Calorie Counter

Message Boards Debate: Health and Fitness
You are currently viewing the message boards in:

Stop counting calories - Harvard Health

Dante_80Dante_80 Member Posts: 105 Member Member Posts: 105 Member
Stop counting calories
Put the focus on food quality and healthy lifestyle practices to attain a healthy weight.


a0e3204e-81fb-44ad-b22e-111a2b885e55.jpg
Published: October, 2020

Most people have been taught that losing weight is a matter of simple math. Cut calories — specifically 3,500 calories, and you'll lose a pound. But as it turns out, experts are learning that this decades-old strategy is actually pretty misguided.

"This idea of 'a calorie in and a calorie out' when it comes to weight loss is not only antiquated, it's just wrong," says Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford, an obesity specialist and assistant professor of medicine and pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.

The truth is that even careful calorie calculations don't always yield uniform results. How your body burns calories depends on a number of factors, including the type of food you eat, your body's metabolism, and even the type of organisms living in your gut. You can eat the exact same number of calories as someone else, yet have very different outcomes when it comes to your weight.

"Drop the calories notion," says Dr. Stanford. It's time to take a different approach, she says, putting the emphasis on improving diet quality and making sustainable lifestyle improvements to achieve a healthy weight.

Not all calories are created equal

Three main factors affect how your body processes calories.

1. Your gut microbiome. Trillions of organisms live in your gut, and the predominant types may influence how many calories your body absorbs from food. Researchers have found that people who are naturally thin have different types of organisms living inside them than those who are overweight. "Taking the gut microbiota out of people who are lean and placing it in people who have overweight or obesity can result in weight shifts," says Dr. Stanford. This may occur because some types of organisms in the gut are able to break down and use more calories from certain foods than other types of organisms.

2. Your metabolism. Each body has a "set point" that governs weight, says Dr. Stanford. This set point reflects several factors, including your genes, your environment, and your behaviors. Your hypothalamus, a region at the base of your brain that also regulates things like your body temperature, stands guard to keep your body weight from dipping below that set point—which is not really a bonus if you're trying to lose weight. This is why you might find your weight plateauing even if you are diligently dieting and exercising, and also why a majority — 96% — of people who lose a large amount of weight regain it, says Dr. Stanford.

"Researchers studying the show The Biggest Loser, which helps contestants lose large amounts of weight through a stringent plan of diet and exercise, found that after weight loss, contestants' bodies would fight back in an attempt to regain the weight," she says. The resting metabolic rate for contestants, which measures the number of calories the body uses just running its everyday functions, plummeted after their dramatic weight loss. This means it became very challenging to avoid regaining some weight because of "metabolic adaptation," says Dr. Stanford.

3. The type of food you eat. Your food choices may also influence your calorie intake, and not just because of their specific calorie content. One 2019 study published in Cell Metabolism found that eating processed foods seems to spur people to eat more calories compared with eating unprocessed foods. In the study, 20 people (10 men and 10 women) were split into two groups. They all were offered meals with the same number of calories, as well as similar amounts of sugar, sodium, fat, fiber, and micronutrients. But there was one key difference: one group was given unprocessed foods, and 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 weight," says Dr. Stanford. Each group was given meals with the same number of calories and instructed to eat as much as they wanted, but when participants ate the processed foods, they ate 500 calories more each day on average. The same people's calorie intake decreased when they ate the unprocessed foods.

What's the lesson? Not all food is created equal. "The brain likes foods that are healthy, that are in their natural form," says Dr. Stanford.

Successful weight management

If counting calories isn't a dependable way to manage your weight, what can you do to shed extra pounds? Dr. Stanford recommends the following:

Focus on diet quality. When planning your meals, try to cut down on or eliminate processed foods, which can drive your body to consume more. Instead, focus on choosing unprocessed foods, including lean meats, whole grains, and lots of fruits and vegetables in their natural form.

Exercise regularly (as well as vigorously). Aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week. Moderate exercise is done at a level where you can talk, but not sing. "A lot of people think moderate exercise is a casual walk to the garden, but it's more like walking up a large hill," she says. While any movement is better than nothing, work toward achieving a more vigorous level of exercise when you can.

Sleep soundly. Poor sleep quality can lead to weight gain, as can a sleep schedule that is out of sync with the body's natural daily pattern, known as circadian rhythm. Your body wants to sleep at night and be awake during the day. "The Nurses' Health Study, which followed nurses for 20 years, found that those who worked the night shift gained more weight over time," says Dr. Stanford. The body gets perturbed when you disrupt its natural rhythm. The same is true if you are getting poor-quality sleep or not enough. A lack of sleep affects your weight in much the same way as hormonal shifts, making you want to eat more. So, addressing sleep problems with your doctor should be a priority.

