Debunking Calories: Why You Should Stop Counting

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Are you a calorie counter? At RASA, we emphasize quality over quantity and do not believe in dietary restrictions (this means no calorie counting!). For many, this idea is difficult to grasp. I get it: our diet culture and the accepted weight loss formula eat less, move more is hard to shake. But these concepts, as ingrained in us as there are, don’t work. Obesity is increasingly a major public health concern and whether you’re looking to lose 5 or 50 pounds, for most people, a restrictive eating approach does not offer a long term solution.

So what’s the alternative? In order to lose weight and keep it off, we need to change our relationship with food. When you discover nutrient rich foods that taste as good as they are for you, you will start to naturally favor those options and eliminate the need to diet or reduce intake. And there’s science to back this up too. A recent study showed that people who focused on quality foods, without counting calories or restricting portion size, consistently lost weight and, by developing healthy lifestyle changes, were able to keep it off (1).

Not only is calorie counting a flawed exercise, but it’s also not sustainable. If you’re still not convinced, here are a few other reasons to ditch the practice:

1. Calories don’t take nutrition into account.

The standard American diet is energy-rich and nutrient-poor (2). Think about it: 200 calories of carrots is very different from the equivalent amount of Twix bars. When you consume a balanced diet, you will feel more satisfied by your meals, reduce cravings, have more energy and hopefully get adequate micro and macro nutrients that every cell in your body needs to function.

2. Calories oversimplify how our bodies ingest food

There are many different metabolic signals that influence how we digest, absorb and eliminate the foods we eat (3). Calories are just one of these measurements, and solely focusing on this number is a gross oversimplification of our bodies and our metabolism.

3. A calorie is not a calorie. 

The caloric value of food is determined by the type of food, how it’s cooked, what it’s consumed with, the bacteria in our gut and other factors (4). That means the true number of calories in any given food is a little more fluid than the fixed figure we see on nutrition labels. Plus, we all break down food differently, so 100 calories for one person might be slightly more or less for the next.

4. Long term caloric restriction can slow metabolism. 

Meaning your body will need less calories to function then it previously did, which increases your chance of gaining any weight lost back and makes it harder to lose again when you do. Metabolic adaptation is a biological advantage, essentially lowering our energy requirements in the absence of food (5). When you’re doing this for diet purposes, however, and plan to return to a more caloric eating plan, you will likely gain the weight back—and perhaps then some.

5. Many nutrition labels are just wrong. 

We’re not even counting with the right numbers, guys! Most nutrition labels are based on averages and don’t consider the complexity of the digestion process (4). Plus, how can you know how many calories are in foods when we dine out? These numbers are just not realistic, a guesstimate at best.

6. Restrictive eating patterns can make you eat more.

Evidence shows that people who restrain their eating habits consistently underestimate calorie counts and are more likely to binge (6). Full stop.

If you are a calorie counter not getting the results you are looking for, try shifting your focus from energy to nutrient value. When we eat more nutritious foods and limit energy dense ones (i.e. processed foods, refined grains, sugar and other empty calories), our bodies will naturally regulate without the need to whip out our calculators. Plus, it is an abundantly more enjoyable way to live.

Looking for a jump start? Get in touch for a free consultation or sign up for a RASA Challenge, 10 and 21 day whole foods resets—the perfect way to ignite healthy routines and discover nutrient rich foods you love.

 

REFERENCES: 

1.     Gardner, C. D., Trepanowski, J. F., Gobbo, L. C. D., Hauser, M. E., Rigdon, J., Ioannidis, J. P. A., … King, A. C. (2018). Effect of Low-Fat vs Low-Carbohydrate Diet on 12-Month Weight Loss in Overweight Adults and the Association With Genotype Pattern or Insulin Secretion: The DIETFITS Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA, 319(7), 667–679. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2018.0245

 

2.     Drewnowski, A. (2005). Concept of a nutritious food: toward a nutrient density score. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 82(4), 721–732. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/82.4.721

 

3.     Jacobs, H. L., & Sharma, K. N. (1969). Taste Versus Calories: Sensory and Metabolic Signals in the Control of Food Intake*. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 157(2), 1084–1125. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1749-6632.1969.tb12939.x

 

4. Dunn, R. (n.d.). Science Reveals Why Calorie Counts Are All Wrong. https://doi.org/10.1038/scientificamerican0913-56

 

5.     Redman, L. M., Heilbronn, L. K., Martin, C. K., Jonge, L. de, Williamson, D. A., Delany, J. P., … Team, for the P. C. (2009). Metabolic and Behavioral Compensations in Response to Caloric Restriction: Implications for the Maintenance of Weight Loss. PLOS ONE, 4(2), e4377. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0004377

 

6.     PsycNET. (n.d.). Retrieved September 14, 2018, from http://psycnet.apa.org/buy/1983-00242-001

 

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