Counting Calories — A Fatal Distraction

People often believe the first step to health is weight loss, and the best way to attain that loss is by counting calories.

People often believe the first step to health is weight loss, and the best way to attain that loss is by counting calories.

It’s logical, isn’t it? Calories in, calories out. The truth is, weight loss is not that simple. And counting calories as the only means to lose weight undermines the fundamental, essential needs of the body. For this reason, counting calories could be a fatal distraction.

The right calories send the right signals.

If you eat correctly, there is absolutely no need to count calories. When you eat the right types of nutrient dense foods in the right combination, your body naturally governs the amount you are able to eat. This is because your brain recognizes satiation FAR sooner when you eat the right combination of beneficial nutrients, fibre, and water.

Consider the example of a Big Mac meal, which contains 1 Big Mac, 1 large fry, and 1 large Coke–a whopping 1350 calories! Most people can scarf this meal down in minutes with no signal from the stomach to the brain to quit eating. Why? Because this meal contains very few nutrients, water, or fibre. There is no “shut off” signal because the body has not received the nutrients it needs to function properly.

In a sense the body is starving, even though you are filling it up.

Try eating a salad, full of vegetables and healthy fats, and see if you can consume 1350 calories in one sitting! It is nearly impossible because your body becomes well-nourished LONG before that many calories are consumed. Your body recognizes that it has received adequate nutrients, so it sends the “satisfied” signal to your brain.

Now do you see that the only real reason anyone needs to count calories is when they are eating foods that do not satisfy the body’s needs? And when the body is starving for nutrients, it wants to eat.

Counting calories fails to consider other important factors.

Calorie counting for weight loss also leads people into the belief that weight loss is simple math. While there is merit to this belief, it will NOT work for many people. 

Consider women carrying post pregnancy weight who can never seem to eliminate the last 20 pounds, no matter how much they eat or how often they go to the gym. The problem here is often hormonal imbalance. Calories alone will not solve this problem.

Or what about the person who is eating a calorie restricted diet that does not contain enough cleansing and detoxifying foods? The body holds onto that fat as protection and a future energy source. So instead of allowing toxins to lodge into vital organs, they become sequestered in fat. The body also goes into preservation (starvation) mode, storing more calories as fat for potential later use.

Stress is another factor to consider. Significant amounts of stress raise cortisol far too high and inhibit weight loss. Yes, many people tend to overeat during stressful periods, but when cortisol interferes with the body’s ability to properly digest and assimilate foods, it facilitates weight gain. Calorie counting will be futile during a period of stress, and instead of doing that, one should focus on nutrient dense foods to offset the poor absorption rate that occurs while being stressed.

Now, I’m not saying you can’t lose weight by burning more calories than you take in, but I am saying that calorie counting is a myopic view that will likely leave you undernourished, frustrated, and unhealthier than ever before. When you want to eat for good health, focus on nutrient dense foods that will fuel your body appropriately, and caloric content becomes a complete non-factor. It is very difficult to become overweight or ill by eating plenty of nutrient dense foods, as opposed to counting calories, which normally leads to undernourishment, weight gain, and a generally lower quality of life.

So focus on making your nutrients count, and skip the calorie counting for an improved quality of life.

Derek Henry

Derek Henry is a well respected holistic health coach, educator, and writer.

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