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Why calorie counting doesn't work

lisawinning4losinglisawinning4losing Member Posts: 732 Member Member Posts: 732 Member
I don't know about the rest of you all, but counting calories has only provided me with temporary solutions. I end up gaining the weight back. Which is why I'm now taking a different approach. Don't get me wrong, I don't think calories are irrelevant, but I don't think they're the most important thing to be focused on.

I know this is review for a lot of you, but I just thought this was a great intro to low carb and why it makes sense for some of us.

Here's the article:

Why Calorie Counting Doesn’t Work

No doubt you’ve heard the expression, “A calorie is a calorie,” meaning the calories we get from carbs, fat and protein are equal in terms of their effect on our weight.

Perhaps you think all that matters is the total number of calories you take in each day, regardless of whether the majority comes from one macronutrient more than the other.

In fact, many people emphasize that weight management is a simple game of math. Maintaining your weight, therefore, is merely about consuming the same number of calories your body burns each day.

But, while this is true in part, research suggests there’s a lot more to it than that.

Calories Are Not All Equal

Firstly, it might help to define the term ‘calorie.’

A calorie is a unit of food energy. Basically, the energy that fuels the body; much like petrol or gas fuels a car. Fat provides 9 calories per gram. Carbohydrates and proteins provide 4 calories per gram.

While it may seem simple to conclude that all you need to do is take in fewer calories than you expend, if you want to lose weight, research suggests the body may processes these macronutrients differently. So, perhaps a calories is not a calorie after all.

This gives us an indication as to why weight loss is not so simple, and suggests why so many struggle with losing weight long-term.
Calorie Counting Has Limited Use

If you are only concerned with counting calories, it won’t tell you much about the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients in your diet. Let me give you an example:

A bar of chocolate has roughly 251 calories. 6-8 brazil nuts and 5-6 almonds have around 250 calories.

These two snacks contain similar amounts of calories, but they will certainly not have the same effect on your body. The chocolate bar is pretty much all carbs in the form of refined sugar. But, the nuts contain healthy fats and protein, as well as vitamins and fibre. It’s obvious which is the better option.

As we shall see, calorie counting alone tells you absolutely nothing about how your body will react to a certain food.

The Research: Protein vs Carbs vs Fats

Research indicates the calories from proteins, carbohydrates and fats may not be treated the same by the body, therefore challenging the idea that a calorie is a calorie.
1. Dietary Effect On Muscle Mass

A recent 2012 study, found that when you overeat on a low protein (higher carb) diet, you store fat around your organs (e.g. liver, kidneys and pancreas). However, when a high protein diet is eaten, it adds muscle and increases resting metabolism.

The researchers concluded:

Among persons living in a controlled setting, calories alone account for the increase in fat; protein affected energy expenditure and storage of lean body mass, but not body fat storage.

Interestingly, the low protein group (5% protein) lost 1.5 pounds of muscle, and gained 7.5 pounds of fat. The high protein group (25% protein) gained 6.3 pounds of muscle mass.

This study suggests that some calories may make you store fat, while others help you build muscle.
Avoid ‘Free’ Fructose

Calories from drinks appear to be particularly problematic.

One study specifically singled out fructose, concluding that in overweight and obese adults, it increases intra-abdominal fat, promotes abnormal lipids, decreases insulin sensitivity, and increases DNL (de novo lipogenesis).

Another 2012 study in young people, found that the ‘free’ fructose in high fructose corn syrup, led to increased belly fat, inflammation, blood pressure, blood sugar and pre-diabetes.
2. Dietary Effect On Satiety

We know that protein foods make us feel more satisfied. The result of this is a reduced appetite, which has the potential to make us eat less, if we listen to our body’s hunger signals.

One study found that when subjects increased their protein intake to 30 percent, they ate 441 calories less each day, and experienced greater feelings of satiety.

