Tuesday, August 14, 2012

If I'm counting calories, does it matter what I eat?

Before I started working with my trainer, Kay Yasin, I always believed that as long as I counted my calories and consumed less than what I burned for that day, I would lose weight.

But when I reached my mid-20's, I discovered that although I was counting calories, my weight-loss had plateaued and I wasn't losing anything at all. I was perplexed... Calorie-counting had always been such a pure and simple formula that worked every time, so why had this standard math equation stopped giving me results?

So I looked back at my food log (I use this awesome free app on my iPhone called Lose It! Check it out!) and realized that it might have something to do with the kinds of foods I was eating, considering my diet had transformed over the years from something very fruit- and veggie-heavy to a more carb- and sugar-based diet with some healthy stuff sprinkled in. Uh oh... so although I was seemingly burning more calories than I consumed, I suspected that maybe the chemical makeup of the food I was eating had something to do with my sudden weight-loss failure.

 I did some research and discovered the answer...

If I burn more calories than I take in, does it really matter which foods I consume?

I've read so many articles and websites that outrightly state that the answer to this question is simply "no." They explain that calorie-counting is a simple math equation... if you burn more calories than you consume, you will lose weight. 

But I disagree. Consider this example:

Let's just say - for the sake of a theory - that you eat lettuce all day so that you can go out with your girlfriends on a Saturday night and have a few drinks. Your diet plan allows you to consume 1,400 calories a day and still lose weight. 

So great... after the night is over, you realized that you did, in fact, burn more calories than you took in via lettuce and booze. Congrats!

But the next morning, as you hopped on the scale, you realized that you actually gained almost a whole pound! WAH! What happened?! 

Let me tell you... 

Check out this article from SparkPeople.com about alcohol consumption and how it affects the body:

Alcohol is metabolized differently than other foods and beverages. When you drink alcohol, it gets immediate attention (because it is viewed by the body as a toxin) and needs no digestion. 
On an empty stomach, the alcohol molecules diffuse through the stomach wall quickly and can reach the brain and liver in minutes. This process is slower when you have food in your stomach, but as soon as that food enters the small intestine, the alcohol grabs first priority and is absorbed quickly into the bloodstream. As the alcohol reaches the liver for processing, the liver places all of its attention on the alcohol. 
When the body is focused on processing alcohol, it is not able to properly break down foods containing carbohydrates and fat. Therefore, these calories are converted into body fat and are carried away for permanent storage on your body.

Although this example mainly focuses on alcohol, I think you get the point... sometimes the chemical makeup of certain foods or beverages is more important than how many calories are actually involved.

So what's the real trick to calorie-counting?

Obviously, you need to calculate the amount of calories you will need in order to maintain or lose weight. You can do this by visiting this Calorie Calculator and - based on your age, current weight, height and activity level - find out just how many calories you need to cut in order to start shedding those pounds.

But here is my bottom line: If you want to lose weight, you must of course watch your calories and be sure to log less than you burn for the day. But I urge everyone to educate themselves on the food they take in and each food's nutritious value. So even though a donut equals the same amount of calories in a few servings of cantaloupe, go for the fruit!

Some high-calorie foods are "super" and keep you full longer

According to an article from NYDailyNews.com, "just logging in the numbers doesn't take into account that some high-calorie foods are worth eating... for instance, both eggs and nuts may be high in calories, but they are filling and nutritious." 

If you cut back on the consumption of certain foods that seemed to be stock-piled with calories, this may force you to choose other options that may be lower in calorie content, but won't keep you full for very long. Before you know it, you'll be munching on another snack soon after, consuming even more calories than you would have had you chosen the pack of almonds instead of those Special K diet crackers.

Would you rather be made of straw or brick?

The age-old story of the three little pigs and the big bad wolf can actually teach us something here... Although the straw house is built exactly the same as the brick house in regards to shape and size, the brick house will always prevail because it's just made of stronger stuff!

When considering the foods you eat, think about them as the materials that make up the house that is your body. Would you want to live in a flimsy straw house or the unbreakable brick castle? I think the choice is obvious.

So if you are cutting calories and you're losing weight, I recommend challenging yourself to swap out your morning bagel with reduced fat cream cheese with a green pepper, onion and turkey sausage egg white omelet. Your body will receive a healthy dose of protein from this breakfast swap, not to mention an increased serving of vitamins. 

It's ok to indulge here and there...

So although this post seems to be a diatribe against eating foods that provide little to no nutritional value to the body, I will say this... we're all human and we like to enjoy our lives, right down to the foods we eat. I want everyone in the world to make healthy eating fun by finding creative recipes and I would like it if everyone could enjoy eating vegetables as much as I do. In order to get to that level, you must really learn to love the results these healthy foods can provide to your body. 

But... every now and then I do want a donut and it's ok! If you treat yourself, let go of the guilt and just be sure that it's within your caloric goal for the day or that you burn it off later in the gym. It's about taking responsibility for the choices you make and really wanting to take care of yourself, both inside and out. 

I hope you all find this post useful and I'd love it if you could share your personal experiences with calorie-counting. I'm always interested in finding out what works for others. 

Happy Tuesday!

~ Life in the fit lane ~

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