Stop Counting Calories

Refocus on food quality and healthy lifestyle to reach a healthy weight.


Most people have been taught that losing weight is a matter of simple maths. Cut calories — specifically 3,500 calories, and you will lose about 500gm. Experts are learning that this old strategy is actually pretty misguided.

The truth is that even careful calorie calculations do not always yield uniform results. How your body burns calories depends on a number of factors, including the type of food you eat, your body's metabolism, and even the type of organisms living in your gut. You can eat the exact same number of calories as someone else, yet have very different outcomes when it comes to your weight.

It's time to take a different approach putting the emphasis on improving diet/food consumption quality and making sustainable lifestyle improvements to achieve a healthy weight.

Three main factors affect how your body processes calories.

1. Your gut microbiome. Trillions of organisms live in your gut, and the predominant types may influence how many calories your body absorbs from food. Researchers have found that people who are naturally thin have different types of organisms living inside them than those who are overweight. Some types of organisms in the gut are able to break down and use more calories from certain foods than other types of organisms.

2. Your metabolism. Each body has a "set point" that regulates weight. This set point reflects several factors, including your genes, your environment, and your behaviors. Your hypothalamus, a region at the base of your brain that also regulates things like your body temperature, stands guard to keep your body weight from dipping below that set point. This is why you might find your weight plateauing even if you are carefully dieting and exercising, and also why a majority (96%) of people who lose a large amount of weight regain it. Your “Hypothalamic weight set point” will drive your weight back to its usual “safety zone” which is why “yo-yo dieting” is exactly that!

3. The type of food you eat. Your food choices may also influence your calorie intake, and not just because of their specific calorie content. One 2019 study found that eating processed foods seems to stimulate people to eat more calories compared with eating unprocessed foods. In this study, 20 people (10 men and 10 women) were split into two groups. They all were offered meals with the same number of calories, as well as similar amounts of sugar, sodium, fat, fiber, and micronutrients. But there was one key difference: one group was given unprocessed foods, and the other got ultra-processed options. After two weeks, the groups switched and ate the other type of diet for the following two weeks.

People who ate the ultra-processed food gained weight. Each group was given meals with the same number of calories and instructed to eat as much as they wanted, but when participants ate the processed foods, they ate 500 calories more each day on average. The same people's calorie intake decreased when they ate the unprocessed foods.

What is the lesson? Not all food is created equal. The brain likes foods that are healthy, that are in their natural form, not “food stuffs” which are very toxic, un-natural and difficult to metabolically process.

Focus on diet quality. When planning your meals, try to cut down on or eliminate processed foods, which can drive your body to consume more. Instead, focus on choosing unprocessed foods, including lean meats, whole grains, and lots of fruits and vegetables in their natural form. “Mother Earth foods”!

Exercise regularly. Aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week. Moderate exercise is done at a level where you can talk. While any movement is better than nothing, work toward achieving a more vigorous level of exercise when you can.

Sleep soundly. Poor sleep quality can lead to weight gain. Your body wants to sleep at night and be awake during the day. The Nurses' Health Study, which followed nurses for 20 years, found that those who worked the night shift gained more weight over time. The body gets disturbed when you disrupt its natural circadian [day/night] rhythm. A lack of sleep affects your weight in much the same way as hormonal shifts, making you want to eat more. So, addressing sleep problems should be a priority.

Check your medications. Sometimes medication causes weight gain. Be aware if you start a new medication and you notice you are putting on weight.

Reduce your stress levels. Stress, like poor sleep, can lead to weight gain.

Consult a professional. A lot of people feel that they are “failures” if they are unable to lose weight. As with other medical conditions, many people will need help from a health professional. Successful weight loss may require more than just diet and exercise. Do not be afraid to seek help if you need it.

We are here to help you!

Written by Nutritionist and Naturopth Irina Mitkovets, endorsed by Dr Jane

In health and always with happiness.

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