Don’t get me wrong, counting calories is fine. There’s nothing wrong with it and it DOES work. The problem with counting calories is that not all calories are created equal. We know this-we’ve read it a hundred times. 100 ice cream calories is a lot different then 100 broccoli calories or 100 chicken calories.
Here’s what Stupid Easy Paleo has to say about calorie counting.
Let’s say you use AmazingCalorieCalculator.com (not a real site) to figure out your perfect caloric intake. It says 1400. So, you go about your time reading food labels and quantifying everything that passes your lips. Whether you’re paying attention to food quality or not at all—1400 calories could be meat, veggies and sweet potatoes or a mega-giant pile of M&Ms—even if you meet 1400 calories, you might still be underfed.
Almost two weeks ago we launched the CaveMamas Weight Loss Accountability Challenge and have over 10 women participating in it! We each have our own goals and ways we are going about trying to lose those last 10 pounds, but as we share and keep each other accountable, the discussion of calorie counting has come up. Both Debi and I have been playing with the app, My Fitness Pal, and continued to look at others, but all we have come up with is the traditional low-fat, high carb tool for calorie counting and still wondering, do we need to count calories at all?
Eating whole, real foods like those in a Paleo or Zone diet versus the standard low-fat, high carb diets of so many traditional diets makes calorie counting problematic. If you don’t already know it, over the past 30 plus years we have been indoctrinated to believe that the low-fat diet was the solution to heart disease and obesity. But those conclusions were false, if not an out right a lie, and we have all watched our country get more and more obese with a huge increase in diabetes all while following what we were told was good for us!
Without going into a science lesson, there are 4 major hormones that play into losing and gaining weight and hunger; Insulin, Leptin, Glucagon, and Cortisol. Here’s a great video by PaleoFlip describing the connection between them all.
When we calorie restrict, we mess with the hormone balance, especially Cortisol, and actually cause our body to preserve fat! Here’s what the folks at Whole 9 said in their book, It Starts With Food: Discover the Whole30 and Change Your Life in Unexpected Ways (which I TOTALLY recommend that you read!):
Want to know another reason that skipping meals and restricting your calories doesn’t work for long-term weight loss? Because chronically elevated cortisol sends a variety of messages via different hormonal pathways, all designed to do one thing-preserve body fat.
So does this mean we don’t count calories at all if we want to lose weight? Well, the answer is yes and no. When you chose to eat low-nutrient and processed foods, including sugar, while trying to lose weight, you will not only be hungry more often, but these foods affect your hormones and the hunger-hormone cycle. Calories become the only thing you are focused on and when you meet your daily limit, you are either satisfied and well-fed, or you are hungry and malnourished for the day. Chances are, with processed foods still in your diet, you are likely to have interfered with your hormone cycle already and you end the day cranky, hungry, and ready to gnaw your arm off.
On the other hand, when you focus on whole foods, unprocessed foods, and healthy fats, the need for calorie counting becomes less important because they keep your hormone cycle in balance. With nutrient dense foods such as lean meats, nuts, lots of veggies and fruits, eggs, avocado, and other good fats, your Leptin is high and high Leptin=decreased appetite and hunger. This in turn, naturally allows you to have decreased calorie intake without even trying.
This doesn’t mean that you can be willy-nilly with your food intake while eating Paleo/Zone/whole food. Too much of anything will cause weight gain if your body doesn’t need the fuel. But it does mean that the more real food you eat, the need for calorie counting is less necessary. So, how do we know how much to eat? I’m a visual person so I loved this picture when thinking of a Paleo plate.
Every meal should look like this. When it does, I won’t need or want to eat more often and my hormones will be in balance. Does it mean I can’t treat myself now and then to pie or wine or chips and salsa? No, but it should be a treat and not a daily occurrence and I don’t need to count the calories when I do it this way.
The problem with counting calories is that is doesn’t tell the whole story and it doesn’t actually measure the quality of the food I’m eating. If I shift my focus to the quality of foods I’m eating it will accomplish exactly what I set out to do in the first place-lose weight.-without me micromanaging every morsel I put in my mouth. And I will prevent wrecking havoc on my hormone cycle as well, which in turn, supports my goal.
There is so much more to be said about this topic of calorie counting and eating real food and I hope you will do some reading on your own. How have you lost weight in the past? Are you a calorie counter?
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