4 Reasons to Stop Calorie Counting For Good

I quit calorie counting!

Count calories, lose weight, and be happy, right??? Not necessarily so. Here are my 4 reasons why calorie counting is not the best use of your time – and what I think is more worth it instead.

Reason 1: 3,500 calories per pound is a myth.

You may have heard that if you eat 500 fewer calories a day, you will lose a pound a week. By this logic if a 170 pound woman eating 2500 calories a day, altered her diet to consume 2,000 calories she would lose 26 pounds in 6 months. After 3 years she would weigh only 14 pounds! If that sounds crazy, it’s because it is.

Here’s the truth: This old model of weight loss completely leaves out the fact that as we eat less, our body adapts burning fewer calories which means fewer pounds lost. Actual weight loss is a much more complicated and dynamic process. Better models of weight loss do exist and you can see one of them here.  But, even with this newer model, it does not mean we’ve “finally cracked the code.”  Because…

Here’s another truth: A certain amount of weight loss may not be good, healthy, or even accessible to you. We are all different shapes and sizes. Genetics has a major impact on how much weight you can lose along with changes to habits that are realistic and sustainable.

If you feel like you have good, realistic habits and you just can’t get the scale to budge, consider that you may be at a good-weight-for-your-body place. This is something only you can determine with the proper health practitioner whom you trust.

Regardless, the 3,500 calories per pound is a dangerous oversimplification that sets all of us up for failure.

read more: break out of scale jail (blog post)

watch: size diversity (video)

Reason 2: It’s a Distraction. Calorie counting interferes with listening to your body.

When you choose foods based on calories instead of hunger, you lose touch of whether or not you actually need to eat. Instead, stay in touch with your internal hunger and fullness cues.

Try eating more intuitively. Listen to what your body needs. Give it the fuel it needs and let it tell you when you have had enough. The more we ignore these signals the harder they are to hear, try replacing calorie counting with listening to your body.

Get more information on intuitive eating.

Reason 3: Mistakes, Mistakes, Mistakes

There are several apps and websites encouraging us to input what we eat so it can tell us how many calories we consumed for weight loss.

There are 2 problems here. First, these programs are based on the 3,500 calorie myth. Second, this assumes that the program knows exactly what we are eating and how many calories it contains.

How do you log the lunch from your favorite restaurant or your mother-in-law’s lasagna? The calorie calculations from these programs are not without error and you may make mistakes in estimating portions or ingredients. (You are human.)

How does relying heavily on calorie tracking help you, especially if the estimates are inaccurate? It’s like a GPS that can’t take you to your destination.

If calories help you learn about nutrition or make choices, don’t let me get in your way, but how can you use it as a guide more than a rule book and still practice your intuitive eating skills, flexibility, and self-trust?

Reason 4: It’s A Joyless Job

What about the pleasure of eating? Focusing on calories is exhausting and makes it hard to enjoy the foods we are eating. Whether it is a salad, fries, or a dessert, eat what you love (it’s your choice).

Instead of calorie counting, take the time to enjoy your food with all your senses. Don’t let the calories give you permission to eat. Go ahead and have fun with food. This is how we can feel satisfied instead of deprived, which can lead to overeating for many people anyway.

If this sounds like scary territory, set a boundary for yourself that you think is reasonable.

I Quit…

Years ago I used to put my hope into calorie counting. I’m over it. Instead, I do things that feel good, energizing, and fun. I don’t ignore my eating habits. I pay solid attention to them. I pay attention to my need for food, what I would enjoy, and how to make it more balanced. I quit calorie counting and instead put trust in myself to keep myself in check.

Do you have a special “I quit” story? Please share it in the comments below.  Or post a question to me if there is anything else I can help with.

Quick Post: Press Release for 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

EMBARGOED UNTIL 10:00 AM EST, JANUARY 31, 2011

 

USDA and HHS Announce New Dietary Guidelines to Help Americans Make Healthier Food Choices and Confront Obesity Epidemic

WASHINGTON, Jan. 31, 2011 — Agriculture Secretary TomVilsack and Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Kathleen Sebelius today announced the release of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the federal government’s evidence-based nutritional guidance to promote health, reduce the risk of chronic diseases, and reduce the prevalence of overweight and obesity through improved nutrition and physical activity.

Because more than one-third of children and more than two-thirds of adults in the United States are overweight or obese, the 7th edition of Dietary Guidelines for Americans places stronger emphasis on reducing calorie consumption and increasing physical activity.