In fact, they lost almost 11 pounds on average, including more than 8 pounds of body fat.
3. Dietary Effect On Wellness

A very good comparison of the different effects certain diets have on the body, is Ancel Keys’ semi-starvation experiment versus John Yudkin’s low carb study.

The big difference between these two studies was the carbohydrate and fat intake; they were basically the reverse of each another. Yet, as Dr Eades puts it in his article on Tim Ferriss’ blog:

Both studies provided between 1500 and 1600 kcal per day, but with huge differences in outcome.

In the Key’s semi-starvation study (high-carb, low-fat) the subjects starved and obsessed on food constantly. In the Yudkin study (low-carb, high-fat), the subjects, who had no restriction on the amount of food they ate, volitionally consumed the same number of calories that the semi-starvation group did, yet reported that they had “an increases feeling of well-being.”

Instead of lethargy and depression reported by the Keys subjects on their low-fat, high-carb 1570 calories, those on the same number of low-carb, high-fat calories experienced “decreased lassitude.*”

* state of physical or mental weariness; lack of energy.

So, despite that fact that the diets were almost identical in calorie intake, the results were vastly different, with the higher fat, lower carb diet showing a much more favorable outcome on overall wellness.

Why Counting Calories Doesn’t Work

While calories do matter to a degree, they are far from the whole story. As we’ve seen, it appears macronutrients act differently within the body, and the idea that a calorie is a calorie is perhaps too simplistic.

So, rather than being overly concerned with meeting a certain calorie requirement each day, focus on making sure your diet is as nutrient dense as possible.

Here are a few basic pointers to help simplify things:

Start your day with protein-rich foods, rather than starchy foods. Good choices are eggs, lean meats, fish, nuts, seeds, nut butters, or a protein shake, and make sure to skip the bread, bagels, muffins and donuts.
Have a source of protein with every meal, and avoid “carb only” eating.
Make sure you are getting healthy fats into your diet each day.
Skip sugar most of the time, especially in the form of liquid calories, such as sodas, fruit juice, and alcohol. And, avoid high fructose corn syrup at all costs.

http://dietrebel.com/a-calorie-is-a-calorie/
edited March 2016

Replies

  • macchiattomacchiatto Member Posts: 2,888 Member Member Posts: 2,888 Member
    Love this! Thanks for posting!
  • SamandaIndiaSamandaIndia Member Posts: 1,577 Member Member Posts: 1,577 Member
    Great article. Thanks for sharing. Off now to have my bullet proof coffee n start my meat feast at breakfast.
  • LowCarbInScotlandLowCarbInScotland Member Posts: 1,027 Member Member Posts: 1,027 Member
    And calorie counting only works less and less the older you get and the unhealthier your metabolism becomes. I could lose weight on a gummy worm diet when I was 18 as long as my calories were low... Problem is , that type of silly behaviour turned me into a 40 year old diabetic, go figure :wink:
  • SugarbeatSugarbeat Member Posts: 825 Member Member Posts: 825 Member
    I have a hard time not counting calories but I'm working on it. I've found calorie counting puts too much focus on weight and not enough on other health markers. Lately I've been combining LCHF with the concepts of intuitive eating, which is basically listening to your body (not your mind) and giving it what it wants. I've found this makes low carving so much easier. I'm still weighing myself, but once a week and I have to force myself to stay off the rest of the time.
  • LowCarbInScotlandLowCarbInScotland Member Posts: 1,027 Member Member Posts: 1,027 Member
    @sugarbeat I think many of us have our own varying neuroses to deal with, many of which affect our weight management and food issues. I find that calorie counting combined with a LCHF woe with a focus on whole foods works best for me, unlike calorie counting alone, which definitely did me no good. I know a lot of people here don't believe in calorie counting, but what works for one person isn't always the best solution for everyone. I think each of us needs to find the optimal path for ourselves as individuals.

