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Do I need to count calories to achieve weight loss

Do I need to count calories to achieve weight loss

by Ms Josephine J Mollica 12/02/2019

Many believe it’s necessary to count calories to achieve weight loss. They may have decided that they “need to have 500 calories for each meal” or are “trying to stick to 1200 calories each day.” They may follow an exact, day by day diet plan …with particular foods as well as exact quantities or weights of food, to adhere to this.

On the other hand, a daily healthy eating plan with foods from each of the food groups would include loads of vegetables, about 6 serves of grain foods, about 5 serves of meat/dairy/nuts/legumes, 3 serves of fruit and a small treat. Furthermore, the choices within each food group are practically endless! When I explain to clients that this is the amount of food their body needs, they usually gasp and comment “that’s a lot of food!” Their approach is, instead, to “cut back on calories” (some even attempt to have a fraction of this amount), in order to lose weight.

When we use calories to guide us with our eating, then:

  • we want our bodies to adhere to a predefined amount of calories for each meal and / or snack, and

  • expect that an imposed number of calories (which is usually a fraction of what we require), will make us feel full.

However, for this to work, requires two underlying assumptions. That:

  • there are no grades of hunger – we feel equally hungry at every meal/snack and therefore require the same amount of calories at each, and

  • that this predetermined amount of calories for each meal/snack will always be equally satisfying and filling.

Let’s think for a moment whether these assumptions sound plausible. Firstly, we are not robots which can be pre-programmed to be satisfied with a fixed amount of calories day in, day out. Some days we are hungrier. Some days we are less hungry. To eat a predetermined amount of calories would mean overeating when we are less hungry and/or feeling deprived on days when we restrict ourselves to less food than what we are actually hungry for.

Secondly, not all calories are equally filling. There are a number of factors that impact on the amount we eat of a particular food, even if the foods contain the same amount of calories. It is well known that high protein foods provide a feeling of fullness. Both one jumbo egg and 4 Cruskits contain 100 calories. Which one would keep you feeling full for longer? The egg, right? The more a food needs to be chewed, the more likely it is to keep us feeling full for longer. Compare a large apple with a 250ml Tetra Pak of juice. Both have 100 calories, yet the apple provides a greater feeling of fullness. Our body is ‘blind’ to liquid calories, so the juice is likely to be forgotten in a matter of minutes and leave us searching for food again. The texture of a food can also affect the amount we eat. Which would fill you more – an average sized cooked potato or a single 20g packet of Multipack Potato Chips? And again, both have 100 calories. These examples show that we can’t rely on calories to regulate our eating.

To eat a predetermined amount of calories would mean overeating when we are less hungry and feeling deprived when we are hungrier. We don’t get full, and therefore stop eating, because we have reached our ‘quota’ of calories. The amount of calories a food has does not equate to fullness.

Our body does not ask for food if it is not hungry. Our body does not ask for food if it is full. We eat according to appetite and we stop according to fullness. Not because of calories.

For more help with ditching calorie counting and enjoying natural eating, contact Eatwiser.