The moment we think of weight loss, we immediately make an association with calories restriction. There are dietary movements created upon the belief that calories in vs. calories out controls our weight management and metabolic rate.
I spent years living on a calories restricted diet; I was probably consuming less than 1000 a day; so about 200 less than needed, if not more, since I was very active at the gym. Yet, my weight would not shift; if anything I was gaining more.
In order to eat less, I was regularly drinking Coke Zero, thinking that, because it had no calories, I would not put on weight. I would then not eat for a whole day and then crave starches and sugar in the evening. I resisted the urge quite a few times; but I succumbed to it a lot more.
With time, experience and studies, I came to learn that my notion of calories and weight loss was completely wrong.
What I failed to take into consideration was the quality of the calories I was eating, as well as the metabolic reaction of each and every one of them in my body.
I realized that all the money spent on low calorie products or weight management products such as Weight Watchers, was not only affecting the number on the scale negatively, but also my health.
Simply put: 1000 calories from cookies or crisps will never be the same as 1000 calories of kale, so points/calories counting is not a helpful tool; if we fail to understand how they affect our system.
The truth about calories is that, their source will dictate how your body will react to them and whether or not you will metabolize them correctly. The biochemical reactions within our system are extremely complex; hence not every calorie will be the same.
Here a few points that are always raised about calories and that I wish to set straight:
1. All calories are the same
Myth: completely incorrect, as clearly stated above. Calories from junk, chemically laden foods, will not be the same as calories coming from nature (vegetables etc…)
2. To lose weight simply cut calories
Myth: Not essentially true. In fact, studies show that people who go on calories restricted diets, struggle with their weight more than people who don’t count them at all
3. Low calorie products are healthy
Myth: Just as we faced the “fat-free” craze that made people fatter, we are seeing the same issue with “low calories” food making people eat the wrong things. Eating low calories does absolutely not mean weight loss or health. As per my previous example, I used to drink Coke Zero. It was supposedly sugar free and zero calories. But those sodas made me fat. I recently spotted an ad for chocolate candy that “only” contains 180 calories and the ladies in it were ecstatic about that! But what about the sugar and chemicals in them?
4. A low calorie diet can extend your life
True: When we speak about low calories in this context, we are referring to the quality of the calories. If your calories (at least 90%) come from natural foods, such as vegetables, natural forms of protein, wholesome grains and healthy fats, then your calories will be of good quality, you will have a nutrients rich diet and feel completely nourished and satiated; which means you will not overeat, hence by definition, will have relatively “low” calories diet.
From personal experience and from working with clients, the truth is that: if you eat a diet filled with nutritious food and stay away from processed junk, you will inevitably ingest the sort of calories your body needs to do its work. The body uses a huge amount of them digesting, repairing and building tissues and organs, so we do actually need and use quite a lot of energy.
Beyond calories, we have to really consider how our body reacts to what we eat. If what we eat is far from what nature indented, no matter how low the calories are, then we will face harsh consequences with our health. Things like diabetes, obesity, hormonal imbalance and even cancer will take place.
This is the main message as to why the quality of your calories is the true key to health and weight loss, and not the amount.
If you are a person who counts calories at each meal, may I suggest you take a break for a week? Choose a majority plant based diet, wholesome grains and lean protein, and stay away from anything that comes into a pack and has a very distant expiration date.
Eat that way for a week and see how you feel. You will be the best judge of this theory and will be able to really see that not counting calories, but eating the right kind, will help you reach your goals. Bonus? You will eat without anxiety or having consumed too many calories “today”.