Monday, December 13, 2010

Do Calories Really Count?

by JJ Virgin
It seems like there are two weight loss camps out there – one that holds strictly to calorie counting for weight loss and the other that focuses on limiting or excluding altogether specific food groups for weight loss. I think that the most confusing section in the bookstore is the weight loss/diet section!  So who is right?
Calories Count…well sort of
Calories count, but where they come from counts more.  The bottom line is too much healthy food is unhealthy.  But there is balance foodsclearly a difference between consuming 1000 calories from clean lean protein, fruits, veggies and nuts versus Twinkies, chips and soda (the latest “convenience store diet fat”). And intuitively, we all know this but we are always searching for a program where we can lose weight and eat what we want and how much we want of it.
Our body isn’t a bank account
There is more to losing weight than merely creating a caloric deficit, especially when you focus on fat loss rather than overall weight loss.  Remember, if you lose weight but not fat, or lose fat from your arms and legs but not off your belly, you are not getting healthier and in fact you could actually be hurting yourself and damaging your metabolism even more.
Your body is both a chemistry lab AND a history book
Food is information.  It can tell your body to
  • burn fat or store it
  • build muscle or burn it
  • balance blood sugar or send it spinning!
It does this through the hormones that are triggered. This happens due to meal composition, meal size and meal timing. If you overeat, you can trigger a bigger insulin response.  If you eat a higher carb diet, especially refined carbs you can trigger a bigger insulin response.  If you eat small higher carb meals and snacks every few hours you may cause insulin to rise and stay higher longer than it should.  Higher insulin basically locks the doors to the fat cells, causing you to hold onto fat and burn sugar. 
Conversely if you go too long without eating, you can raise the stress hormone cortisol which can cause you to break down muscle and store more fat around your waistline.  Eat right before bed and you will suppress ghrelin, the hormone produced in the stomach that helps trigger the release of growth hormone as you sleep. 
You can’t trade your turkey for the pumpkin pie
An interesting study by Bernard Wolfe showed that when people exchanged some of their carbohydrate calories for protein calories they lowered their LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. So don’t think you can eat what you want as long as you are managing your calories. Treats are treats and should be handled as such. I teach clients to use the “three polite bite rule”. If they are craving something they can have three polite bites of it. In order to avoid eating more of it, don’t bring it into the house and ideally share it with someone who has a really fast fork!
So how many calories of what should you be eating?
You should strive to be eating nutrient dense calories from clean lean protein, healthy fats, non starchy veggies in a rainbow of colors and low glycemic, high fiber starchy carbohydrates and fruit.
Overall caloric needs are determined by your age, sex, activity level, height and weight and will be impacted by your hormones, especially thyroid, insulin and cortisol. 
Where your calories should come from – ie how many from protein, fats and carbs is determined by your genotype.
Stanford University completed a study in March 2010 that found that when people ate per their genotype (lower carb or lower fat), they lost 2 ½ times the weight as compared to when they didn’t.
A simple spit test can tell you which genotype you are as well as help you identify any eating behavior traits that may impact your overall success including increased appetite, increased food desire, a sweet tooth and even a dislike of veggies!
If you want to learn more about this go to

1 comment:

  1. For me I think weight loss starts with choosing the right food to eat. I think calorie counting truly helps. :)