We’ve all encountered people who say they are counting their calories because they are trying to lose weight, but is this even the right approach? People talk about having a calorie deficit, meaning you should eat fewer calories than your body burns, but again is this too simple, and does it actually work? Here’s why counting calories doesn't actually make you eat any healthier.
One of the issues with eating less when trying to lose weight is that it isn't always a healthy or sustainable diet. Calories are not the enemy, and they actually help to give you energy. The real enemy is bad food choices and a lack of exercise causing weight gain. While you shouldn’t overeat, it is important to give your body fuel so it can do its job effectively.
Starving yourself of some food groups because you see them as high-calorie options means when you eat them again your body will store as much as possible. Ignoring food groups because they're high in calories will not give your body the balance it requires and can make you feel worse.
Not all calories are equal
Learning that not all calories are equal can help you to stop counting them in the first place. The 600 calories you get from eating a healthy salad versus the 600 calories you get from a fast food burger are vastly different. The nutrients in the salad will help your body in a wide variety of ways, whereas the fast food burger might have barely anything useful in it. The ingredients you choose to eat are more important than counting the calories that go in.
Our bodies digest different foods at different rates, and some things we burn off instantly while others take longer to work their way through our systems. For example, complex carbohydrates such as oatmeal, brown rice, and sweet potatoes are hard to break up, and they drip-feed your body energy that’s converted from glucose. These complex carbs are better for keeping a sustained level of energy, where simple carbohydrates such as fruit juice and raw sugar are broken down quickly.
Balancing your diet
There are calories in everything, and counting up how many are in each meal can be exhausting. Food is used for fuel, but it is also fun to eat, so counting the calories can suck out all of the enjoyment from your meals. Beginning to count your calories isn't too far from obsessing over the exact number of calories passing your lips.
It is important to understand the rough calorie values of foods, but knowing the precise calorie count can end up giving people an unhealthy relationship with their food. Eating a balanced diet, filled with protein, fats, fiber, and carbohydrates is far better for you, and won’t encourage bad eating habits.
If you’re counting calories, you could be ignoring the important hunger signals your body is sending your brain. Starving yourself while waiting for your next calorie allowance won’t make you healthier, just hungrier. Stop counting and start making better choices, instead.