- Counting calories doesn’t keep track of nutrients
- 100 calories of whole foods keeps you full longer than 100 cals of processed food
- I lost weight when I focused on eating balanced meals instead of counting calories
Counting calories is a common weight-loss method. This post explains a more accurate way of figuring out what to eat.
Are you counting calories?
For 10 years I tried to lose weight by counting calories.
I was hungry all the time so I ate low-calorie food. Then I could eat more without feeling guilty. Often I’d choose processed foods because the label made calorie counting easier and more exact.
First I’d decide how many calories I was comfortable eating. Then I’d do a little division to determine how many pretzels, pieces of Melba toast or rice cakes I could consume.
There was no doubt in my mind that counting calories was the right thing to do. Even after 10 years of counting calories and no weight-loss success, I was completely committed.
Anytime I ate too much I blamed myself. I’d always been a disciplined person so I was both disappointed and confused by my inability to exercise willpower.
Why I stopped counting calories
After struggling with my weight for years, I was beyond frustrated. In my second year of university I started thinking about all the time I’d spent preoccupied by trying to lose weight. It seemed like life was marching on without me.
At that point I was willing to take advice from people I trusted. I wanted my life back more than I wanted to lose weight.
The next day I joined the school meal plan. There I ate the breakfast, lunch and dinner the people I’d confided in suggested.
The school cafeteria was buffet-style so counting calories with any accuracy was out of the question. But having a goal that was greater than losing weight (discovering my interests and working on them) made it easier for me to let go of all my diet rules, tips and tricks.
Instead of counting calories I blindly ate 3 roughly balanced meals made mostly of whole foods.
When I left the dining hall I focused on the rest of my life.
Initially I only felt comfortable eating exactly what had been planned. But eventually I became more flexible.
N.B. If you’re away at school and struggling to lose weight, consider rejoining the meal plan. It’s super social and simplifies eating. And sticking to the 3 classic meal times gives your day structure. If you don’t have access to a meal plan, you can still get your body into this healthy routine.
Why counting calories doesn’t work
There’s huge debates about counting calories. Many people stand by the “calories in, calories out” approach to weight loss.
Then along came films like Fed Up:
Fed Up … focuses on the causes of obesity in the US, presenting evidence showing that the large quantities of sugar in processed foods are an overlooked root of the problem.
And books like The Calorie Myth:
… the calorie-counting model of weight loss doesn’t work…The human body does not recognize all calories as equal… when we eat sugar, starches, processed fats, and other poor quality foods, the body’s regulatory system becomes “clogged”…
Both Fed Up and The Calorie Myth explain why focusing on the type of food you eat is more important than counting calories.
In the simplest terms, processed foods are absorbed quickly into your bloodstream and set off a fat-storing chain of events. Basically, you get a sugar rush, followed by a sugar crash, which makes you crave more sugary food. Then the fat-storing cycle continues.
Whereas natural food is nutrient rich. It’s full of fiber, fat, carbohydrates, proteins, water, vitamins and minerals that take time to break down. So the energy and nutrients from natural food are released slowly. Then you can use the energy and nutrients as they become available (rather than store it).
In other words, 100 calories of natural food will keep you full longer than 100 calories of processed food. So eating natural food will help you eat fewer calories.
Focusing on the source of your calories is key.
Aim to eat less processed foods and more whole foods.
Eating natural food was half the reason I lost weight
When I stopped eating rice cakes, Melba toast, pretzels, diet pop and other factory foods and started eating at my school cafeteria, I lost weight. But eating fresh food wasn’t the only change I made when I joined the meal plan.
The breakfast, lunch and dinner the people I trusted suggested, were also roughly (not perfectly!) balanced. It’s important to be flexible.
Why do balanced meals help you reach and maintain a healthy weight?
Balanced meals are full of all the nutrients your body requires to function properly. When you eat food from each food group, you meet your body’s needs. If you don’t, you will continue to feel hungry. You’ll be preoccupied by hunger! Your body’s really good at asking for the nourishment that will keep you healthy.
If you don’t listen to your body—if you ignore it’s hunger signals, your body will go into survival mode. Then it’s easier to gain weight and harder to lose it. That’s why it’s important to meet your body’s nutrient needs
But counting calories doesn’t keep track of nutrients.
Counting calories only keeps track of numbers
Your body will continue to crave more food until you meet all of your body’s needs. That’s why you can eat a lot of processed foods and still feel hungry. It doesn’t matter how many rice cakes you eat, you will not give your body the nutrients it requires from:
- fruit and vegetables
- beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins
- dairy and alternatives
- unrefined carbohydrates like potatoes, whole grain bread, rice, pasta and other starches
Counting calories often leads to overeating
When you eat lots of processed food, even if it’s low calorie, you’ll continue to feel unsatisfied. When you feel unsatisfied, it’s natural to keep eating. This series of choices explains how people become overfed and undernourished; why people can be overweight and have low energy.
At the time I was around 30 pounds overweight, I was eating lots of rice cakes and diet pop. And I was hungry all the time and completely discouraged. I thought: How will I ever lose weight if I have to eat less than I am now and therefore be even hungrier?
I didn’t know I needed to stop counting calories and start focusing on nutrients!
What I do instead of counting calories
The beauty of being on the meal plan, all those years ago, is that it forced me to:
Stop counting calories and grazing on low calorie food all day.
Start eating a plate of REAL food, full of the nutrients that allow my eyes to operate, skin to repair, heart to pump and all the other amazing, truly amazing, things our bodies do, without us even thinking about it—including reaching and maintaining a healthy weight naturally. Our bodies want to be a healthy weight!
For the last 18 years I’ve continued eating roughly balanced meals made mostly of whole foods. The majority of the food I eat doesn’t even come with a label.
It’s no secret I love the Eatwell Guide! It shows you what a balanced meal looks like with a simple glance.
It wasn’t until I went back to the basics and ate roughly balanced meals made mostly of whole foods that I finally lost weight for good.
Balanced meals meet your body’s needs so you’re satisfied.
Natural food keeps you satisfied longer.
The result? You eat fewer calories and naturally reach and maintain a healthy weight.
How big should my balanced meal be?
When you get into the habit of eating a balanced breakfast, lunch and dinner made of whole foods, you’ll get back in tune with your body. Fresh food allows you to fill up naturally. Soon you’ll get to know how big your balanced meal should be. Until then, try eating a moderate-sized balanced meal. Chit chat with your family or friends. Then if you’re still hungry eat another smaller, balanced serving.
Stop counting calories and focus on eating a variety of nutrients found in their natural state!
Stop counting calories and get busy with your life, and the people and animals you love. Your body, mind and spirit will thank you.
Build healthy eating and exercise habits. A healthy weight will follow.
Are you eating tons of low-fat or high-fat processed foods? Understanding what healthy eating looks like is an important part of reaching and maintaining a healthy weight. You also need a strategy. One that gets you from A, where you are now, to B, having healthy habits. Sign up for my newsletter and you’ll receive the best strategy I learned.
Why isn’t counting calories accurate? It’s all about chemistry.
Sharing what I learned makes the 10 years I STRUGGLED worth it