Never again counting calories, because the counting doesn’t count!
Are you tired of squinting at each recipe for the nutritional information and then frustrated to find that it’s likely to push you over your self-imposed calorie limit again? Then I have good news for you: Counting calories is something from the last decade. Meanwhile, science continues to wonder how to ideally lose weight. Curious, or even excited? Then read on!
What really makes us gain weight?
If you believe the official health recommendations, the answer to this question is simple – too much food and too little exercise.
The main idea behind this scheme is that people consume more calories than they should at the end of the day, which leads to an increase in body fat.
The supposed solution is as simple as the cause, namely to eat less and do more sports. The “calorie concept” for weight loss that forms the basis of this recommendation seems convincing at first glance. Numerous studies, however, along with practical experience, make this design seriously ambivalent.
Your body is no steam engine furnace!
The problem with this method is that it sees our body as a pure “combustion engine” and assumes that one gram of a given food supplies X kilocalories of energy. The thing is, our body is not a motor or furnace, but a complex system of enzymes, hormones, and regulatory circuits.
How many calories a food has, therefore, plays only a subordinate role. The much more important thing to look at is how our body reacts to the respective food.
Carbohydrates unequal to fat and unequal to proteins
The intake of carbohydrates provokes a different hormonal response than the intake of protein or fat.
Our small intestines break down all carbohydrates into simple sugars, regardless of the form in which you consumed them.
They absorb them and, thus, the carbohydrates enter the bloodstream. Therefore, after a carbohydrate-rich meal, the blood sugar level rises.
The normal blood sugar level of a healthy person is about 70-100 mg/dl. This means that an adult has an average of 5 g of sugar (glucose) in his blood.
The role of insulin
The blood sugar level is strictly controlled by the body, because too much sugar in the blood has serious negative consequences.
So when the blood sugar level rises, the body reacts with the hormone insulin, which is produced in special cells of the pancreas.
Insulin has one main task – it stops all types of fat burning and signals to all cells that now only sugar should be used to generate energy.
But since the sugar (glucose) has to be removed from the system as fast as possible, and the cells cannot use all the sugar for energy in such a short time, the remaining amount gets transported to the liver.
There, it is converted to fat, and then stored in the fat cells. Insulin is, therefore, the “fat-storage hormone”. As long as the insulin level is elevated, the body doesn’t burn fat.
Up and down on the “blood-sugar roller coaster”
So we now know that insulin is produced in response to an increase in blood sugar. Insulin then ensures that the cells transport sugar (glucose) into the cell interior and use it to generate energy.
However, if the body produces too much insulin, then too much sugar gets taken out of the system. Tis causes low sugar levels. Low sugar is expressed in tremors, malaise, weakness, dizziness, fatigue, hunger and craving for strength and something sweet.
Those who feel hungry again two or three hours after a long meal are probably experiencing this phenomenon. Due to its appetizing effect, insulin in farming is also called “fattening hormone”, as they feed it to livestock for faster weight gain.
Moderate protein, high in fat – the key to long-lasting satiety
The regulation of hunger and satiety is a complex system and goes far beyond the mere provision of energy.
In a study, scientists from Boston investigated the influence of meals with different GI (glycemic index) but identical calorie content. They examined the effects on the brain, blood sugar and the feeling of hunger after the meal.
The high GI meal resulted in significant stimulation of brain areas associated with reward and desire. It also led to a significant drop in blood sugar a few hours after eating and a related increased feeling of hunger.
There are now numerous good scientific studies showing the benefits of a properly formulated low-carbohydrate and high-fat diet according to the Stone Age model (LCHF = low carb-high fat). Benefits, not only in terms of weight management, but also in terms of many important health parameters. For example, blood lipids normalize, type 2 diabetes can be controlled and inflammatory levels improve.
A calorie is not a calorie
Food is information. This does not mean in a typically esoteric context, but in a completely biological way. As already explained, our individual bodies react differently to food.
In one study, 20 obese but otherwise healthy individuals were divided into two groups. One group received breakfast with eggs, the other a breakfast with cereal flakes.
Both meals were identical in terms of calories and macronutrient distribution, only the source of the protein was different.
The result: The egg group showed a significant effect on the subjective perception of satiety, as well as on two satiety hormones (ghrelin and PPY).
Calorie counting does not work and is not necessary
Calorie counting does not work because it is impossible to determine the exact calorie content in foods.
Whenever complex relationships are simplified, problems arise.
