Episode 137: Why Calorie Counting Hasn't Worked for You and What to Do Instead
Calorie counting is outdated weight loss advice.
I said what I said.
Not because you don’t need a calorie deficit to lose weight, you most definitely do.
But here’s the problem with trying to count your calories (aside from the fact that it’s a pain in the ass):
- The number of calories on the box doesn’t tell you how many calories you actually absorb (the more processed a food, the more calories you will absorb).
- The calorie counts on nutrition labels are legally allowed to be 20% off.
- Calorie counts tell you nothing about how different foods affect your insulin or cortisol levels which are both fat storage hormones.
- Counting calories doesn’t do anything for your gut microbiome which can impact your metabolism, cravings, and hunger hormones.
- Counting calories doesn’t help you distinguish between foods that will leave you full, satisfied, and energized and foods that will cause energy dips, hunger pangs, and food cravings.
- Unless calorie counts are listed on the menu, eating out is a crap shoot of guestimates. Remember that time I posted the picture of fries and people thought it was 700 calories when really it was 1500? We drastically underestimate calorie counts when eating out.
- Even determining how many calories we should be eating is a challenge. Sure we can take your weight, height, age, and gender and make a calculation. But what if you have a thyroid disorder? What if you've spent years of your life dieting? What if your gut is out of whack? All of this can have a major impact on your metabolism and therefore the amount of calories you need.
- In my experience, calorie counting can exacerbate an unhealthy relationship with food. It can become obsessive, it focuses on restriction/deprivation, it can solidify a perfectionistic approach to dieting, and it can lead to guilt and shame when you 'go over'.
So if counting calories isn't the answer to our weight loss woes... what should we do?
We have a few options!
- If you suspect your metabolism has slowed after years of dieting, focus on slowly eating more to get your metabolism back up. Yes there may be some weight gain, but it's the only way to get to that eventual weight loss you want.
- Focus on gut-healthy habits like finding your food sensitivities, eating a wide variety of plants, eating foods that support your gut lining (like collagen, bone broth, and wild salmon), and consider taking digestive enzymes.
- Mind your portions: at a given meal, protein should be around the size of your palm, veggies the size of your fist, carbs the size of your cupped hand, fat the size of your thumb (double all of those for men)
- Eat whole foods and start paying closer attention to your body. Only eat when you're hungry (not when you're bored, stressed, or tired), and only eat until satisfied, not stuffed. I pair this advice with eating whole foods because whole food protein, fiber, and fat actually signal to us we're full. When we eat processed junk that's devoid of fiber and nutrients we don't get those same signals and are significantly more likely to overeat. Also use this as an opportunity to become mindful of how foods make you feel and do your best to prioritize foods that make you feel good, energized, and satisfied.
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