You know what I am talking about. The old rule that you need to burn more calories then you eat. It seems that a lot of health advice has gotten away from this general principal because of the latest research coming out that shows how creating a calorie deficit doesn’t necessary help you lose fat, and even more importantly, it can be downright unhealthy.
While this may be true we shouldn’t necessarily throw this idea away all together. Weight Watchers certainly has their success stories so there must be something to calorie counting even if it doesn’t work for everyone.
And that’s just it. Not everything works for everyone. One of my goals when I first started writing about health and created the Better Health Challenge was to try and boil everything down into the simplest of terms and exercises and have it work for everyone. A tried and true method that would work for everyone. I quickly learned that certain things don’t work for certain people. Calorie counting for one, works for some people, and not others.
I have a certain way of thinking about calorie counting that doesn’t necessarily ask you to count calories, but before I explain that I wanted to restate some of the principals that pretty much apply to everyone.
1. You should desire to lose fat, not weight – I can’t restate this enough. Every health writer or scientist knows that the goal should always be to lose excess fat, and not necessarily overall body weight. Losing 10 pounds of fat, and gaining 10 pounds of muscle will make you look drastically different, and you will feel better and perform better too.
2. Calorie counting can easily lead to obsession – Plenty of people start calorie counting and become obsessed with it. It becomes its own goal. And people tend to feel much more in control when they do it, even when things are out of control. This is the biggest argument against calorie counting and it makes a lot of sense. Too many people go down this path.
3. We burn more calories at rest then we do exercising – Think about it. In a 24 hour day how much do you exercise and how much do you rest? Some of the most intense exercises only burn 300-500 calories an hour. In a given day though, even at rest, you will burn around 2000 calories depending on your height, weight, sex, etc. Exercise isn’t really going to help you create a big deficit, especially when you consider that working out that hard makes you really hungry! Then you just eat more to compensate for burning all those calories. There is more to the story…
But we still have to create a calorie deficit. This may seem counter-intuitive, but follow along. We exercise not necessarily to create a calorie deficit, but to activate the hormones in our body that burn fat!
Different exercises stimulate our hormones in different ways, but just about any moderate exercise is better then no exercise. Running marathons may seem like a great way to lose weight, but they are a huge time sink and you often end up with bad knees or other problems because of it.
I am a big fan of weight lifting because I can get huge benefits from it for only an hour or two of working out a week. Weight lifting stimulates all the right hormones to help you lose fat, and as a bonus weight lifting also stimulates hormones that help you build stronger bones.
Just plain old walking has huge benefits too. Walking for a decent distance or for a certain time stimulates all the hormones that running does, plus it is much more relaxing and saves you from any joint problems down the road.
That is the calories out part of the equation, but what about the calories in part of the equation?
This one is super simple and I hope you agree. Just make sure you have a high level of protein and fiber in your diet!
Protein helps you feel full much better than carbohydrates and fat do. It also helps you maintain muscle mass. And with more muscle mass comes the increased ability to burn calories.
Fiber also helps you feel and really aids in digestion. It slows food digestion down which has two benefits. The first one is that fiber helps keep your blood sugar from spiking. When we eat foods that we digest very rapidly it spikes our blood sugar which in turn spikes insulin. Insulin is the primary hormone that causes our bodies to store fat. If we include plenty of fiber in our diet then we shouldn’t have to worry to much about that. Also since fiber slows our digestion it also enables us to absorb more nutrients then we normally would be able to from our food.
So there you go. A whole article about calorie counting without a single bit of math involved. If you simply add weight lifting and walking to your exercise routine, and focus on increasing your protein and fiber intake (mainly by eating more meat and veggies), most of the reasons we calorie count should take care of themselves. You might not see much weight loss, but you should start to see a shrinking waist line, and ultimately a loss of fat, and a gain in muscle that makes you look and feel awesome!
This is our 38th challenge in The Personal Health Challenge Series…