“The 2010 Dietary Guidelines are being released at a time when the majority of adults and one in three children is overweight or obese and this is a crisis that we can no longer ignore,” said Secretary Vilsack.  “These new and improved dietary recommendations give individuals the information to make thoughtful choices of healthier foods in the right portions and to complement those choices with physical activity.  The bottom line is that most Americans need to trim our waistlines to reduce the risk of developing diet-related chronic disease. Improving our eating habits is not only good for every individual and family, but also for our country.”

The new 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans focus on balancing calories with physical activity, and encourage Americans to consume more healthy foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fat-free and low-fat dairy products, and seafood, and to consume lesssodium, saturated and trans fats, added sugars, and refined grains.

“Helping Americans incorporate these guidelines into their everyday lives is important to improving the overall health of the American people,” said HHS Secretary Sebelius. “The new Dietary Guidelines provide concrete action steps to help people live healthier, more physically active and longer lives.”

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans include 23 Key Recommendations for the general population and six additional Key Recommendations for specific population groups, such as women who are pregnant. Key Recommendations are the most important messages within the Guidelines in terms of their implications for improving public health.  The recommendations are intended as an integrated set of advice to achieve an overall healthy eating pattern.  To get the full benefit, all Americans should carry out the Dietary Guidelines recommendations in their entirety.

More consumer-friendly advice and tools, including a next generation Food Pyramid, will be released by USDA and HHS in the coming months. Below is a preview of some of the tips that will be provided to help consumers translate the Dietary Guidelines into their everyday lives:

  • Enjoy your food, but eat less.
  • Avoid oversized portions.
  • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
  • Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.
  • Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals – and choose the foods with lower numbers.
  • Drink water instead of sugary drinks.

This edition of the Dietary Guidelines comes at a critical juncture for America’s health and prosperity.   By adopting the recommendations in the Dietary Guidelines, Americans can live healthier lives and contribute to a lowering of health-care costs, helping to strengthen America’s long-term economic competitiveness and overall productivity.

USDA and HHS have conducted this latest review of the scientific literature, and have developed and issued the 7th edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans in a joint effort that is mandated by Congress. The Guidelines form the basis of nutrition education programs, Federal nutrition assistance programs such as school meals programs and Meals on Wheels programs for seniors, and dietary advice provided by health professionals.

The Dietary Guidelines, based on the most sound scientific information, provide authoritative advice for people 2 years and older about how proper dietary habits can promote health and reduce risk for major chronic diseases.

The Dietary Guidelines aid policymakers in designing and implementing nutrition-related programs. They also provide education and health professionals, such as nutritionists, dietitians, and health educators with a compilation of the latest science-based recommendations. A table with key consumer behaviors and potential strategies for professionals to use in implementing the Dietary Guidelines is included in the appendix.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines is available at www.dietaryguidelines.gov.

For more information on dietary guidelines, see www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines and www.healthfinder.gov/prevention


USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer and lender. To file a complaint of discrimination, write: USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, 1400 Independence Ave., SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (800) 795-3272 (voice), or (202) 720-6382 (TDD).

Capsaicin for Weight Loss?

By Carlene Helble-Elite Nutrition Intern

Have you ever taken a big bite of salsa only to recoil at the intense spice? The big bang happening with each scoop is due to capsaicin. Capsaicin is found in super hot peppers, like cayenne, but you may have also seen it as a topical cream or dietary supplement. The capsaicin within that spicy hot food is doing you some good by acting as an antioxidant but also strengthens lung tissues, helps relieve pain, and aid digestion among other great things.

The topical cream is actually a pain reliever and anti inflammatory, which first excites pain signals in the body (through nerves in the spinal cord and other areas of the body) and then decreases them. When the cream is applied, the ‘substance P’, which is an important transmitter of a pain message going to the brain, is inhibited.

Capsaicin as a supplement  is used as a digestion aid by amping up the amount of digestive juices in your stomach and fighting bad bacteria. Besides pain relief and digestive help, this chemical compound has research indicating capsaicin can help prevent heart disease by preventing clotting, hardening of the arteries, and lowering blood cholesterol levels.

Recent research in the International Journal of Obesity by Maastricht University in the Netherlands, is showing capsaicin can also decrease appetite, leaving the weight loss world is on the edge of its seat. During a study, 24  men and women were given about ½ a teaspoon of red pepper, close to .9 g of the red pepper which contains 0.25% capsaicin, thirty minutes before every meal. Other members of the study were given a placebo without their knowledge. After eating their meal, the subjects’ saity increased when they were given the red pepper, and less calories and fat was consumed. Those who took the placebo had minimal change in saity compared to saity after a meal when they didn’t take the placebo. The study also found that post consumption, more energy was expended by those involved in the test. Capsaicin creates these results by increasing thermogenesis (the body burning energy from food released as heat), “enhancing catecholamine secretion from the adrenal medulla”.  The increase in thermogenesis suggests a change in “substrate oxidation from carbohydrate to fat oxidation”. These amazing outcomes that say capsaicin increases fat burning and weight loss almost seem too good to be true! The results are legitimate and strong, but like all new research, multiple studies should be done to test the consistency.