So it is with the whole idea of calorie counting. It seems simple, mathematically comprehensible and logical – but it is simply WRONG.
A simple calculation example:
Sarah is 30 years old and an accountant. She is good at balancing and knows how to deal with numbers. She wants to maintain her weight and starts counting calories. So, she does not eat more than she consumes – because that’s what’s being preached in the calorie counting community.
Problem # 1: Real food has no nutrition information
In order to know as accurately as possible how much calories Sarah consumes, she can only eat foods that are provided with nutritional information.
This means that nothing “natural” is from now on the plate. She’ll rather have to stick to packaged, pre-produced in factories and standardized in the laboratory foods.
Of course, cabbage or spinach also has nutritional information, but they only give an average. At some point, they once determined how much energy in 50 pounds of raw cabbage stuck. Now, one can read this information on the various nutritional tables.
However, they forgot that every natural food is different. The calories depend on many influences and factors, such as the year of cropping, storage, course of preparation, etc.
A free-range chicken has a different ratio of fat to protein than a chicken from factory farming. Quite apart from that, the fatty acid composition will differ massively.
A free-range chicken contains more omega-3 fatty acids, whereas, in a chicken from factory farming, the pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids predominate.
Problem # 2: The kitchen scale, your constant companion
Of course, every bite must be meticulously weighed. Small deviations of a few grams accumulate over the days and weeks. To go only for “good judgment” is much too imprecise.
You decide that you cannot eat in restaurants, as the control of the ingredients is virtually impossible. And whether one or two tablespoons of oil were used is incomprehensible.
Problem # 3: Nutrition tables are inaccurate
Back to our example: Now Sarah only eats pre-packaged items from the supermarket and weighs every bite she puts in her mouth. Nevertheless, we have a big problem!
Even with nutritional information on packaged food, we have an inaccuracy of a minimum of 10 percent. Ten percent does not sound like much now, but in a world where you have to count calories to keep your weight, 10 percent is a gigantic mistake.
Suppose Sarah eats about 730,000 kcal per year (365 days *2000 kcal). An error of 10% means 73,000 kcal too much or too little:
An excess of 73,000 kcal per year would mean an increase of about 20.7 pounds of pure fat!
A “small mistake” of 10% in calories results in up to 20 pounds more body fat.
Back to our example
Even Sarah, who is a model calorie-counting student, weighing every bite and consuming only packaged foods to maximize nutritional value, would not be able to keep her weight! Does that sound familiar?
Accurate counting of calories is a fantasy and not possible in a natural environment (outside of a lab) and is completely unnecessary for achieving and maintaining healthy body weight.
In addition, we cannot ignore the food quality, differences in hormonal response and metabolic pathways either. These details make a difference, too.
No one can eat less than he consumes for his entire life
While we see that an acute, short-term reduction in food intake (intermittent fasting) has a lot of positive effects on the body and certainly has a place in other healthy lifestyles, starvation can also cause issues. Chronic hunger is an extremely stressful situation for the body and causes long-term problems.
How the body reacts to a chronic energy deficit:
If you take less energy, your body uses less energy and this is:
1- Slowing down all metabolic processes
2- Lowering body temperature
3- Decreasing your heart rate and variability
4- Restricting the hormone production
5- Breaking down the muscle mass; muscle mass is energetically expensive tissue
6- Limiting cognitive performance (the brain alone needs 25% of the energy)
7- Breaking down body fat (but not in a desirable way!)
In the end, you are worse off than before. Less muscle mass, no libido, no energy and a reduced energy requirement. This is called the yo-yo effect and almost everyone has experienced it before.
We now know that counting calories will not really bring us closer to our goal. But, how can we control that we do not eat more than we consume?
How do we learn to love our bodies, and to encourage ourselves to turn absorbed energy into muscle mass, bone strength, balanced hormones, and neurotransmitters rather than adipose tissue?
A nutrient-rich, mindful diet with sufficient healthy fats creates the right hormonal environment in our body. Don’t fall into any extremes. Don’t give up healthy fatty acids or carbohydrates altogether; your body does need both! Just find the perfect balance.
Let your mind guide you. Listen within yourself, and you will always feel what your body wants and needs to consume next. By following a mindful lifestyle, the blood sugar level and, thus, also the insulin levels remain at a very low level even after eating.
Among other things, eating the right balance of foods triggers gastrointestinal saturation. This, on the other hand, leads to a normalization of food intake and the feeling of hunger.
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