Fit Body Fresh Mind

Trying to lose weight by counting calories makes no sense - here´s why

Unless you´ve been living under a rock for the past 30 years, you will have heard the common advice that the key to losing weight and being healthy is to keep your calorie intake lower than your calorie expenditure. It sounds simple, right? Well if you´ve ever given it a try, you´ll know that it doesn´t always work that way. 

I spent years trying to keep my calorie intake low and maximising my calorie expenditure through gruesome “calorie burning” workouts, only to realise that things just didn´t add up. Despite training 2 to 3 hours a day and surviving on less than 1500 calories, I was heavier than ever, I felt bloated & unwell in my body and my calorie counting was preventing me from living a happy life.

One would have thought that with all the time & effort I was putting into my diet and exercise I would have felt like a rockstar but it couldn´t have been further from the truth. By relying on the calorie equation to lose weight and to be healthy I was shooting myself in the foot and here´s why.

The calorie equation is based on Newton´s first law of thermodynamics that states that the energy of an isolated system is constant. In a lab, 1000 calories of soda & 1000 calories of broccoli are the same but in a living, breathing, digesting system such as ours, there are a lot more factors that come into play. And if you think about it, it´ s pretty common sense that the calories in these two foods are not created equal.

Ask a class of 6 graders if 1000 calories of soda and 1000 calories of broccoli have the same effect on our bodies and you will be sure the answer will be a unanimous no. Yet most of the medical profession, the majority of nutritionists, our governments, the media and the food industry are still actively promoting the outdated, scientifically disproven idea that all calories are created equal and that as long as you burn more calories than you consume, you will lose weight.

To illustrate how absurd this equation is, let´s follow 750 calories of broccoli & 750 calories of soda once they enter your body. Let´s say the soda is a Double Gulp from 7 Eleven which is 100 percent sugar and contains the equivalent of 46 teaspoons of sugar. It may seem like a pretty extreme example but this drink exists and the energy content in some Starbucks coffees will not be that different.

As the soda enters your body, your gut quickly absorbs the fiber-free sugars in the soda, fructose & glucose. The glucose spikes your blood sugar levels and causes your insulin levels to rise. High levels of insulin increase storage of belly fat, increases inflammation, raises triglycerides & lowers HDL (the good cholesterol). Repeated high levels of insulin raises blood pressure, lowers testosterone in men and contributes to infertility in women.

Not only that but high insulin makes you feel hungry as it blocks the appetite controlling hormone: leptin. You become more leptin resistant, so the brain never gets the “I´m full” signal. Instead it thinks you´re starving. Your pleasure based reward center in your brain is triggered, driving you to consume more sugar and fueling your addiction.

While this may sound like a shit show, the effects of the fructose in the soda are actually worse. Fructose goes straight to your liver where it starts manufacturing fat, which triggers more insulin resistance and causes chronically elevated blood insulin levels, driving your body to store everything as dangerous belly fat. You also get a fatty liver, which generates more inflammation.

Chronic inflammation causes more weight gain & worsening insulin resistance which can lead to diabetes. Another problem with fructose is that it doesn´t send the signal to your brain that you´ve just ingested a load of calories. So you stay hungry.

Now let´s look at what happens when 750 calories of broccoli enters your body. As with the soda, these calories are primarily made up of carbohydrates but just like all calories aren´t created equal, carbs aren´t either. The carbs in broccoli are low in sugar and high in fiber which means that they are digested slowly and don´t lead to blood sugar and insulin spikes. Slow carbs like broccoli heal rather than harm.

750 calories is the equivalent of 21 cups of broccoli, which you might struggle to fit into your stomach. But assuming you can, let´s see what happens. Because of the high fiber content, very few of the calories would actually get absorbed. Those that did would get absorbed very slowly.

There would be no spikes in blood sugar & insulin levels, no fatty liver & no hormonal chaos. Your stomach would distend and send signals to your brain that you are full. Broccoli contains a large number of phytonutrients that optimise metabolism, lower cholesterol, reduce inflammation and boost detoxification. It also contains high levels of Vitamin C & folate which can help protect against cancer & heart disease.

As you can see from these examples, all calories aren´t created equal. Some calories are addictive, others healing, some fattening and others metabolism boosting. That’s because food doesn´t just contain calories but a full range of information that affects your body in a wide range of different ways, either promoting disease or health.

The key to loosing weight & being healthy has very little to do with calories. What it boils down to is choosing real food that is high in nutrients and keeps your blood sugar levels in check & doesn´t trigger inflammation. It may sound complicated in these terms but it´s actually much easier than what you may think. 

Today I no longer worry about calories and I let my body regulate its energy intake by itself. I know it knows better than me. I cannot begin to explain how liberating this feels after spending years in the “calorie counting box”. It was not a good place to be as it made me see food as the enemy and this didn´t just affect the way I ate but the way I exercised too. You can read more about that here. 

As I´ve grown a little older & a tiny bit wiser, I´ve also realized that healthy eating & exercise should be a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. I eat healthy & move mindfully so that I can make the most out of life and so that I can have the vitality, energy & joy to be happy, productive and successful in my work and to cultivate loving relationships with the people around me.

I hope this encourages & inspires you in some way!