    I think it's great that you've found that intuitive eating has helped you maintain your woe. I hope to get to the point eventually where I have a less emotional attachment to food and eating, but it's going to take me a lot longer to get to that head space than its going to take me to lose the weight.

    My food management works most effectively when I incorporate my compulsive behaviour. I find weighing and logging my food and planning my meals ahead to fit within my calories and macros gives me the control that I need to fight my binge eating. Albeit I have days and times in my life when logging isn't a priority, but I definitely eat too much on those days, though I don't stress about it as long as I'm not turning to carbs. The scale gain will be temporary and 2 lbs is meaningless in the scheme of things as I have a lot of weight to lose. The difference for me with this woe is that I can go two days and be a bit off plan, not planning my meals and logging everything (i.e. eating way too much lamb this weekend) and jump right back on track and refocus. I've never been able to do that before, which has been the real hinderance to my weight loss.
  • danidanibobanidanidanibobani Member Posts: 125 Member Member Posts: 125 Member
    I only counted calories a few times in the beginning. It was really important to me to be free from the ww points/calorie counting. I lost 20ish pounds and I don't write anything down. That being said, I have to stay away from macadamia nuts or I overeat and gain. I hover around 155 at 5'6. I am happy with the way that I look. If I lost more, I'd be fine, but I don't need to be super thin. So glad to be free of calorie counting!!
  • nvmomketonvmomketo Member Posts: 12,020 Member Member Posts: 12,020 Member
    Nice article. :)

    I like how Dr Jason Fung calls the calories counting / reduced calorie diets: CRaP which stands for Calorie Reduction as Primary.... I just sums up how I feel about that way of thinking. ;)
  • nicintimenicintime Member Posts: 381 Member Member Posts: 381 Member
    First - I record what I eat as accurately as possible. By default that counts calories, but that isn't my motivation. Information is why, and knowledge is power. If you want to get your finances in order, if you say at the end of the month "I have no idea where my money goes?!" - then that is a large taproot of your problem. You can't make as good of decisions about your eating if you don't know what you eat.

    Second - I focus on my carb goal, the most important macro. For me it is 20 to max 30 total carbs, YMMV.

    Third - Protein to my lean body mass, and in grams not %. Preserving and even increasing Lean Body Mass is really important, especially for us old fart who start out morbidly obese.

    Fourth - Don't go crazy with fat. I do a minimum amount at least (80-90 grams), and I know, I know, the HF part of LCHF is high fat, but IF you start morbidly obese then a good portion of that fat needs to come from your body. The first six months of low carb the weight melted off regardless of eating sticks of butter and bpc. Afterwards not so much. Keeping cabs low, protein a fixed amount / range in grams, then trying to keep my fat grams lower than protein has kept the weight loss going and my lean body mass increasing. As you get closer to maintenance more and more of your fat comes from your plate. It's always high fat, the question is where that fat is coming from.

    When you start over 350 lbs and you're over 60, there is a TON of body recomposition that needs to happen.

    With the above, calories take care of themselves.
    edited March 2016
  • baconslavebaconslave Member Posts: 6,407 Member Member Posts: 6,407 Member
    There is an 8-part series on this vein I read recently.
    Link to Part 1:
    http://www.gnolls.org/3374/there-is-no-such-thing-as-a-calorie-to-your-body/

    Yes calories matter, but not in the way we've been led to think.

    And if we slow down and really LISTEN to our body's cues, once we are eating the right kinds of things, it will tell us when to stop. Simple but not easy. It really takes some of us retraining ourselves a lot on how to listen. We just have to learn the difference between satiety and fullness, which is the difference between having had enough to eat vs. being so stuffed you feel FULL and can't eat anymore.

    Some of us have a lot of "noise" to sift through though. How do you develop that Spidey Sense of satiety? I'm learning it via the Mindfulness Challenge. So if anyone is having difficulty with that, you might want to pop over and check out the mindful eating links really quick. IFing is helping me battle my Bottomless-Pit-Monster as well. After tracking daily for over a year, I really like not-tracking anything except carbs.
    edited March 2016
  • KarlynKetoKarlynKeto Member Posts: 320 Member Member Posts: 320 Member
    Great article! I am putting some info together today for a friend about LCHF and will add it.

