Off the back of Easter and another chocolate binge, many of you are going to be doing your heads in over calories this week. The statistics are clear – we’re all getting fatter so what we’ve been doing up until now, i.e. calorie-counting, is ipso facto clearly not working.
The majority of weight loss programs on the market, continue to preach about the maximum number of calories permitted for meals. And they’re obviously undeterred not only by the experience of millions of individuals who have tried a calorie-restricted diet and failed, but also by the overwhelming body of scientific evidence that proves it doesn’t work.
Here are five very compelling reasons, and the science behind them, as to why calorie counting is a waste of time and why calorie restricted diets should be allowed to die quickly and painlessly.
1. The body doesn’t measure things in calories.
A calorie is specifically a unit of heat energy and it is the amount of energy that is required to raise the temperature of one gram of water through one degree Celsius. Any particular food can indeed be assigned a calorific value, and this is done by taking a set amount of that food and igniting it and then from the energy released, measuring the rise in temperature of a set amount of water. But this is in no way a representation of what actually happens in the human body.
Firstly, the food gets digested in the gut and gets converted into other compounds. These compounds, once they are in the human body, do not necessarily go to the cells for immediate utilisation as an energy substrate. And indeed, when they are in the cell, the cell does not ignite them to release purely heat energy as would happen in the laboratory. So, to equate a physical property with a biological process is fundamentally flawed.
Put simply, the body doesn’t measure things in calories.
2. The body handles different macro-nutrients differently.
The calorific value of a set amount of food is reproducible in the laboratory because the process by which the various food types are measured calorifically is the same. However, the human body, reacts completely differently to the different classes of macronutrient. So, the way that the body handles carbohydrate is completely different to the way that it handles protein which in turn is completely different to the way that it handles fat.
On the topic of diets... The Out Loud crew discuss the new diet that combines paleo and veganism. Post continues after audio.
3. Calorie counting doesn't address the underlying problem.
The cause of obesity is intimately related to the development of insulin resistance. The development of the latter is of course related itself to the insulin response, and the amount of food that we consume is of relatively low influence. Of much greater influence is the type of food that we consume, in particular refined carbohydrate and of most significant influence is the frequency with which we consume it.
Therefore, to blame obesity on calories alone is totally illogical. All weight loss methods will fail in the long term unless the underlying problem, namely insulin resistance, is fully addressed.
4. It creates a poor relationship with food.
Calorie counting, which appears to be an integral part of nearly every weight loss program, introduces a very bad psychological relationship with our food. If we are constantly looking at the food that we are about to eat and trying to determine whether this is going to be good or bad for us based on how many calories it contains then this makes for an extremely unhealthy relationship to the extent that we end up hating everything that is on our plate.
It should of course be completely the opposite – we should be able to look at our food and see it as both a celebration that we share with our friends and family, and a prize for the hard work that we have put in to producing it. It is a crying shame that for the vast majority our food is none of these things.
5. It varies from person to person.
Even if everything else was equal, for the calories-in versus calories-out concept to work the individual would need to know what their calories-out figure is. This is impossible to measure in a practical way for all sorts of reasons and varies enormously between individuals and within individuals depending on what they are doing.
The best analogy of trying to lose weight by reducing calories is trying to control the speed of your car by putting less petrol in the tank. It’s a ludicrous over-simplification even for a car let alone the human body which is far more sophisticated.
If you want to lose weight ditch the calories and try intermittent fasting instead.
The Nysteia Formula is a lifestyle change based upon the science of the human body and how we have evolved.
There are three simple elements – intermittent fasting, cardio activity and eating Mediterranean food, with a big emphasis on reducing refined carbohydrate. You don’t need to count calories at all. You just need to give your body time to deplete its insulin levels, which is what the fasting period achieves.
A 30-minute cardio workout whether it’s a walk or a light weights session, while fasted, will assist your body to get rid of any remaining stored glucose which it is holding onto from the day before.
Dr Andrew Renaut is a specialist in laparoscopic, colorectal and general surgery. He is a director of Nysteia, a new health formula which is based on the latest evidence around the science of intermittent fasting.