Why counting calories doesn’t work
Ten reasons why you should stop right now.
Searching for the perfect body? Confused about what you should/shouldn’t eat? Fed up of counting the calories you consume every day? Sneha Tyrewala has all the answers for weight loss (and gain), sensible eating practices and more. This America-returned board certified physician believes good health is possible only when the art of beauty strikes the perfect balance with the science of wellness. A recent entrant on the wellness and nutrition space in Mumbai after running a successful practice in Houston Dr. Tyrewala’s state-of-the-art Wellness and Medical Spa offers medical spa services including scientifically advanced integrative medical testing and treatments. As she drawls in her attractive American twang, “It’s time to make health and weight loss a non-gimmick, low-fuss love affair with our bodies.” Though calorie counting is common within the weight-loss community, she says, but it doesn’t mean you should be doing it too. Read on for ten reasons why counting calories doesn’t always work.
- Counting calories over-simplifies healthy eating. Eating a healthy diet is complicated and nutrition labels over-simplify it. We are led to believe that low calorie foods are good and high calorie foods are bad. But it is a lot more complicated than that. Thinking this way can lead to eating disorders, infertility, illness, and depression because you may ignore nourishing foods in favor of low-calorie, low-nutrition processed foods.
- Counting calories prevents a positive, healthy relationship with food. Being calorie-conscious shifts your focus from how you eat to how much you eat. This can prevent you from having a positive relationship with food. Instead of thinking of food as life-giving nourishment, counting calories can make you feel apprehensive toward food, even making you think of food as the enemy.
- Counting calories creates a stressful relationship with food, interfering with digestion. Feeling stressed while eating is bad for you because it can interfere with digestion. The sympathetic nervous system triggers responses in the body that can shut down the digestive system so the body can deal with the stressful situation.
- Counting calories can also increase your feelings of depression. Have a burger and a chocolate milk shake and chances are you’ll end up feeling depressed because you’ll feel you’ve consumed far too many calories. The constant pressure from tracking calories and feeling like you’ve let yourself down can increase feelings of depression.
- Counting calories is extremely inaccurate. Not only is it wrong to think calories from different foods are the same, but you shouldn’t always believe the numbers of calories printed on labels because they’re often wrong. In most cases, the calorie tables used today are outdated. As dietitian Rick Miller says, “We’ve known for some time that calculations for certain foods such as vegetables and high-fiber foods are inaccurate. The calorie figures you see on a food label aren’t always the amount you will ingest.”
- The quality of calories is more important than the quantity. Count calories regularly and you run the risk of becoming obsessive about calorie counting. You may buy low-fat this and fat-free that, but these foods lack much needed vitamins and nutritional value. Can you lose fat by eating ‘low-fat’ and ‘fat-free’ foods? Yes, but it’s not healthy eating because you’re not getting all the nutrients your body needs. Plus, these foods often replace the fat with sugar, which then gets stored as fat in your body. Your calories should mainly come from whole, natural foods that don’t have labels, in short, the foods made by Mother Nature. And, you should avoid eating processed and packaged foods as much as possible, including those that are labeled ‘low-fat’ and ‘fat-free’. In many cases, these foods are worse than full-fat products.
- Calorie counting adds more work to your already busy life. It’s hard work to constantly tot up calories for every meal you eat, or record everything you put in your mouth in a food diary or journal. You probably don’t need to add more work to your already busy life, so forget calorie counting and focus your efforts elsewhere like exercising or cooking healthier meals for your family.
- Counting calories encourages calorie-restriction, which slows down the metabolism and makes it difficult to lose weight. The biggest problem with using linear calorie equations for fat loss is that the fewer calories you consume, the fewer calories your body burns. When you start a calorie-restricted diet, you will probably find that you lose a pound or so in the first week but less in subsequent weeks. This phenomenon is believed to be a metabolic adaptation to prevent starvation and keep your body balanced. But a slower metabolism means slower weight loss, and counting calories encourages this.
- Counting calories is not the way to guide your nutritional health. Counting calories should be used as just one of the tools for weight loss and should never be used as a long-term solution. Use it as a learning tool to become more aware of how many calories are in junk foods and sodas, for instance, but not as a tool for guiding your nutritional health.
- Calorie counting interferes with “intuitive eating.” Humans are, by design, intuitive eaters. This means that if you knew nothing about the calories, carbs, fats, proteins, vitamins or minerals contained in foods, you would naturally eat the foods your body needs to stay healthy. Sometimes your body may crave carbs while at other times it may crave fats, and there are reasons for this. Your body intuitively knows what it needs to stay healthy and balanced, and counting calories interferes with this intuitive ability to eat healthfully.