Wednesday, April 06, 2011
Fat Loss Lie #5: "Calories Don't Count"
In many popular diet books, especially low carb programs, “Calories don’t count” is a frequently repeated theme and "you can eat as much as you like" is an often repeated promise.
Other programs stress the importance of energy in versus energy out, but recommend that you count “portions” rather than calories. Still others say that you must keep a strict accounting of everything you eat. Who is right?
Well, trying to count every single calorie - in the literal sense - is not an absolute necessity and it might not be realistic a lifestyle practice for the long term.
However, that doesn't mean that calories don't matter.
Any diet program that says you can "eat all you want and still lose weight" is one to avoid because that is one of the biggest lies in the business.
The truth is, that line is a bunch of baloney designed to make a diet sound easier to follow.
Anything that sounds like work – such as counting calories, eating less or exercising, tends to scare away potential customers. (Which is why "no calorie counting necessary," "eat all you like" and "no exercise necessary" are ubiquitous and notorious diet industry claims)
The law of calorie balance is an unbreakable law of physics: Energy in versus energy out dictates whether you will gain, lose or maintain your weight. There's more to good nutrition than just calories, of course, but a calorie deficit is a required condition for weight loss to occur.
It's very important to develop an understanding of the law of calorie balance and a respect for portion control.
It's also an important part of nutrition education to learn how many calories are in the foods you eat on a regular basis – including (and perhaps, especially) how many calories are in the foods you eat when you dine at restaurants.
The law of calorie balance says:
To maintain your weight, you must consume the same number of calories you burn. To gain weight, you must consume more calories than you burn. To lose weight, you must consume fewer calories than you burn.
If you only count portions or if you haven't the slightest idea how many calories you're eating, you're much more likely to eat more than you realize.
So how do you balance practicality and realistic expectations with a nutrition program that gets results? Here's a solution that’s a happy medium between strict calorie counting and just guessing:
Create a menu using an EXCEL spreadsheet or your favorite nutrition software. Crunch all the numbers including calories, protein, carbs and fats. Once you have your daily menu, print it, stick it on your refrigerator (and/or in your daily planner) and you now have an eating "goal" for the day, including a caloric target.
Rather than writing down every calorie one by one from every morsel of food you eat for the rest of your life, your menu plan serves as a daily goal and guideline.
If you’re really ambitious, keeping a nutrition journal at least one time in your life for at least 4-12 weeks is a great idea and an incredible learning experience, but all you really need to get started on the road to a better body is one good menu on paper.
If you get bored eating the same thing every day, you can create multiple menus, or just exchange foods using your primary menu as a template.
Using this meal planning method, you really only need to “count calories” ONCE when you create your menus, not every day.
After you've got a knack for calories from this initial discipline of menu planning, then you can estimate portions in the future and get a pretty good (and more educated) ballpark figure.
So what’s the bottom line? Is it really necessary to count every calorie to lose weight?
No, it's not. But it IS necessary to eat fewer calories then you burn.
Whether you count calories and eat less than you burn, or you don’t count calories (guess) and eat less than you burn, the end result is the same – you lose weight.
Which would you rather do: Take a wild guess, cross your fingers and hope for the best (essentially gambling), or increase your chance for success with some simple menu planning?