Calories are overrated. This is what I tell my clients when they ask me how many calories I am giving them to eat every day. And when I give them freedom to choose their portions (no restrictions) too as long as they are eating the foods specified, they get further foxed.
After all, calorie counting has long been ingrained in weight loss advice, and people are often encouraged to watch how many calories they consume and how many they burn by exercising.
But the surprise and confusion of my clients stays only till they begin losing weight, without feeling or staying hungry. After that, they are (very) relieved that they did not have to think about calories.
To hog or not to hog is never the question. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
The biggest mistake we have made all these years is considering weight loss as a straightforward math equation. We were told that if you eat about 3,500 calories extra you gain a pound (about half a kg), and the same works in reverse too: eat 3500 calories less to lose a pound. (Eat 100 extra calories less a day (100 x 365 days) and you’ll lose 10 pounds (4.5 kg) a year). Simple, right?
While the above mentioned calories equation is good as a broad benchmark, the truth is that all calories are not the same.
It’s not just the number of calories but also the quality of calories you are eating that matters.
My simple method — of replacing the good food with the bad — works, and I have seen it deliver again and again with umpteen clients, simply because there’s science behind it, and common sense too.
A study, published in the journal JAMA in 2017, demonstrated this clearly.
Researchers divided study subjects into two diet groups — “healthy” low carb and “healthy” low fat. Members of both groups were trained to eat nutrient-dense, minimally processed whole foods, cooked at home whenever possible.
The low fat group was told to avoid soft drinks, fruit juice, muffins, white rice and white bread, even though these are technically low in fat, and eat instead go for foods like brown rice, barley, steel-cut oats, lentils, lean meats, low-fat dairy products, quinoa, fresh fruit and legumes.
The low-carb group was trained to choose healthy foods like olive oil, salmon, avocados, hard cheeses, vegetables, nut butters, nuts and seeds, and grass-fed and pasture-raised animal foods.
No calorie, carbohydrate or fat restrictions (in terms of quality) were set. They were just asked to focus on eating whole or “real” foods — as much as they needed to not feel hungry.
Fruits juice is good, but fresh, whole fruits are better. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
The study found that those who cut back on added sugar, refined grains and highly processed foods while concentrating on eating plenty of vegetables and whole foods — without worrying about counting calories or limiting portion sizes — lost significant amounts of weight over the course of a year.
Both groups also saw improvements in other health markers, like reduction in their waist sizes, body fat, and blood sugar and blood pressure levels. And the diet they followed — whether low in fat or low in carbohydrates — did not matter. Nor was their genetics (DNA makeup) or their insulin-response to carbohydrates (tolerance for carbs or fat) important.
Really, all it takes is picking the right kind of food (over the wrong).
I am a firm believer of the fact that it is mostly the quality (more than the quantity) of your diet that helps you lose and manage weight easily in the long run.
In simple terms, this means that rather than chomping on a 150-calorie snack pack of mini-chocolate chips cookies, spending those same 150 calories on veggies and an egg will deliver a broad spectrum of nutrients your body needs for energy, immunity, and digestive health — and also help you lose weight more effectively. And this same principal of choosing calories carefully needs to be applied as much as possible across your diet spectrum.
One also needs to understand the interplay of volume here: larger portions don’t always mean more calories.
It depends on what you are eating. For example 100 grams of cabbage or cauliflower provides just 35 calories. And when shredded, it becomes a generously sized serving that’ll fill your plate and tummy. A bite of samosa will give you that many calories.
So many choices, all good for you. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Similarly, a fully loaded (all your favourite goodies) home-cooked meal can satisfy you in maximum 600-700 calories (on the upper side), but a similar meal eaten out at a restaurant (or a takeaway) will be double that at the minimum. So it pays to be smart about calories, really smart.
Bottom line: A calorie isn’t just a calorie, and quality is king.
Diet quality, in fact, is important both for weight control and your long-term wellbeing.
So, continue to be careful about the number of calories you eat, but please also look at where these calories are coming from.
Unfortunately, today, most of the calories we eat are from foods that cause, not prevent disease. Wisen up to this fact, and you’ll do just fine.
Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article are the author’s own and MSN does not endorse them in any way. Neither can MSN independently verify any claims made in the article. You should consult your physician before starting any weight loss or health management programme to determine if it is right for your needs.