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To count or not to count calories ?

Updated: Apr 26, 2023

Paraphrasing a famous Shakespeare phrase I would like to help you to find an answer to this question. There is a lot of contradictory information and it's easy to get confused and overwhelmed by it.

What is calorie ?

It's a standard unit we use to measure the energy value of food. A calorie is defined as the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of 1 gram by water 1° Celsius

You can see calories on nutritional panels of food products, many weight loss programs/diets are build around calorie counting.

Everyone requires different amounts of energy each day, depending on age, sex, size and activity level. It's impossible to give a uniform answer to everyone as to the number of calories they need.

Does calorie counting work for sustainable weight loss ?

There are people who can successfully maintain weight lost using calorie a counting/ reduction method, but it doesn't work for most people.

The belief that calorie counting is an effective tool comes from the myth that weight loss is a simple mathematical process - calorie in and calorie out. It's not such a simplistic process.

There are lots of factors contributing to the processing of calories in our body.

  1. Age

  2. Sex

  3. Physical activity

  4. Gut microbiome (the microbiome of thin and overweight people are not the same). Some type of bacterias in our gut are able to break down and use more calories from certain foods than other types of organisms. The more diverse microbiome the more chances to keep your slim waistline.

More about microbiome can be found here

5. Your metabolism - If your metabolism is "high" (or fast), you will burn more calories at rest and during activity. A high metabolism means you'll need to take in more calories to maintain your weight.

6. Source of calories - it's not always important only how many calories but also where they come from. There were interesting studies conducted in 2019, where 20 people (10 men and 10 women) were split into two groups. They all consumed the same number of calories, as well as similar amounts of sugar, sodium, fat, fiber, and micronutrients. The only difference was source of calories, one group was given unprocessed foods, whilst 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 more weight.

Why counting calories doesn't work?

1. First and probably the most important reason is ...hunger! We cut our calories, which often leads to some short-term weight loss. Then we can’t keep up long term low calorie diet as we feel hungry and irritated, so we stop it, resulting in us regaining the weight.

2. Calorie counting doesn't take into consideration nutritional value. You can get 1000 calories from ultra processed foods, without precious protein, micro and macro minerals or get a wholesome balanced meals which will nourish your body.

3. It doesn't focus on your body and it's needs

When you are solely focused on calories intake you ignore the feeling of hunger and satiety.

At the same time you are not developing a mind-body connection - mindful eating.

4. Last but not least it's not really practical, it can negatively impact of your every day life. Counting calories, measuring every ingredient can be really problematic on social occasions.

What is the alternative to calorie counting ?

There is a good news, there is an alternative method to calorie counting - calorie density.

It's not a miracle method, it won't help you to lose 20kg in 1 month but it can help you to achieve an optimal body weight.

Calorie density measure of calories per weight or volume of food, is usually measured as calories per 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of food.

Choosing foods with a low calorie density can help with weight loss. It helps you eat fewer calories while still eating large and filling portions. That also helps you to focus on nutrient rich food.

To help you to understand it better - 100g of broccoli has 34 calories, once 100g of doughnut has 412 calories.

A low-calorie-density diet helps you lose weight. It also fills your plate and stomach, your stomach senses the volume of food you have consumed in a meal.

This system is also more practical that calorie counting, as you just need to gain a basic understanding of calorie density of different food groups: fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds , sweets or processed foods.

When you start your journey with eating, based on calorie density focus on low calorie density food: fruits, vegetables, tubers, whole grains, tofu/ tempeh and legumes.

Try to reduce or eliminate pastries and cakes, fast foods, oils, sugary drinks and nuts (measure portion of nuts before eating them)

If you would like to implement calorie density in your weight loss journey, join our 6 weeks Weight Loss Program to Change Your Life. It's a unique weight loss program, where together we will work on sustainable, long lasting changes to your eating habits. During our individual sessions we will master calorie density and prepare your personal action plan to ensure a pleasant and permanent change in your life

Sign up here so we can schedule our first session

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