One of the biggest weight loss myths of the last five decades is the calorie fallacy. For fifty years we've been told that weight loss is a measure of energy in versus energy out, and therefore to lose weight you must simply be in calorie deficit. Through the 1970's and 1980's this lead to an abundance of calorie counting diets, lite or non-fat food like products and the popularity of slogging yourself at the gym to burn thousands of calories.
In recent times we've finally seen the shift back to healthy whole foods, instead of starvation, but it can be hard to let go of the habit of calorie counting, or unlearn what you have always thought to be true. But, the reality is, counting calories and therefore, not eating enough food can actually completely undermine your weight loss goals.
Below, I share the four biggest habits that could be undermining your weight loss.
Calories Are Not Created Equal
Our macronutrients (ie. carbohydrates, proteins and fats) produce varying hormonal responses and therefore metabolic environments, which either promote or discourage fat storage.
- Carbohydrates are equivalent to protein in energy, but when eaten in excess can lead to chronically elevated insulin levels. This is the recipe for fat storage. Long term this will create insulin resistance, the precursor to obesity and diabetes. Getting your macronutrient balance right is key, and many people can finally lose weight when they lower their refined carbohydrate intake and teach their body to burn fat for fuel.
- Fats are more than double the energy of carbohydrates and protein, but offer satiety and hormonal control — the keys to long-term fat loss (excluding refined vegetable oils and trans fats of course). Low fat food products are a thing of the past. They are not whole foods and most of the time, are higher in sugar than the full fat version. Increasing your healthy fat intake (in conjunction with reducing your refined carbs) may seem counter-intuitive, but the right types of dietary fat help your body to burn fat for fuel.
Fat Loss Is About Hormonal Control
Hormonal control comes not only from managing your carbohydrate intake (to control insulin), but also from controlling your stress. With efficient stress management techniques, you manage the stress hormone cortisol and continue to promote a fat burning environment. Eating less and exercising more are huge stressors for the body, which is why it ironically can lead to weight gain. This is often seen as the "cortisol pouch" — that stubborn abdominal fat around your middle. When you eat the right foods and add stress management strategies such as yoga and meditation, you can actually not only eat more food, but also exercise less and achieve your weight loss goals.
The Thermic Effect of Food
The amount of energy required to break down our macronutrients — known as the thermic effect of food — varies significantly. Your body burns far more calories digesting protein and fibrous vegetables compared to the simple carbohydrates found in pasta, white bread or packaged cereals. Digestion actually requires a large amount of energy (this is a good thing!), which can be accelerated with better food choices. You can truly turn your body into a fat burning machine.
Food Quality Creates Natural Portion Control
If you focus on food quality, the quantity can take care of itself. After all, it's very uncommon to overeat broccoli or binge on chicken. Fill your plate with predominately non-starchy vegetables, quality protein and good fats from salmon, avocado, grass fed butter and ghee, coconut oil, nuts and seeds and you will be so satisfied what you won't go near the bread basket, or even consider that lemon meringue. An added bonus here is that with the associated blood sugar control, you will find that you rarely need to snack between meals. Although we have been lead to believe that snacking speeds up our metabolism, it actually promotes a sugar burning environment and prevents the digestive ease that comes with generous meal-to-meal windows. When your meal provides four or more hours of satiety, this is a great barometer of a suitable macronutrient balance and a metabolism geared towards burning fat for fuel. Wouldn't you rather burn body fat for fuel than be bound by your appetite, constantly hungry and grazing. Counting calories is not the answer to health or weight loss. The answer is to nourish your body with food as nature intended.
Steph Lowe is a nutritionist with a passion for spreading a positive message about real food and the incredible affect it has on health, fertility, and performance. You can read more from Steph on her website, The Natural Nutritionist, or check our her latest book Low Carb Healthy Fat Nutrition.