Apr 04 2013

Why Calorie Counting Doesn’t Work For Weight Loss

Ask yourself this:  If someone were to eat 2000 calories per day of takeaways, while another consumed 2000 calories per day in whole foods (fresh vegetables and lean meats) – would these two people have the same body composition / look the same? 1. The act of digesting and absorbing…

Counting calories

Ask yourself this:  If someone were to eat 2000 calories per day of takeaways, while another consumed 2000 calories per day in whole foods (fresh vegetables and lean meats) – would these two people have the same body composition / look the same?

1. The act of digesting and absorbing your food is an active process that requires energy & increases your metabolism.  This is known as the thermic effect of food.  This effect will differ depending on the food you are eating. Protein has the highest thermic effect, followed by fibre, carbohydrate and then fats.  The thermic effect can be up to 10% of the foods that you eat.  So counting 100 calories of junk vs 100 calories of a whole food is not the same thing.

2. The calories recorded on the back of packets are as much as 20% out.  Why is this you may ask?  Well… a calorie is defined as the energy required to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by 1 degrees celsius.  So to find out the exact kcal content of a pre-packaged food, some unlucky intern would have to burn each individual ingredient over some water to get the exact figure!  For an average person to lose weight you only have to reduce your calorie intake by a meager 5-8%, so being 20% out would be disastrous.

3. The content of your food has an effect on your hormones– If you eat a food with a high carbohydrate content (especially those with a high GI score), your body responds by releasing insulin, your fat storage hormone.  Insulin shall endeavour to control the influx of sugar in your blood stream by storing what it can in your muscles & liver – the rest will be stored as adipose tissue (fat).  If you were substituting protein and healthy fats for a portion of those carbs, the protein would be used to restore tissue damage and build lean mass, while the fats would be used to restore brain health, and to produce hormones like testosterone & oestrogen.

4. People don’t accurately record what they eat.  In fact, most people underestimate what they eat by an enormous 40%!  For example, the polo you ate on the way to a meeting to freshen your breath, would that be recorded?  In the five years I’ve been collecting food diaries you would have thought mints were no longer on sale.  You may say that who cares about a meager 5 kcals, but these all add up.

5. Genetically we absorb and process food differently from one another.   Two people eating the same calorie intake & food won’t always have the same body composition, because no two people have the same genetics.  To oversimplify: if you are stocky, carbs are likely to effect you far more than if you are naturally lanky.  So sometimes a tweak to the macronutrient percentages (i.e. altering the ratio of proteins, carbohydrates and fats) in your diet will have a far greater impact than trying to manage calorie intake.

Common sense should dictate how you eat, not an arbitrary number.  You are not likely to get fat from eating whole foods.  However an individual plan, made by an expert is always the best approach if you’re stuck in a rut.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact me on 020 8166 5110 or email me at salman@salecca.co.uk

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Salman