Check your medications. Sometimes medication causes weight gain. Be aware if you start a new medication and you notice you're putting on weight. Your doctor may be able to prescribe an alternative that doesn't have the same side effect.

Reduce your stress levels. Stress, like poor sleep, can lead to weight gain. Controlling stress can help you keep excess pounds at bay.

Consult a professional. "A lot of people believe it's a moral failing if they are unable to lose weight," says Dr. Stanford. But it's not. As with other medical conditions, many people will need help from a doctor. Successful weight loss may require more than just diet and exercise. "You may never have thought about using medications to lose weight. Only 2% of people who meet the criteria for the use of anti-obesity medications actually get them. This means that 98% of people who could be treated, aren't," she says. Some people may also need surgery to lose weight, she says. Don't be afraid to seek help if you need it.

https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/stop-counting-calories

Got this on my inbox today, and wanted to share. Dr Stanford does give some good points. I don't think I'll stop counting calories any time soon though, personally. Especially since I've seen how it helps me.

Thoughts?
edited October 3
«1

Replies

  • cgvet37cgvet37 Member Posts: 1,185 Member Member Posts: 1,185 Member
    Well, I have my caloric intake set to lose 1lb per week. I exercise 6 days a week. Three days of weight training, which doesn't burn many calories. Three days are conditioning, and according to my watch is roughly 250 calories per workout. I eat what I want on the weekends, but am strict during the week. I have been losing on average 2lbs per week. So, according to my diet and exercise, I should be losing roughly 1lb per week. So, it's possible that I'm eating fewer calories than I should be, or it's really not based on 3,500 per lb. of fat.
  • SModa61SModa61 Member Posts: 573 Member Member Posts: 573 Member
    What have learned about myself is my "off" switch is broken. So whether it is calorie counting or points tracking or whatever, I benefit from and external source that says "you're done".

    Also, it is possible to say that counting calories works, but must be customized because we are all unique in our response.
    What's the lesson? Not all food is created equal. "The brain likes foods that are healthy, that are in their natural form," says Dr. Stanford.

    In their experiment, they tested how much was eaten if offered processed vs unprocessed and processed food people ate more. Wouldn't that mean the brain likes the unprocessed? Also, if testing the brain, where is the test where processed and unprocessed were both offered and what was selected/eaten was studied.

    But I did hear an interesting theory about the overeating of process food and the theory was that your body will crave more food until it reaches the NUTRITION it needs and not but calories and that since the unprocessed food has less nutrition, one will continue to eat. I'm actually trying to run with this theory since cravings and no "off" switch are my key issues. It may be helping.
  • Diatonic12Diatonic12 Member Posts: 11,534 Member Member Posts: 11,534 Member
    Intuitive Eating. Set Point. Clean Eating. That's what they were talking about in a nutshell.

    Intuitive Eating sounds good on paper but very vague if you're trying to put it into practice. It lacks any real direction. People want direction and a road map to get there. Just listening to your body...most people who have struggles with food lost touch with their body's hunger cues a long time ago.

    People want a strategy and a plan. Just following your hunger cues can lead you around by the nose and flying by the seat of your pants if you don't know how to go about that. Just do whatever works for you.

    Turn all of that dieting dogma into ACTION. We can have the answers to absolutely everything and still not be able to do anything. CICO is easy. Just track your data points.
  • Diatonic12Diatonic12 Member Posts: 11,534 Member Member Posts: 11,534 Member
    Niner, you've got a way. That's it in a nutshell without the whole bushel. You summed it up the other day and I've been repeating it to myself. The deficit. I know all about the deficit but you condensed it. It's not always easy but it really is this simple. I lurve that.
  • Theoldguy1Theoldguy1 Member Posts: 1,405 Member Member Posts: 1,405 Member
    ninerbuff wrote: »
    Name one weight loss plan that DOESN'T require eating fewer calories to lose weight? I've seen so many people switch to "healthy eating" and GAIN weight. Even switching to "non meat diets", "organic diets" etc.

    Again, I'll bring up prison inmates. The worst quality food, they eat it 3 times a day, and for many for years on in. What is the current obesity rate in prison? I'll bet you that only about 15% of the population are overweight that have been in there for 5 years or longer. If quality of food mattered that much, these guys should be dying of overweight related issues by the thousands. But that ain't happening.