    The reason calorie counting never worked for me as I never learned diddly squat about healthy foods and nutrition, so when I stopped the calorie restriction I was immediately back to old bad habits. I was a sucker for believing the so called experts and the print on the boxes, but now I know much of their 'wisdom'is based on bogus science and financial interests at our expense.

    I have NEVER been on anything so healthy, real and sustainable as LCHF in my life, and that includes having the gastric bypass 13 years ago. That forced a reduced calorie diet so I lost 140 pounds then, but once I could comfortably add more food I did. Gained back 96 pounds. The LCHF has made me learn about foods and nutrition, as well as the science and industry manipulation behind so much of the horrible 'health' recommendations.
  • GaleHawkinsGaleHawkins Member Posts: 8,148 Member Member Posts: 8,148 Member
    There is nothing wrong with calorie counting per se and is required to know our CI of CICO.

    While I would never count calories for weight control I did have to count up front to gain the knowledge of my CI.

    Until one becomes unhealthy for some reason maintaining a normal range of weight typically is managed well by our hormones as is the case with most animals in the world.

  • lisawinning4losinglisawinning4losing Member Posts: 732 Member Member Posts: 732 Member
    And calorie counting only works less and less the older you get and the unhealthier your metabolism becomes. I could lose weight on a gummy worm diet when I was 18 as long as my calories were low... Problem is , that type of silly behaviour turned me into a 40 year old diabetic, go figure :wink:

    Yes, I know exactly what you mean! Fortunately I found this information before becoming diabetic, but you could say that my story is similar.
  • lisawinning4losinglisawinning4losing Member Posts: 732 Member Member Posts: 732 Member
    nvmomketo wrote: »
    Nice article. :)

    I like how Dr Jason Fung calls the calories counting / reduced calorie diets: CRaP which stands for Calorie Reduction as Primary.... I just sums up how I feel about that way of thinking. ;)

    Ha ha! That's hilarious!

    Technically I'm still counting calories right now, but I've changed my "goal" from 1400 to 1800, and am staying below 50 grams of carbs, but starting next month it'll be 30 grams. I'm supposedly eating at maintenance but I want to see if I'll lose weight anyway, without being in a deficit, by going low carb. It's been less than a week and I've lost 6 pounds but I realize that's probably mostly water weight right now.
  • lisawinning4losinglisawinning4losing Member Posts: 732 Member Member Posts: 732 Member
    KarlynKeto wrote: »
    Great article! I am putting some info together today for a friend about LCHF and will add it.

    The reason calorie counting never worked for me as I never learned diddly squat about healthy foods and nutrition, so when I stopped the calorie restriction I was immediately back to old bad habits. I was a sucker for believing the so called experts and the print on the boxes, but now I know much of their 'wisdom'is based on bogus science and financial interests at our expense.

    I have NEVER been on anything so healthy, real and sustainable as LCHF in my life, and that includes having the gastric bypass 13 years ago. That forced a reduced calorie diet so I lost 140 pounds then, but once I could comfortably add more food I did. Gained back 96 pounds. The LCHF has made me learn about foods and nutrition, as well as the science and industry manipulation behind so much of the horrible 'health' recommendations.

    Wow, that's an inspiring story! To some extent I can relate. I *know* about healthy food and nutrition, but my addiction to SAD just brings the weight right back on as soon as I stop weighing and counting my junk. Even though I was given the head knowledge, I still had to learn the hard way through experience, because I thought I could somehow beat the system through this magical thing called calorie counting, and it just didn't work that way.

