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The Calorie Myth

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It’s long been drummed into us that ‘dieting’ is the way to lose weight. By ‘dieting’ I mean restricting calories and or food groups. So it’s no wonder that Britain’s dieting industry is worth an estimated £2billion.

I speak to so many women, friends included, that are struggling to lose weight and whenever they set out to finally make it happen they embark on some sort of fad or restrictive regime, like some kind of weight loss shake for breakfast and lunch and then a ‘normal’ dinner for example. I wonder how these women get through the day!

But I used to be just like that.

Throughout my 20’s (from 19 to 27) I did all the fad diets that were available to me. In fact I spent 8 years being constantly hungry! I don’t think a day went by when I didn’t hear my stomach growl in dissatisfaction from being so empty. I just couldn’t understand why I wasn’t losing weight. Similar to how the women I speak to today are feeling.

The trouble is it’s worse once you get into your 30’s and beyond. What MIGHT have worked in your 20’s will likely never work again past 30, and that’s mainly due to hormonal changes in the female body and also the years spent yo-yo dieting having damaged your metabolism and almost grinded it to a halt.

A lot of people see food simply as calories, and they believe that to lose weight we need to reduce/restrict calories and the weight will drop off. If only it were that simple, and if it were, would Britain’s diet industry be worth an estimated £2billion??

Some people WILL lose ‘weight’ if they restrict calories for a few weeks, BUT the ‘weight’ lost is mostly made up of water and muscle tissue – NOT body fat. Then once you start to eat ‘normally’ again you re-gain that weight plus some extra fat that probably wasn’t even there in the first place!

Why? Because your body thinks you were in a state of famine whilst you were restricting food and now that you are eating more food again it slows your metabolism and stores the now incoming food as body fat for when you next restrict food (think insulation for your precious bones).

We have what’s called a ‘set point’ weight, which is the weight at which your body likes to be at and keep you at. Calories restriction, which works against your metabolism, will eventually cause your body’s set point to rise and then it becomes difficult to lose weight on a deprivational diet, and once food is inevitably increased the weight comes back again, and so on, until you are left pulling your hair out years later wondering what went so wrong!

The answer? Don’t restrict your body of the food/energy it needs everyday in order to support metabolism and to function properly! Instead eat the right types of and combinations of foods that will keep your blood sugar levels balanced, support hormonal balance, gut health and metabolism.

Here is an example using myself. When I was trying to lose weight for the 3rd or 4th time in my later 20’s I restricted my calorie intake to no more than 1,200 calories per day. I was cranky, exhausted, hungry, and miserable every single day. When I had initially done this same regime earlier on in my 20’s it had worked for me and within a month I was looking and feeling slimmer (I now know that was water and muscle weight lost not body fat.) I then read about ‘BMR’, this is our Basal Metabolic Rate which basically means the amount of calories our body needs each day just to rest, or just to be able to ‘keep the lights on’ – it doesn’t include the energy needed to go out to work, walk around, think, make decisions, or do exercise. My own BMR at that time was about 1,480 calories.

So, if I needed an absolute minimum of 1,480 calories per day and I was having a maximum of 1,200 a day then is it any wonder I was feeling so awful; hungry, miserable, overcome with cravings and going on inevitable binges a couple times a week?! I was far from ‘at rest’ every day. I was walking to and from work, doing a 9 hour day in the office where I had to think all day long and make decisions, I was going to the gym after work and walking home again.

The point I am making here is that if my BMR was around 1,480 calories I should have been having about another 300-500 per day (depending on activity levels) to be able to support my metabolism and keep it ticking over nicely.

The result? Loss of water and muscle tissue and gain of body fat.

And that’s when I turned things around, and then took things a step further by studying and training to become a nutritional therapist and health coach so I could change my career and help other women just like me!

I used to be so fixated with the calorie number of foods that I became obsessed with that rather than the type of food the calories were coming from. This is an extremely unhealthy obsession as you’re not interested in the nutrition the food will provide for you but simply the number of calories it provides (we can eat plenty of fat-storing carbs all day and still be within our 1200 calorie allowance).

We need to look at food in terms of how our body will break it down – will it be used for energy, will it provide vitamins and minerals needed to optimise our health, or will it be stored as fat? THAT’S what matters. 