    A.C.E. Certified Personal and Group Fitness Trainer
    IDEA Fitness member
    Kickboxing Certified Instructor
    Been in fitness for 30 years and have studied kinesiology and nutrition

    9285851.png

    Its also my understanding thet inmates are fed a certain amount of food at each of the 3 meals and the opportunities for additional food is somewhat limited.

    Would make sense over time they would lose weight if they were comsuming more on the outside
  • lemurcat2lemurcat2 Member Posts: 5,898 Member Member Posts: 5,898 Member
    I wonder to what extent these "calorie counting doesn't work, learn to intuitive eat" advice come from people who haven't been overweight (or more than a bit overweight).

    My sister and I eat similar types of foods (in fact, she eats a lot more "highly processed" stuff than me, since she really likes crackers and chips and eats a lot more bread. She eats "intuitively" (in a way, she has figured out without calorie counting what satisfies her and has a relatively stable pattern of eating). If she gains, she cuts back a bit or works out more. For whatever reason, I didn't find it so easy or intuitive to develop that pattern and I for whhatever reason find it easy to put off thinking about it if I am gaining weight and then to feel overwhelmed if I've gained a lot. I tend to have especial trouble when I'm stressed, and have a job that is often quite stressful. So despite eating a similar diet and basically a healthy, home-cooked one, I've gained lots of weight at times in my life and found that intuitive eating did not help me fix that problem at all. Tracking food did (once with calorie counting and once without, just having a general plan and writing down what I ate).

    In maintenance, I still can't intuitively eat. I don't think this is weird or me being messed up -- throughout much of human history it would have been useful to be able to eat when food was available (I've also always found it not that tough to skip meals). So I have to approach it mentally, with a plan and a way to understand what I am eating. This means (for me) generally eating at regular times, not snacking, having a general template for what my meals are like and knowing what portion sizes will result in me not increasing the amounts I am eating.

    That food is healthy and home-cooked does not mean I cannot overeat. I made a beef stew last night with lots of veg, and the cut of beef was actually less fatty than the ideal stew cut (I needed to use it up and felt like stew). I absolutely could have overeaten on that, and same with many other home cooked and delicious meals.

    Not only did calorie counting (or other manners of tracking food that people seem to think just must be too burdensome) work for me, but it was instrumental, because it gave me a feeling of power and control over something that had felt the opposite. Trying to just not eat too much just was frustrating and would always lead me to think something was wrong with me, and to just decide it was hopeless (especially frustrating as I'd been a normal weigh without thinking about it into my late 20s, so I felt like something in me had broken). Going through the process of writing down what I was eating and ways to easily cut calories made my understand the issue really was I was just eating too much and could change that.
  • enidben7enidben7 Member Posts: 4 Member Member Posts: 4 Member
    Since around March, I've dropped 32 pounds. Started out weighing 210 and as of today, I weigh 179.8. My goal was mainly to be a bad host for COVID so I became my own healer and wellness coach and went back to my roots by eating the way I was raised in Trinidad - eating clean, organic, grass-fed; and by exercising the way I did as a child-mainly walking. I use MFP to log my food. The quality of the food you eat counts, but more importantly when you eat counts even more. I make my own healthy meals with organic products and good fat. I eat nuts (Brazil, macadamia, walnuts, almonds), and a avocado daily; use only avocado oil to cook and EVOO in my salads. I'm keeping my farmer's market in business by buying limes, cilantro, parsley, basil, garlic, ginger, onions weekly to add to meals and salads. I love seafood / shellfish so I eat those about 4 times a week. Eggs and broth are my go-to fillers. Occasionally, I eat chicken and pork. Seldom do I eat beef. Most weekends I'll eat brown rice, Japanese noodles, Ezekiel bread mainly on the weekend. I love tropical and exotic fruits, berries and cherries. Most days, my first meal is at 12 noon and my last meal is at 5PM. I do not snack in between or after meals. I throw in the occasional cleanse and fast every three months as my mom did when I was growing up. My days of going to the gym and working out for hours and never seeing any results are over. I now walk four days weekly on average about 90 minutes; sometimes I throw in a longer walk of 2 - 2 1/2 every other week.We all have to find what works for us. I found what works for me and my lifestyle and it's easy to keep up my wellness. As Oprah Winfrey likes to say, we come to an ah ha moment. Mine was deciding to take charge of my own wellness and to go back to my healthy roots. It's paying off. Be safe. Be well.
  • Dante_80Dante_80 Member Posts: 105 Member Member Posts: 105 Member
    @enidben7 Glad to hear it. And it seems like logging your food via MFP is helping you with your quest, right?
  • cgvet37cgvet37 Member Posts: 1,185 Member Member Posts: 1,185 Member
    Theoldguy1 wrote: »
    ninerbuff wrote: »
    Name one weight loss plan that DOESN'T require eating fewer calories to lose weight? I've seen so many people switch to "healthy eating" and GAIN weight. Even switching to "non meat diets", "organic diets" etc.

