If you’re reading this blog, you are most likely someone who cares about your health and nourishing your body through food. Chances are you’re also someone who watches your weight. The need for weight loss was what inspired me to become educated on healthy eating. When I needed to lose about 15 lbs, I immediately turned to calorie counting. I cut down to about 1,200 calories a day, wrote down everything I ate, and totaled up the calories as the day went on.
I understand that discussing this may cause a bit of conflict. Calorie counting is a very common weight loss method and many people swear by it. I’m here only to give my own personal feelings and experiences on the topic and hopefully offer some insight. Please don’t post malicious or argumentative comments without careful consideration and research first.
The Principle Behind Calorie Counting
Calorie counting is based on the idea that all weight gain/loss has to do with how many calories you consume. The theory is simple: in order to lose weight, you must burn more calories than you consume. If you consume more calories than you burn through your daily activities, you will gain weight. This has been proven by a number of scientific studies.
However… the issue of weight loss is not that simple. There are a number of psychological, emotional, and physiological things that contribute to weight gain/loss, and they all must be taken into account when trying to lose weight.
Calorie Counting and Nutrition
In order to have a healthy and fully functioning body, you must provide it with all the proper nutrients. This means [complex] carbohydrates, [lean] protein, and even [mostly mono- and poly-unsaturated] fat. In addition, you want to be getting all the necessary vitamins and nutrients like zinc, iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, B-complex vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin K, and so on. By restricting your calories, you are restricting the availability of these nutrients to your body. It is possible to eat nutrient-dense foods that are not high in calories, but that decision is not always made by the calorie counter. In calorie counting, calories always come first. Doesn’t that seem a bit counterproductive? The priority should always be health and vitality; when you take this into account, you won’t be choosing foods that will make you gain weight. Considering calories first is not addressing the real problem with weight gain.
Calorie Counting and Processed Foods
A major problem with calorie counting diets is the plethora of packaged foods that are made to be significantly low in calories for what they are. Food corporations usually do this by taking out fat (higher in calories than carbohydrates) and replacing it with sugar, emulsifiers, thickeners, and toxic artificial ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils (trans fats) to make it taste like “the real thing.” What you have is an over-processed, chemically-ridden piece of junk food that is lower in calories than its original counterpart. Calorie counters flock to these types of foods, but they provide nothing nutritionally and pollute the body with unnatural substances. I have an issue with “100 Calorie Packs” as well. Although portion control is a good rule of thumb, you should be controlling your portions of healthy, nutritious foods. Portion controlled processed crackers or oreos is not my idea of healthy; it is simply a smaller amount of a food that’s not good for you.
Calorie Counting and Sugar
As mentioned above, manufacturers often replace fat content with sugar to lower the calorie count on a particular food. This is one of the most dangerous things in low calorie diets. Sugar is a major cause of weight gain in America. Sugar is NOT necessary for the human body in any capacity and only hinders the body’s natural functions. Those who have read my blog before know that I am very much an advocate for a low-sugar diet. Sugar is linked to countless diseases and health conditions. It is found in mass quantities in almost any type of food (even food disguised as “health food”). If this sparks your interest, I highly recommend checking out books like Get The Sugar Out, Sugar Blues, and Sugar Shock.
Calorie Counting and Healthy Choices
If calories are your first priority, you are likely to overlook the real reasons for eating right (to provide your body with fuel and nutrients). For example, a sugar-free jell-o may have 60 calories and a banana may have around 100, depending on the size. A jell-o is basically nothing but chemicals, and a sugar-free jell-o will also have a toxic artificial sweetener like aspartame. A banana is a natural food providing complex carbohydrates and nutrients. It is obviously the smarter choice; calories are irrelevant.
Calorie Counting and Hunger
One thing I remember vividly from the calorie counting days was how hungry I was all the time. I felt weak, tired, and miserably starved. Let me be clear that I wasn’t starving myself; I definitely ate three meals a day and an occasional snack. But for a somewhat active college student, I wasn’t providing my body with everything it needed. My friends would offer support and we would come up with ways to distract ourselves from the hunger. We’d drink lemon water or coffee, or if all else failed, we’d take a nap. This is no way to live! Dieters often feel that feeling starved is part of dieting. When you start to reduce your intake or take out your favorite indulgences (foods for which your body has developed an addiction), a little hunger is inevitable. But you shouldn’t feel as though you’re starving yourself. If you eat a healthy balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fats, you will feel satiated and satisfied.
I am not against being what I call “calorie conscious.” It’s okay to take into account how many calories a food has just as you would take into account the ingredients and the nutrients it provides. I simply believe calories should not serve as the final word in a food choice. Too many calorie counters look at a food and ask the question, “Will this food make me fat?” rather than, “Will this food make me healthy? Will it give me sustainable energy and improve my metabolic functions? Will it fuel my body with the proper nutrients and help my cells rebuild themselves? Will it strengthen my immune system and prevent me from getting sick?” Calories do not determine a food’s nutritional value so it is very important to look beyond calories when selecting what to eat. A 100-calorie pack of wheat thins and light yogurt will not do what a bowl of brown rice and asparagus can do. When you provide your body with real food, you can watch the pounds melt off. It is not just calories that is making America fat. If that were the case, all the fad diets would be successful simply by cutting calories. What our society needs is a healthy, balanced diet of real food. Not chemicals, additives, diet sodas, meal replacement bars, and low-fat varieties of our favorite junk.
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