Let’s say someone’s BMR number is around 1400-1500 calories (the amount of calories they need at complete rest only) and they’re eating 2,500 calories per day, plus not exercising or moving much at all, then yes they are likely eating too many calories and will be gaining some weight. So they would need to be in some sort of calorie deficit to be able to start losing fat, but that deficit should likely be around 1800 calories per day NOT the common 1200 we are lead to believe is necessary for weight loss. Plus the source of those calories is all-important. Then once they reach their goal body size they can slowly start to increase calories slightly to a maintenance amount to maintain that ideal weight.

Calorie counting is outdated and it’s an ignorant way to view weight loss. It focuses on quantity and not quality of food, and this is absurd, seeing as certain foods cause the release of our fat storing hormones and others do not – regardless of calories.

calorie-countingDepriving our bodies of calories only leads to an eventual slowed metabolism which causes us to gain the weight back and then some, over and over, unless you get the right advice and finally change the way you eat for good.

Our bodies do not work like a maths equation. There is a LOT of other stuff going on within our bodies that must be taken into account when trying to lose weight.

The dieting industry views food simply as calories, and to lose weight we need to reduce our daily calories (to an alarmingly low number usually anything fro 800-1200 a day) and the weight will drop off. If only it were that simple, and if it were, would Britain’s diet industry be worth an estimated £2billion??

There is calorie counting, which looks only at the number of calories a food provides in relation to the restrictive number of calories allowed in one day, and there is what I call ‘smart eating’ which provides the body with the right amount of protein, fat, and carbohydrates, as well as other nutrients, needed for optimum health – which in turn leads to ideal weight.

Counting calories fights against your body’s ‘set point’ weight whereas ‘smart eating’ lowers your set point weight. 

The quality of our calories is what matters for LONG TERM FAT loss. Improving the QUALITY not reducing the QUANTITY of our food results in reducing inflammation within the body (critical for fat loss), re-sensitizing our cells, and re-regulting our hormones and therefore lowering our set point (that ideal weight your body will want to keep you at).

Yo-yo dieting is something I want to see the back off for everyone. Losing weight shouldn’t be something that happens multiple times a year. Someone said to be the other day that “calorie counting works for me whenever I need to lose weight”, but this person is totally missing the point. If it really did work then they wouldn’t repeatedly need to lose weight. I am all about fat loss that is sustainable, and done in a healthy way that doesn’t damage your health and metabolism long term. If someone is overweight they should first try to identify the root cause(s) of their weight gain, address that, and embark on a way of eating that supports blood sugar balance, hormones, and gut health, and then metabolism and ideal weight is also supported. This is called sustainable FAT loss, no longer calling for yo-yo dieting throughout the year as the weight fluctuates due to calorie restriction and hormonal imbalances (insulin and cortisol) that leads to fat storage over and over again. Once the body’s systems and metabolism are supported through PERMANENT diet and lifestyle changes your ideal weight is maintained.

If you’re looking for a quick fix to lose excess weight then calorie restriction might work but for the short term ONLY and studies show that up to 70% of the non water weight lost from restricting calories comes from muscle. Calories counting slows down metabolism and takes away our muscle tissue – no thank you.  

Eating less and exercise more does not cause long term FAT loss. 

Eating in a way that provides your body with real, whole-food meals that nourish your body and do not cause blood sugar spikes (let’s call this ‘smart eating’) leverages the quality of your calories, which in turn takes care of the quantity of your calories (without the counting!).

Calorie counting doesn’t take a LOT of things into account that are KEY for weight/fat loss, ESPEICALLY for women, such as:

  • Insulin’s activity
  • Cortisol’s activity
  • Estrogen and progesterone levels
  • Grehlin and leptin’s activity – 2 other important hormones for fat storage/fat burning
  • Stress levels
  • Sleep quality
  • Adrenal health
  • Digestive health
  • Macronutrient ratios per meals/snacks (protein fat and carbs)
  • Activity levels and type of training
  • Food quality, nutrition provided by the food, and alcohol intake

Counting calories is not the way to go, what a woman really needs for sustainable weight loss isn’t calorie counting; it’s a diet that:

  • Addresses hormonal and metabolic problems (very likely for most women over the age of 35), thus making sure food is used for energy rather than being stored as fat.
  • Does not make you hungry, stressed, or miserable.
  • Encourages a holistic view of health, rather than nudging you towards unhealthy food choices just because they’re low in one “bad” category (e.g. carbs, fat, calories, etc.).
  • You can see yourself following for the long term.

For example, if you’re calorie counting but still consuming a diet that’s high in carbs not only will your weight loss be less efficient than it would on a low carb diet, but you will also find yourself going hungry. This is due to the decreased effect on satiety that is brought about by the consumption of carbohydrates (when compared to protein or fat).

