While many people make a New Year’s resolution to improve their health by eating less and counting calories, the actual science behind effective weight management is far more complex.
We all have unique bodies with different metabolisms and individual needs. It’s not just about following a mathematical formula of: bodyweight equals calories in and calories out. Calories do count, but they are far from the whole picture.
Over the years study after study has shown that diets based on the same amount of calories, but of varied composition with different proportions of fat, protein, and carbohydrates, result in different amounts of weight loss. That’s because the calories-in-versus-calories-out energy balance theory of weight loss fails to consider the hormonal effect of the food we eat.
While counting the calories can initially help you to lose weight, most people regain some or all of the weight they initially lost. In fact, this calorie-counting approach can even cause weight gain, as severe restrictions cause levels of cortisol – a stress hormone – to rise. This can result in an increase in appetite and a hormonally-mediated propensity to store excess calories as fat.
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If tracking what you consume becomes a headache – do the following:
- Instead of counting calories, eat smaller portions – Most people underestimate calories in large meals. Bigger portions have more calories and if we help ourselves to more we will eat more food.
- Instead of counting calories, choose foods that use more calories – Some foods require more energy than others to digest and metabolise. This thermic effect of food is highest in high-protein and fiber-rich foodstuffs.
- Instead of counting calories, make sure you consume the right foods – Nutrient-dense sources of whole natural foods like fruit, vegetables and whole grains are better than processed and manufactured sources that lack nutrients, like white bread, ice cream and soft drinks.
More than just the quantity of calories you consume, it’s the quality of those calories that matter most in terms of keeping you healthy, losing weight, and maintaining your results. Foods that contain fibre, protein and fat pass through the body more slowly and will make you feel fuller for longer than processed carbohydrates. So, rather than becoming obsessed with calories, ditch the meal math and make changes in the quality of food you eat.
This article was adapted from a Fitness magazine feature written by Pedro van Gaalen, Managing Editor for Fitness magazine.
Author: Logan Leigh Rix
Logan blends her passion and profession by working as a digital and social media marketer and content creator in the fitness, health and wellness industry. She’s also a personal trainer, former Face of Fitness finalist and Fitness Magazine featured athlete.