Ditch the calorie counting – you know it doesn’t work!

For the umpteenth time yesterday I found myself having this familiar conversation with a client. His BMI was in the obese category, his body fat way above healthy levels, along with visceral fat. As usual, the conversation went something like this;

Client: “I can’t understand why I’m not losing weight. I train regularly and I eat a good diet. In fact I am burning more calories than I take in every day – I count them and I’m in deficit so I should be losing weight, no?”

Me: ” What kind of training do you do and what do you actually eat?”

Client: “I do plenty of cardio (mostly steady state) – I don’t like to do weights because I don’t want the bulk, so I just do a few light weights, everything low intensity basically. Also I don’t eat that many carbs – I never have pasta more than once a day for example.”

Me: “My advice in a nutshell, don’t count calories, eat as much as you like, choosing your food 90% from the following food groups: fruit and vegetables, nuts, seeds, eggs, fish and meat from reputable sources, some dairy possibly, try to limit or eliminate grains and other starchy carbs, avoid processed foods. Ramp up your training regime – include some high intensity training at least twice a week, limit the steady state cardio but remain generally active between sessions (i.e.walking, swimming, gardening etc.) Also include some strength training.”

Client walks away with my business card and the offer of a free consultation to discuss these options in more detail. Client knows what he’s doing wrong but will probably persist with the same regime even though it clearly doesn’t work and is emotionally attached to his comfort foods.

And why would he not believe in what he’s doing? For decades all the advice from government, GP’s, health and fitness ‘experts’ etc. has been to do just what he’s doing, despite absolutely ZERO scientific research to confirm any of what they’ve been preaching.

Let’s just take this calories in versus calories out theory for starters. This is a lovely simple mathematical way of regulating weight no? You burn more fuel than you consume therefore you must lose weight, no? There must be hundreds of studies that confirm this to be the case, right, otherwise we wouldn’t have been told this, right? Um actually no, not one study has ever been done that confirms that this simple formula works! In fact, all the studies that have been done have disproved the theory! But people latch onto it because it’s simple and easy to follow.

Look at the rising rates of obesity in the US and the UK in the last 30 years or so. Activity levels have actually increased in that period and calorie intake has fallen, so clearly the theory doesn’t add up.

In my humble opinion, it must be to do with the type of food being consumed or other lifestyle factors such as stress. Here is where the truth lies about weight management. If you can change your nutrition sustainably so that you eat more of the good stuff mentioned above, avoid long periods of inactivity and reduce stress as much as possible, then you will achieve far more than simply counting calories because no diet based on calorie restriction will ever last in the long term – in fact it will make you fatter over time. Hormones are one of the biggest drivers in all of this and they are completely ignored by calorie counting theory. But that’s a topic for another day.



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