    Also, I'm a bit surprised because the couple of people I've encountered who've had gastric bybass surgery were on high protein, low carb diets, since they really couldn't eat that much, so I thought that's what you were supposed to do? I'm surprised no one advised you to do that after your surgery? I consider that a fail on the part of the medical establishment. But at any rate, I find your story very inspiring! Thanks for sharing!
  • carsonheimcarsonheim Member Posts: 79 Member Member Posts: 79 Member
    My appetite has no "off" button and in the past I've eaten to fullness rather than satiety. My mouth does not want to stop eating. I love eating LCHF for health and OMG the foods are delicious! But I still count calories to make sure I'm staying within a reasonable number for my energy expenditures.
  • KarlynKetoKarlynKeto Member Posts: 320 Member Member Posts: 320 Member
    KarlynKeto wrote: »
    Great article! I am putting some info together today for a friend about LCHF and will add it.

    The reason calorie counting never worked for me as I never learned diddly squat about healthy foods and nutrition, so when I stopped the calorie restriction I was immediately back to old bad habits. I was a sucker for believing the so called experts and the print on the boxes, but now I know much of their 'wisdom'is based on bogus science and financial interests at our expense.

    I have NEVER been on anything so healthy, real and sustainable as LCHF in my life, and that includes having the gastric bypass 13 years ago. That forced a reduced calorie diet so I lost 140 pounds then, but once I could comfortably add more food I did. Gained back 96 pounds. The LCHF has made me learn about foods and nutrition, as well as the science and industry manipulation behind so much of the horrible 'health' recommendations.

    Wow, that's an inspiring story! To some extent I can relate. I *know* about healthy food and nutrition, but my addiction to SAD just brings the weight right back on as soon as I stop weighing and counting my junk. Even though I was given the head knowledge, I still had to learn the hard way through experience, because I thought I could somehow beat the system through this magical thing called calorie counting, and it just didn't work that way.

    Also, I'm a bit surprised because the couple of people I've encountered who've had gastric bybass surgery were on high protein, low carb diets, since they really couldn't eat that much, so I thought that's what you were supposed to do? I'm surprised no one advised you to do that after your surgery? I consider that a fail on the part of the medical establishment. But at any rate, I find your story very inspiring! Thanks for sharing!

    Thank you. Most of the diet advice I got - and it really wasn't much - was about choosing foods I could and could not tolerate or absorb well after the surgery. Avoiding the obvious refined sugars (cokes, ice cream, candy...) and eating plenty of protein got drilled in my head, and therefore became a large part of my diet. I chose lean protein and grain carbs over all else, pretty much eliminating fruits, veggies and went sparingly on the fats so I would have room for the all so important protein. I never thought twice about reading food label ingredients either. As many of those absorption and intolerance issues lessened with time, and I was able to add more and more calories. I typically filled them with more grain carbs as it was yummy stuff. (I can now eat a regular size meal as well, just not stuff myself on mega huge portions like 8 slices of pizza).

    For 13 years my diet consisted heavily of meat proteins and a ton of refined carbs (bread, pasta, and rice at every meal) and a lot of wine (because drinking calories was still super dang easy!) I ate very little veggies or fruit, always passed on the salads so I had room for the all so important protein and carbs. Never read or cared about what junk was in the processed food - which was a huge part of my diet. I also had very little dairy either other then cheese. I also did not consume much of the healthy fats either as I was told they may be bothersome. Except cheese, I had to have cheese. (So happy I can still have cheese now!) Even with the gastric bypass, it really didn't take that long (a few years?) before I was back to dealing with huge cravings, hunger issues and massive blood sugar swings again. I was thinner, but clearly not healthier.

    The problem? Looking back it was the food; it was always the food. With the processed foods, wine, sugar and wheat now gone, plus a lot of good veggie carbs and fats now added to my diet, it is a whole new world for me. I am down 65 pounds in 6 months, and it rarely feels like I am even on a diet. The cravings, hunger and blood sugar swings are finally controlled.
    edited March 2016
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