Stop Counting Calories

From the WebMD Archives

By Jonathan Bailor and Catherine Britell

Being obsessed with counting calories can be a great way to preoccupy and punish yourself for trying to be healthy. When you count calories every single time you eat something, you take what could be a happy, joyous and nurturing experience and turn it into a source of deprivation, stress and negative self-talk. And when you consistently force yourself to do hours of exercise strictly to burn off a certain amount of calories, you take all the fun out of physical activity.

It’s time to break out of your calorie-counting prison! See if any of these excuses resonate...

But... if I stop counting calories, won’t I gain weight? Actually, it's the quality of the food you eat -- not the calories in that food -- that determines what eating it will do to your metabolism. A number of studies (both animal and human) have shown that a junk-food diet will cause significantly more weight gain than a nutritious diet that contains the same number of calories. Furthermore, the act of counting calories itself can cause weight gain. When we consciously count and limit our calories, our cortisol levels go up. As a result, our appetite increases, we crave processed fatty and sugary foods, and our bodies store belly fat. So, the very thing we do to lose weight might actually have the opposite effect!

But... how will I know how long to work out if I don't track calorie-burn? Actually, bodily functions -- such as digesting food, replacing old tissue, thinking, breathing and circulating your blood -- burn 60 to 70 percent of the calories you ingest. You also burn a lot of calories doing things like carrying out the garbage, taking a shower, cooking supper, making love and getting the kids’ clothes on. These activities add up to many times more calories than you can burn in half an hour on a treadmill. So the way to burn more calories sustainably is by building stronger and more metabolically active muscles, cranking up your overall metabolic rate and changing your fat-burning hormones with the right nutrition and exercise.

But... calorie-counting is the only weight-loss technique I know. Try this: Satisfy your hunger every day with double-digit servings of non-starchy vegetables, three to six servings of nutrient-dense protein (seafood, grass-fed beef or organic chicken) and three to six servings of whole-food fats such as avocado, coconut, cocoa, olives, eggs or macadamia nuts. If you’d like, add a serving or two of low-fructose fruits such as strawberries, blueberries or oranges per day. Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full and eat again when you’re hungry again. Do 10 minutes of high-resistance eccentric strength training of your largest muscle groups once a week, and 10 minutes of high-intensity and no-impact burst activity (such as interval training on a stationary bike) once a week. Dance, learn, sing, play, love and laugh in between. These simple changes will optimize your fat-burning hormones and make you metabolically healthy -- and a lot happier, too.

WebMD Feature from Turner Broadcasting System
© Turner Broadcasting System, Inc.