Have you ever been hit in the face with a snowball? It hurts. So does jumping on the scales and seeing a number higher than you’d hoped for. And when that happens, what do we do? After consuming a tub of Ben & Jerry’s, we often turn to counting calories.
Counting calories has been the go-to method for weightloss for as long as we can remember. And sure, it’s boring and seriously tedious but it’s effective because numbers don’t lie, right?
Not quite. According to nutritional biochemist, Dr Libby Weaver, the energy in vs. energy out argument is far too simple.
“The discovery that there was a basic level of energy (measured as calories or kilojoules) required for the body to survive, and the subsequent creation of a mathematical equation that could calculate this, was groundbreaking in its day. In 1918, it literally saved lives. If you think about what was happening around that time, World War I was only just coming to an end and for many people, food was scarce.”
But herein lies one of the most fundamental problems. “Many inaccuracies and problems arise when we apply this calorie equation in more modern times. For starters, an equation that was founded on a minimum level requirement for survival is now used conversely to help people keep their energy consumption down.”
While it was revolutionary in its day, it does not take into account the complex bodily processes we’ve now uncovered and Dr Libby says, “If people believe that this equation holds the answers to their weight loss or energy needs, we need to address them.”
So if you’re still a slave to My Fitness Pal, prepare to unbuckle the chains, here are fifteen reasons that counting calories simply doesn’t work.
It does not consider how significantly the food supply has changed since 1918 when the equation was first published (and the 1984 revised version does not consider the change in food supply either).
It does not consider the stress hormone production of modern life via caffeine consumption and the perceptions of pressure and urgency.
It does not consider the impact of concentrated (refined) carbohydrates — both sugars and starches — on metabolism via insulin, and also its subsequent blocking of leptin, an appetite regulating hormone.
It does not factor in fat accumulation in the liver from alcohol consumption and a diet high in processed foods and drinks, and the impact of this on metabolism.
It does not consider the impact of the increase in estrogen-like compounds in the food chain and environment, and their impact on metabolism.
It does not consider the impact of adrenalin or cortisol and their differing impacts on metabolism and given the acute and chronic stress experienced by too many people today, this is a major oversight.
It does not consider that science has now clearly demonstrated that the bacteria inhabiting the large intestine can influence what calories are worth.
It does not consider the impact of sub-optimal (or diseased) thyroid function, a major oversight given the significant rise in autoimmune thyroid conditions.
It does not consider the impact of constant upper-thoracic breathing, instead of diaphragmatic breathing and the impact of how an individual’s natural way of breathing on a daily basis influences the body’s fuel utilisation via the autonomic nervous system (ANS).
It can lead body or weight conscious people to restrict calories too much, to the point that their metabolic rate slows (the point at which this happens will be different for everyone).
In the extrapolation of the data that the calorie equation offers to the general public.
The restrictive, deprivation mindset that the calorie equation drives in those who adopt it (the majority of female clients I have worked with over the past two decades), and that this deprivation is not sustainable.
It leads too many people to believe that they constantly have to be on a diet — living from deprivation and feeling guilt or shame if they deviate from that way of eating, whenever they aren’t following it strictly or feel as though they have eaten too much or exercised too little.
It does not get to the heart of the matter if someone emotionally overeats.
It does nothing to address why, if you see and feel your clothes getting tighter and you don’t like it or you feel uncomfortable, you do nothing about it — why doesn’t your self-care kick in?
“In other words, the calorie equation fails to consider the bigger picture, physically, environmentally and emotionally, based on the world in which we now live. It is time for an update, as the foundation of nutritional philosophy — that the calorie equation is the sole determinant of body size — is completely outdated.” So what are we to do?
Dr Libby recommends: “Eat real food. Eat fat from whole food sources. Eat carbs from real food sources. It is easy to eat protein from real food sources, and, if it is animal protein, make sure that animal has been raised eating the food it is supposed to eat — not what humans have decided makes them grow faster — as well as being raised outside, partaking in its natural behaviours, and being cared for.
When you stop eating processed foods that interfere with your body’s natural rhythms and signals, you will get back in touch with what your body, not your tastebuds, wants.
Change your mentality, change the way you approach how you feed yourself to a focus on your health and energy, not your weight. Positive not negative. A focus on what you can eat, not what you are not ‘permitted’ to eat…[and you will] free yourself from a life lived in the fear of weight gain, calorie counting, deprivation and never feeling good enough.”
This is an extract from What Am I Supposed To Eat? Making Sense Of Food Confusion,
By Dr Libby Weaver, published by Little Green Frog Publishing.
If you’re struggling with food choices and confused by conflicting or overwhelming information, join Dr Libby on her latest tour, Food Frustrations: what to eat when food is confusing. For a full list of dates see here but if you’re in the Brisbane she’ll be with you tomorrow (Thurs September 14) so book tickets now.