When it comes to weight loss, cutting back on calories has been the go-to strategy for decades. In order to lose weight, you just need to eat less and exercise more, right?
Well, not really.
If you’ve ever tried counting calories yourself, you know that it’s nearly impossible to maintain. And the proof is in the pudding: the US is now facing an obesity epidemic, despite these well-known recommendations.
It seems to make sense on the surface: eat less, weigh less. So why doesn’t it work?
Well, when it comes to eating, not all calories are created equal. Our bodies digest different foods in different ways, some of which are more prone to fat storage.
In addition, calories aren’t usually the problem in the first place. Nearly all of the clients I coach for weight loss are already eating fewer calories than their Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) when adjusted for activity level. According to the conventional recommendations, this means they should be losing weight - but they’re not.
Finally, calorie restriction doesn’t take your satiety into account. If you’re hungry and you don’t eat enough, your body will do what it needs to do to protect against starvation - it’s a simple survival mechanism. Hunger will win every time.
In many cases, the most effective weight loss strategy may actually require you to consume more calories. But instead of focusing on the quantity of calories, it’s important to focus on their quality.
For example, refined carbohydrates spike blood sugar and insulin levels, signaling the body to store the excess blood sugar as fat. Complex carbohydrates, clean proteins, and healthy fats, however, don’t provoke a dramatic insulin response, and therefore the body has a better ability to convert them into energy or muscle. When we shift our diet accordingly, we can eat more calories and still lose lots of weight.
In addition, snacking is crucial to weight loss. If you’re hungry, your blood sugar is lowered, and your body craves quick energy that will raise blood sugar immediately - like refined carbs. Snacking helps stabilize your blood sugar throughout the day so you don’t reach for that cupcake at 3pm.
When we approach eating this way, we have more energy and better control over our mealtime decisions. It’s a more delicious, satisfying, and enjoyable dining experience than portion control and restriction.
And better yet, we have a better chance at keeping the weight off for good.