That spicy kick in your food has great benefits! From anti-inflammatory properties to current results indicating fat burning, capsaicin is a powerhouse. Eat those peppers! Just be smart about it. Some red pepper flakes on 4 slices of thick crust pizza aren’t going to do much for fat burning.

Compare Your Favorite Foods Using MyFood-A-Pedia

MyFood-A-Pedia is a new nutrition tool designed for users to quickly access a food’s calories and MyPyramid food group information. This application also allows you to compare two different food items.

What makes this tool unique from other online calorie counters is that is calculates the total number of discretionary – or “extra”- calories from alcohol, solid fats, and added sugars in foods. These “extras” contribute to weight gain mainly because they sneak into our diets. Added sugars in “juice” drinks, sodas, and fat-free or light products can sneak up on a dieter without them even being aware. Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram and contains no nutritional benefit. Solid fats – such as saturated and trans fats – are artery-clogging fats that lead to atherosclerosis and other heart issues.

I did a few comparisons on the MyFood-A-Pedia site to give you an idea of how much two foods can vary – or how little they vary – in terms of their discretionary calories and nutritional benefit:

1. Orange Juice vs. Orange (Raw): One raw orange contains 62 calories, in comparison to a cup of sweetened orange juice that contains 130 calories. The orange juice also contains 29 extra calories, most likely from added sugars.

2. French Fries (deep-fried) vs. Baked Potato (plain): The calorie difference between French fries and a baked potato was huge – more than 300 calories! (478 for deep-fried french fries with ketchup compared to 159 for a baked potato). The French fries also contained 238 extra calories from solid fats… more than the total for the baked potato!

source: MyFood-A-Pedia

3. Butter vs. Margarine (and other spreads): I chose butter, stick margarine, and tub margarine. These items contained 36, 35, and 34 calories, respectively. All calories were considered “extras” from the solid fat. I wanted to compare these items because many people mistake margarine as a healthy alternative to butter, when in fact it contains nearly the exact same amount of calories per serving size, as well as the same amount of artery-clogging, bad-f0r-you fat. On the other hand, reduced-calorie margarine spread contained only 17 calories (and zero extras!) and light butter contained 25 calories (a 10 calorie reduction) with only 3 calories from solid fats.

While this online tool is a great way to find the calorie information about certain foods and to compare it to another as a healthier alternative, I did find one issue with MyFood-A-Pedia. I think it would be a much better tool if it provided more information than just how many calories it contained and what food group the item belonged to. It would be interesting to compare foods based on their fiber, vitamin and mineral, and fat contents as well as calories. Another tool that compared foods’ sugar content or grams of carbs might be beneficial for diabetics. However, I think this is a great start and an excellent complement to the MyPyramid tool that allows users to customize meal plans based on their specific MyPyramid plan. For more information or to use the MyFood-A-Pedia, visit http://www.myfoodapedia.gov/

Banana Bread Make-Over

Banana bread with a hot cup of coffee may seem like a good, quick breakfast or an afternoon snack, but bite for bite, it may not be worth the damage! My recipe, a similar version found in many cookbooks (posted below), yielded the following numbers per serving when cut into 12 thick slices.

290 calories

15 grams fat

1.5 grams fiber

Yikes!

Here is the original recipe, with the substitutions in bold..

  • 1 2/3rd cup all-purpose flour (substituted entirely with whole wheat flour)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar (I only used 2/3rd cup)
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup oil (substituted entirely with ½ cup unsweetened applesauce)
  • 3 very ripe bananas, peeled and mashed
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream (substituted entirely with 2 tbsp fat-free vanilla yogurt)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2/3rd cup walnuts, chopped and toasted
  1. Combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt (do not sift).
  2. Beat sugar and eggs with whisk or electric mixer until fluffy, then add oil (unsweetened applesauce).
  3. Combine mashed bananas, sour cream (fat free yogurt) and vanilla, then add to sugar mixture.
  4. Fold in flour mixture and toasted walnuts.
  5. Pour into medium/large loaf pan or two small loaf pans lined with parchment paper. Bake about 50 minutes
  6. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes to an hour

Ready for the big reveal? After all of the substitutions here’s the change…

190 calories

5.5 grams of fat

3.5 grams fiber

Making little changes or substitutions can yield delicious and healthy results.