Losing weight is as simple as calculating your calorie intake and ensuring you burn more calories than you consume right? WRONG! The calorie counting approach to weight loss is not only outdated and futile, but it can also be dangerous for your health and may set you up for a lifetime of struggling with your weight.
It’s been known for quite some time now that counting calories and striving to eat less is not an effective weight loss strategy, especially over the long term. Research has in fact shown that more than 85 percent of people who count calories not only gain back the weight they lost, but they gain back even more weight. How is this possible?
Firstly, the types of foods we eat to satisfy our daily calorie intake (i.e. protein, carbohydrates and fats) produce different hormonal responses that directly influence the effect they have on our body composition. Refined/high GI carbohydrates for example, rapidly increase blood glucose levels causing a high release of the hormone insulin. Consistently elevated insulin levels can lead to cellular stress and weight gain. Low GI carbohydrates in contrast, such as those found in most fruits and vegetables, as well as protein and healthy fats, don’t stimulate this rapid rise in blood glucose and insulin levels, and can even act to augment insulin release in the body. Thus, if two people eat the same number of calories per day but one person eats comparatively more refined carbohydrates and less low GI carbohydrates, quality protein and healthy fats, this individual is far less likely to achieve the same degree of weight loss.
Secondly, using calorie restriction as a means of weight loss can dramatically lower your metabolic rate and hence your ability to sustainably lose weight in the long term. Restricting calories beyond a certain point leads to the release of the hormone ghrelin, which stimulates hunger, as well as the hormone GIP, which promotes fat storage. Calorie restriction also reduces the amount of the hormone leptin in your bloodstream and this hormone is responsible for appetite suppression and fat burning. Finally, calorie restriction will send your body into survival mode whereby it drops its metabolic rate as a defence mechanism against starvation. With a reduced metabolism, your body is much more likely to store the food you consume as fat rather than use it for energy thereby leading to excess fat storage and weight gain. Whilst you may lose weight initially by using a severe calorie restriction approach, the changes in your hormonal structure and metabolic rate will eventually force you to regain the weight you lost, and potentially more on top of that.
The final problem with using a calorie counting approach to weight loss is that it doesn’t take into account the thermic effect of food. When we eat, our bodies burn calories in the processing and digesting of the food. Differing amounts of energy are required to process different types of foods. For example, fats require very little energy to be processed, carbohydrates a little more and protein requires the most amount of energy. Additionally, it takes more energy to process raw vegetables as opposed to cooked vegetables just as it takes more energy to process whole foods in comparison to processed foods. These effects however, are not accounted for in a food’s calorie count.
Calorie counting for weight loss is clearly flawed on many levels and it is certainly not a reliable or healthy manner in which to achieve your health and wellness goals. Not only does this approach fail to take into account the quality and nutrient density of the foods being consumed, but it also sets us up for a lifetime of health issues and struggles with our weight.