Stop Counting Calories (And Do This Instead)

I don’t know about you, but I’ve grown up believing that calories in vs. calories out was important for weight loss. It seemed obvious—if I was consuming more than I was burning, I was gaining weight. But research now shows that a) that’s not really true, and b) it’s not that simple.

According to Dr. David Ludwig, an endocrinologist, and researcher/professor at Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health, counting calories simply doesn’t work. He says,

“Sure, eating less and moving more will produce short-term weight loss. But the body fights back, with rising hunger and slowing metabolism, a recipe for failure…Without elaborate technology, not even a trained nutrition expert can accurately determine their calorie balance to within 350 calories a day. A daily excess of this amount would lead to massive obesity in just a few years.

For that matter, if calorie counting were so important to weight control, how did humans ever manage to maintain a healthy body weight before the very notion of the calorie was invented?”

This is an excellent point to consider. As a society, we’ve become obsessed with calorie counting. Apps, websites, diet planners, ‘fitness pals‘—these products and tools make us count and focus on our intake vs. outtake, but is that actually healthy? (The answer, we’re beginning to learn, is no.)

In Ludwig’s book, Always Hungry, he discusses his strategy for weight loss which implements long-term changes to the diet, instead of restrictions. This, in turn, creates lifestyle adaptations that benefit not only the body/weight loss, but sleep and stress as well.

“The goal is to love your food, feel great, and be healthy,” Ludwig says, simply.

Outlined in his book, Ludgwig explains easy ways to promote weight loss and curb cravings, while not restricting or calorie counting. He talks about ‘slow-carb’ (removing refined sugars and replacing fast-acting carbs with slow-acting carbs like beans/legumes, whole fruits, veggies, and good fats.) And being sugar conscious (ex: opting instead for full-fat dairy as opposed to low-fat, which actually uses sugars to replace fat).

Among other strategies, he talks about creating bedtime routines, adding exercise to your weekly schedule, and focusing on high quality protein + grains for a balanced, healthy diet. All of this without stressing about calories consumed.

If calorie counting is something you’ve been struggling with, I feel you. In college I kept a food log and beat myself up over how much I was eating vs. burning and it absolutely drove me crazy. Not only did it cause me to binge eat or restrict to the point that I was crabby, miserable, and hungry, but it made me obsess over my body image instead of letting myself feel positive, and thus eat positive (which, yes, is a thing—a healthy thing).

Whether you’re dabbling with calorie counting, stuck in the midst of this negative habit, or trying to figure out a weight loss strategy that works for you, remember that your body is beautiful. And take note of these words by Dr. Ludwig—it’s not about restricting, it’s about changing habits.

Featured Image Credit: Maria Molinero

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