    Again, I'll bring up prison inmates. The worst quality food, they eat it 3 times a day, and for many for years on in. What is the current obesity rate in prison? I'll bet you that only about 15% of the population are overweight that have been in there for 5 years or longer. If quality of food mattered that much, these guys should be dying of overweight related issues by the thousands. But that ain't happening.


    A.C.E. Certified Personal and Group Fitness Trainer
    IDEA Fitness member
    Kickboxing Certified Instructor
    Been in fitness for 30 years and have studied kinesiology and nutrition

    9285851.png

    Its also my understanding thet inmates are fed a certain amount of food at each of the 3 meals and the opportunities for additional food is somewhat limited.

    Would make sense over time they would lose weight if they were comsuming more on the outside

    Most prisons have cominsery. Where they can buy soda, chips, sweets, etc. Ever see meals that prisioners make? They are very high calorie.
  • durhammfpdurhammfp Member Posts: 444 Member Member Posts: 444 Member
    sijomial wrote: »
    More like a sales pitch than a public service announcement.

    Pedalling the stupid myth that calorie counting has to be accurate to be effective is ridiculous.
    ...

    Really dim premise that it's a binary choice between calorie counting / calorie awareness OR eating good quality healthy food. Is there some law that it can't be both?

    "Not all calories are equal" is a shameful thing for an educated person to say because that's exactly what uniform units of energy are.
    ...

    It's not your fault, it's your set point/your food/your medications/you are immune to laws of energy conservation etc. etc. but don't worry if you give us your money we will fix it for you.

    Preach! Harvard should be ashamed of itself.
  • AnnPT77AnnPT77 Member, Premium Posts: 17,063 Member Member, Premium Posts: 17,063 Member
    Though I'm very science-oriented, and respect professionals' knowledge, this is one realm where I trust my personal experience. Even if my understanding of my methods is misguided, my results are what I need, so it works for me: 50ish pounds lost, down to a healthy weight, abd 5 years of maintenance since, still at a healthy weight . . . after around 30 years of obesity before that.

    To lose weight, I didn't materially change the range of foods I eat (I've eaten lots of healthy, "whole" foods for decades; I've even been vegetarian for 46+ years). I didn't materially change my exercise routine (I was already very active as an obese person, even competing athletically). I slept like cr*p when I was fat, and have continued doing so throughout. My stress level before and after weight loss is similar (I've been retired since 2006, comfortably though not luxuriously situated). I never used a weight loss medication (unless you count a couple of cups of coffee most days): That's a really horrifying idea, to me - medications - for myself, assuming I have any other alternative (clearly, I do).

    All I did was count calories, and adjust portions, proportions and frequencies of the foods I was already eating, to hit a calorie goal. Once I figure out my personal calorie needs (which turned out to be quite different from what MFP estimated, an unusual thing, but it happens), my long-term weight loss tracked pretty closely with the 3500 calories = 1 pound idea.

    For my personal case, the article is incorrect and irrelevant. Purely subjectively, the idea that it's pushing medications and deprecating calorie counting is kind of shocking.

    Others' mileage may vary.
  • freda78freda78 Member Posts: 220 Member Member Posts: 220 Member
    Diatonic12 wrote: »
    Intuitive Eating. Set Point. Clean Eating. That's what they were talking about in a nutshell.

    Intuitive Eating sounds good on paper but very vague if you're trying to put it into practice. It lacks any real direction. People want direction and a road map to get there. Just listening to your body...most people who have struggles with food lost touch with their body's hunger cues a long time ago.

    People want a strategy and a plan. Just following your hunger cues can lead you around by the nose and flying by the seat of your pants if you don't know how to go about that. Just do whatever works for you.

    Turn all of that dieting dogma into ACTION. We can have the answers to absolutely everything and still not be able to do anything. CICO is easy. Just track your data points.

    My "intuitive" eating took me to 20 stone.
    edited October 4
Sign In or Register to comment.