Losing weight is easy, right? You just burn more calories than you take in.
This is what the diet, fitness, food, and medical professionals have been telling you for about six decades.
If calories in, calories out were 100 percent true and we "cracked the code" we wouldn't have more overweight or obese people than any time in recorded history. The universe operates in the millions of colors in between black and white and so does weight loss.
This is one of the most confusing topics in health, so I want to share what I've learned while losing 160 pounds, keeping it off for several years, training as an eating psychology coach, and helping my clients get a handle on the relationship between food and body.
1. Calorie counting at different stages of your wellness journey
I lost 160 pounds over the course of several years without ever dieting or counting calories.
When I was still obese I tried to count calories, and it was a train wreck. I'd end up letting the dieting consciousness play tricks on my mind.
I'd "guesstimate" quantities of food without having the discipline to measure. I'd also find myself looking at the tracker and saying things like "Hmm…I have 900 calories left" at 9 p.m., which gave me permission to go into a controlled late-night binge.
Not great for weight loss.
Last year I decided I wanted to experience what it would feel like for my clients who want to lose only 10 or 15 pounds. I experimented with calorie counting and I was able to lose 13 pounds and keep most of it off.
The difference is that years later I've worked on my emotional eating, macro balance, upgraded the quality of my food, and have an understanding of the power of meal timing.
I've also addressed many of the core patterns, beliefs, and circumstances that were at the root of my eating challenges.
2. It can help create awareness.
If you've never counted calories, macronutrients, and generally have a "go with the flow" attitude around food, it can shift your awareness dramatically. Becoming aware of what a real serving of your favorite snack looks like or how many calories are in that "healthy" salad at a lunch spot you frequent can genuinely empower your relationship with food and weight.
This isn't the only way to create awareness and shift your consciousness. Food journaling could help; taking pictures with your phone of everything you eat can help. So can shopping at a new grocery store or hanging out with more food-conscious friends. There are lots of ways to empower your awareness around food intake.
3. It can disconnect you from your body wisdom.
Calorie counting for most people deepens the groove of disconnection from the body. We get focused on restriction and deprivation, on numbers instead of natural appetite.
Appetite keeps you alive. When you are undernourished and your body is calling for food, but you don't want to eat because you are close to your calorie max for the day, you are creating a war with an essential function of survival.
It's like keeping yourself to a certain amount of breaths per day. It's not going to work.
When you get several others factors in line, like meal timing, food quality, and macro balance, hunger and appetite naturally regulate themselves.
At that point you can begin to understand when you are eating because you're hungry or you are eating to numb, feel, soothe, or ignore your emotional or mental state.
4. There's a dark side.
For many people calorie counting influences poor macronutrient (as in protein, fat, and carb) balance and poor food quality. It also has people in dieting consciousness, which will influence them to stay low on calories at breakfast and lunch. This results in being ravenous in late afternoon and then having a large dinner.
They feel shame about a "lack of willpower" and potentially binge at night. This is a cycle that will ensure a negative relationship with
food and body.
5. Human beings aren't machines.
Science is amazing, and I'm glad we have it. Yet the human body holds many secrets that science just can't prove. All of these factors go into weight loss or maintenance:
- Food quality
- Macronutrient balance
- Whole foods vs. processed foods
- Food allergies
- Speed of eating
- Eating rhythm
- Bio-circadian nutrition
- Emotional blocks
- Sympathetic vs. parasympathetic dominance
- Rest and relaxation
- Physical and mental stress
- Type of exercise
- Hormonal balance
- Health constellations
- Overall nourishment
- Toxic and limiting nutritional beliefs
- Caffeine, alcohol, tobacco use
- Sleep quantity and quality
The list goes on
Look at your body as more than just a scientific machine. Calorie counting can be great, but at best it is a short-term tool to create awareness and consciousness. Creating more connection with the body, with hunger, with nourishment, with food, and with pleasure is empowering.
Focusing on calories often results in people giving away their personal power to numbers and missing the bigger picture of weight loss and health.
When you reduce the idea of weight and health to a simple scientific equation you are missing the humanity of metabolism. You are staying emotionally, energetically, spiritually, and socially connected to a false sense of security and certainty that keeps you playing small in life.
When you adopt a bigger picture, you are honoring and empowering your greatest way of being.