Counting Calories? Think Again!

by Jeanne Rhodes

If you’re counting calories you may want to reconsider your approach to weight loss. First, consider this — are you willing to do this laborious task for the rest of your life? If not, what happens when you are no longer adding and subtracting all those numbers? Be aware that there are many variables to consider. The following are just a few:

One thing that will almost guarantee success is getting back in touch with your body’s natural food regulation system — your natural “appestat” - so you’ll actually want to stop eating when your body has the amount of food it needs. Learning to identify your true physiologic hunger is a simple but very important way to regulate your food intake without dieting. We overeat out of boredom, loneliness, anxiety, and the need for comfort, not in response to our body’s natural signals. These behaviors can be and need to be corrected in order for weight loss to be permanent. Counting calories takes us in the opposite direction, usually intensifying these negative behaviors because of feelings of deprivation accompanied most often with excessive hunger. This is one of many “back to basics” approaches that will normalize your relationship with food. We need to think lifestyle, not diet. It is critical that you enjoy your food and not be obsessed with calories.

Dr. James Hill, obesity expert, director of the Colorado Clinical Nutrition Research unit at the Colorado Health Sciences in Denver states that “ stuff is really a little gimmicky.” He does not endorse any “diet”, emphasizing instead that people need to make lifestyle changes - finding a plan that works. He states that lifestyle changes are required even with medication. A pill that would allow someone to lose weight while sitting in an easy chair and eating high fat foods will never happen. No population, he says, that practices healthy lifestyles has obesity problems.

There are many things that are self-defeating when counting calories, especially the attempt to live in almost constant hunger.

We find another paradox when we consider the two following daily food intakes. Both are low fat but the surprise is that the HIGHER calorie count (Menu #1) delivers much LESS food! Calorie content of food (Menu #1) is about double the larger intake (Menu #2):

Menu #1
1 bagel • orange juice
lg. muffin (low fat) • apple juice
Afternoon Snack
1 bagel • lg. banana • raisins
3c. spaghetti w/tomato sauce
cranberry juice • Italian bread
w/lt. margarine
P.M. Snack
orange juice • pretzels (w/o salt)
Total Calories = 2,500 - 3,000

Menu #2
high fiber cereal w/skim milk
(large bowl) • whole wheat toast
w/1oz. low fat cheese, melted
A.M. Snack
1 apple • 
chicken breast on
1 whole wheat bread w/fat free
gravy • vegetable • 1 - 2 cookies
Afternoon Snack
raw veggies w/1/3c. lowfat cheese dip
*Chicken Cordon Bleu (lowfat recipe)
vegetable • lg. tossed salad w/
lowfat dressing
P.M. Snack
1 Wasa cracker w/lowfat peanut butter
Total Calories = 1,200 - 1,500

Examine these two menus carefully — which would satisfy your appetite best? Why is the menu with the larger amount of food only half the calories? Simply because the fiber content of Menu #2 delivers a much greater volume of food but less calories, since the calories in fiber are not absorbed by your body. Fiber is a carbohydrate that you can’t digest. It contains 4 calories per gram, but these are free calories in that they go straight through your system and out your “back door”! Fiber also nabs cholesterol as it passes through your body, lowering your risk of heart disease. It also helps prevent colon cancer. What’s more, fiber slows the rate at which glucose is absorbed into your blood, providing “staying-power” for your food, which in turn prevents hunger and has a positive impact on reducing your risk of diabetes as well as body fat!

This is a very small “sampling” of the countless reasons calorie counting won’t work. There are many other reasons that are just as valid as those above.

So, you want to lose weight? New government guidelines hammer home the same message advocated here — lifestyle changes that are comfortable and convenient, get you to your goal permanently, and most importantly — bring you joy!

Rhodes, B.A., M.A., is a nutritionist, wellness lifestyle strategist, author and director of Rhodes Preventive Health Institute in Hagerstown.