers is that they all slash calorie intake by eliminating certain foods or whole food groups. None of them are particularly magical and none of them melt fat away. They all simply aim to create a very much needed calorie deficit that is fundamental for fat loss.
However, cutting out entire food groups is certainly not the most desirable or enjoyable way to establish a calorie deficit. It is, however, a very lazy (yet tortuous) way to slash calories from your diet. It's all too easy for the internet dieting guru or charlatan to simple tell you to cut carbs from your diet instead of taking the time to you teach about balance and moderation, while also keeping your sanity intact.
Which leads me to beg the question, whatever happened to the balanced diet? Is it just not sexy enough any more?
[Side joke: Maybe she's crazy. Or maybe she just needs carbs. One will never know.]
So, long story short: to lose body fat, calories count, but that doesn't mean we have to count them. Mainly because it is a right pain in the arse. Here's 7 reasons why...
(For the sake of this article, calories can be subbed for WW points and SW syns too.)
Counting calories takes the enjoyment out of food as it is a laborious task. Eating food should be a pleasurable experience, not a maths assignment.
It can encourage obsessive and controlled eating behaviours as the perfectionist in you strives to hit exact targets and ultimately drive you away from having a healthy relationship with food.
It's inaccurate. Food labels can have a margin of error from 8-18%.
Counting calories encourages people to eat packaged and processed foods - it's easier to count calories when they're written on a label.
Also, people try to cheat the system by fitting more processed junk food into their daily calorie quota. By doing this, you will be missing out on essential nutrients needed for optimal health.
Counting calories encourages you to ignore your hunger and satiety cues. We are not robots. Aiming to eat the exact same calories day in day out, regardless of activity levels and hunger cues, goes against our natural instinct. This is not ideal for long-term maintenance, and most people will end up hungry, give up and gain back the weight they lost.
The most important reason why counting calories doesn't work is because it doesn't address the root cause of your overeating in the first place. Most overweight people don't overeat because they're hungry. They do so for countless other reasons - to be sociable, out of boredom, to avoid dealing with difficult emotions or simply out of habit. (Read more about why we overeat HERE.) Which leads on to...
The hardest part about losing body fat is keeping it off once it is gone. If you do not address the root cause of overeating then odds are you will be one of the 95% of 'dieters' who regain all of their lost weight once you stop counting points, calories or syns.
In all of the above circumstances, willpower alone and counting calories is a sure way to set yourself up for failure when it comes to losing weight and keeping it off in the long-term.
To be blunt about it, this is what Weight Watchers based their business model on - for the customers to fail at their diets so they will get repeat business.
What to Do Instead
For long-term sustainable fat loss, switch from counting calories to developing behaviours and habits.
[Shameless (but super serious) plug - Join my online IGNITION nutrition program, where I will show you exactly how to do this. You will be given everything you need so you can start to feel and look your best without having to count a single morsel. Never yo yo or fad diet again.]
QUALITY - Start by filling your plate with nutrient-dense, whole unprocessed satiating food consisting of protein, vegetables, healthy fats and reasonable amounts of starchy carbs.
QUANTITY - To control food intake, use your own hand as a personalised and portable measuring device. A bigger person will have a bigger hand and a smaller person will have a smaller hand. This is a very simple way to control food intake without having to count calories. Simply portion control is extremely effective for fat loss and it really does not need to get any more fancy than this unless you are looking to break the 10 second barrier in the 100m sprint.
Eat every three to four hours to keep the hunger monsters at bay. If you let your hunger get so far, you are likely to make poor food choices and tear the kitchen apart to get to food. Eat slowly and stop just shy of full or when you have had just enough.
It takes 20 minutes for satiety mechanisms to kick in, so try to make each meal last 15 to 20 minutes. Take your time and enjoy the eating experience. Eat until satisfied and not stuffed. This takes practice, but give it a go.
Eat Protein With
Protein is essential for
helping with appetite
control, losing less muscle and more fat and optimising metabolism. Women should aim to eat one palm size with each meal and men should aim for two palms. Good sources of protein are lean meats, salmon and eggs.
Eat Vegetables With Each Meal
Vegetables are cancer-fighting, free-radical-destroying and
acid-neutralising and they provide micronutrient power. They are high in fibre and low in calories, so go on, eat up. Aim to eat one to two fist-sized
servings of vegetables with each meal. All vegetables are great, but opt for
cruciferous vegetables, tomatoes and spinach for extra nutrient power.
Eat Little Carbohydrate-Dense Foods With Each Meal
The amount of carbohydrates you should eat depends on your body size, body type and physical needs. Eat some starchy carbs at each meal and more starchy carbs if your activity levels are higher. Nutrient dense sources of starchy carbs are whole-sprouted grains, bananas, potatoes, oats and rice.
Eat Healthy Fats With Each Meal
Healthy fats are necessary for your brain, eyes, hormones and overall health.
Women aim for one thumb of fat and men aim for two thumbs. Try to get most of your fats from foods such as nuts, seeds, avocados and coconuts. Getting enough omega-3 fats is extremely important. The best sources are oily fish (salmon), ground flaxseeds/linseeds and walnuts.
Sugar and calorie-laden fizzy drinks and fruit juices are not conducive to a fat-loss goal. Preferred drinks are water, green tea and a little black coffee. If you are a smaller person, aim for two litres of water a day. If you are a larger person, aim for four litres.
Get Eight Hours Sleep
Sleep is probably the most forgotten ingredient for fat loss. Rest is critical to becoming healthier and leaner, helping to regulate the crazy hormones flying around the body, so it's crucial to get enough shut-eye.
Break the "Rules"
The most important element of any nutrition plan is to eat fun food that you enjoy. If you do not enjoy your diet then you will not stick to it. Consistency is King for fat loss, so simply put, if you do not stick to your diet then it will not work. Make your diet enjoyable so you will adhere to it. Break the "rules" some (10-20%) of the time but don't use it as an excuse to go nuts. Pick a Friday night meal or a Sunday brunch and eat foods you wouldn't normally eat. Loosen the reigns slightly on the quality side of things and eat when hungry and stop when full.
This way, there's no deprivation, no starvation and no food is "off-limits". This is ultimately what makes any nutrition plan maintainable, sustainable and enjoyable.
On a final note, find out what works best for YOU and run with it. Instead of following the media or unsuccessful friends or family, find a good coach (for example, moi!) who will provide you with all the mentorship, guidance, support and accountability that you need to help you figure out the important things you should be doing differently, and troubleshoot all the inevitable challenges and difficulties that will come up along the way.
Lasting behaviour change takes time and often many mistakes, so give yourself a break from time to time along the way and be kind to yourself in the process.
Keep her balanced,
Here's that shameless plug again for my online nutrition coaching program IGNITION. Currently open to new members, we would love to have you on board!