Stop counting calories!
Yes, you read that right.
I practise as a weight management consultant but the diets I prescribe are not cast in ‘calorie’ iron. I don’t consider calories omni-important. In fact, my recently released book Don’t Diet! 50 Habits of Thin People has an entire chapter devoted to this very thought. People find this unusual coming from a nutritionist – after all, aren’t calories the bed rock of weight loss science?
Well, trust me, they aren’t!
Here are the reasons why we need to tone down our calorie mania:
The calorie-counting system was created in the late 1800s by Wilbur Atwater, a scientist, and is used currently too – with only slight modifications. No cutting edge changes/research or improvement in the last 100 years!
(Unheard of in other areas of research, where things change almost daily.)
It’s getting increasingly clear that the science of calculating calories is not correct, or lets just say, not foolproof yet – and the figures (of calories) we work with are estimates at best. So basically we are basing all our weight loss efforts completely on estimates. Not such a smart thing to do, now, is it?
It Doesn’t Work for all Foods
This calorie counting system is most accurate with the foods that are easily digested (as then, all of their energy is available for the body) – like, in the case of refined carbohydrates.
But it is mostly wrong in the case of foods that pack in a lot of fibre and protein (the foods we are actually supposed to eat to lose weight). This is because a substantial number of calories are apparently lost in the effort to digest these foods.
So, if we say that chicken or banana are providing X number of calories, the body might not really be extracting that many calories out of these foods. In some cases, particularly in the foods that the body has to work really hard to digest – like nuts – the calorie counts might even be almost 25 per cent off!
So there really is no point in doing all these painstaking calculations.
Not all Calories are Equal
It is an outdated, scientifically disproven idea that all calories are the same.
I’m not asking you to ignore calories but it’s a fact that our body processes 400 calories of candy very differently than 400 calories from veggies/protein/fat.
Another example: the same amount of calories from an aerated drink is more likely to add an extra tyre around your waist as compared to say, from yoghurt.
Get this right: some calories are metabolism boosting, some fattening, some detoxing and healing, others addictive. That’s because food doesn’t just contain calories, it contains other nutrients too and it is this interplay that decides the quality of the food – not calories alone.
So the take-home message is – focus on the quality of your food (especially the quality of the calories) more than the quantity. Simple!
Diligent calorie counting has been shown to up cortisol, a stress hormone tied to an increased appetite and belly fat. Now who wants that! On the other hand, I’ve had many clients give up calorie counting; instead they eat clean/balanced meals and are happy. Plus, it’s very freeing! Try it!
In any case, the golden rule here is that, the only way – no, let me rephrase that – the right way to lose weight, is to learn how to choose the right foods that make us happy and that fill us up.
(Kavita Devgan is a weight management consultant, nutritionist, health columnist and author of Don’t Diet! 50 Habits of Thin People.)