Calories aren’t created equally. Your body will recognize and treat them differently. Your body doesn’t just digest calories…it digests the minerals, proteins, fats and vitamins in what you’re eating. And if you’re eating a 350 calorie diet dinner v’s a 600 calorie dinner of grilled chicken, sautéed veg, avocado, and brown rice…the second option is the better one for weight loss and management.

It’s exactly why you can eat a big plate of chips and a tub of ice cream with little trouble but can’t so easily eat a decent sized steak – because carbohydrates lead to a spike in blood sugar that makes the body want more of the same, whereas protein (steak) is satiating and stabalises blood sugar, keeping you fuller for longer.

In my opinion, it’s far better to reduce the amount of carbohydrate foods you eat at each meal and snack and focus on getting protein with every meal and snack and some healthy fats plus plenty of vegetables including dark green leafy ones and starchy ones like sweet potato, squash and beetroot for your carb sources over things like pasta, wraps, bread, big white potatoes and white rice, without too much concern for calories. If that doesn’t result in weight loss then you try taking another look at the amount of carbohydrates you’re eating e.g. are you having carb based snacks like lots of high sugar fruits, rice cakes, crisps or toast, rather than protein based snacks like nuts and seeds, boiled eggs, nut butter, plain full fat yogurt and berries? Then also look at your sleep, alcohol intake, stress levels, activity levels and type of exercise (too much cardio and not enough resistance/weights), thyroid health, and gut health. Book a Fat Loss Strategy Call with me today and let’s talk through your key struggles when it comes to your weight and health, and I can get you moving forward in the right direction, we’ll have 40 minutes together and its free. Click here to book your call slot in!

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So, switch the ratio on your plate, for example I love a curry as much as the next person but I am more than happy to swap half a plate of rice for more of the meat and plenty of vegetables and a handful of rice instead. Also pass on the naan bread for example, its just not necessary. The average British person would have the rice, the naan and the potato that’s mixed into their main or side dish, now that’s a LOT of unnecessary carbohydrate and the same goes for meals cooked at home, question the amount of carbs you’re having at meal times and as snacks. That is likely to be your downfall, NOT calories. I’m in no way telling anyone to cut out carbs or follow a super low-carb plan, that isn’t helpful either. I’m simply saying to focus more on the protein, healthy fats, vegetables and lower more nutritious fruit like berries. Then for your starchier carbs opt for root vegetables mainly and some whole grains like oats, buckwheat, quinoa (not actually a grain) and brown or wild rice. Start your day with the protein-rich breakfast such as eggs with bacon or smoked salmon, or a protein and ‘good’ fats smoothie with berries, which is really satisfying and keeps me going all the way through to lunch.

Understanding the effect of different nutrients (protein, carbs and fats and the smaller nutrients within them) on your body is the key, NOT calories.

In a nutshell, the more educated you are on what happens to the food you eat, the more likely you are to eat right. Forget about calories and instead be educated on what happens to the food you eat within your body, stored as fat or burned off. Counting calories does not take this into account and in my opinion anyone that tells someone to just cut calories and exercise more to lose weight needs to do their own research before dishing out advice.

The takeaway point here is that restricting calories is just dangerous, silly and unnecessary. Ideal weight is a natural side effect of being healthy, and this includes having a healthy functioning gut, balanced hormones, quality sleep, and a handle on stress. When we increase the quality of our food and exercise, we can heal our hormones, “unclog” our systems, lower our set points, and get our bodies to burn fat instead of storing it.

It’s the creation of new habits and making changes to your eating style and lifestyle that has the biggest impact and results in long-lasting success.

Before I go here are some quotes from some of the academic research into the effect of calorie restriction on the body in relation to weight.

“The researchers note that animals respond to food shortages by storing energy and gaining weight. Their model demonstrates that when food is in short supply – much like during a phase of dieting – an efficient animal will gain excess weight between periods of food shortage. Surprisingly,” says Prof. Higginson, “our model predicts that the average weight gain for dieters will actually be greater than those who never diet. This happens because non-dieters learn that the food supply is reliable so there is less need for the insurance of fat stores”.

“The best thing for weight loss is to take it steady. Our work suggests that eating only slightly less than you should, all the time, and doing physical exercise is much more likely to help you reach a healthy weight than going on low-calorie diets.” Prof. Andrew Higginson, University of Exeter

 

P.S. Book a Fat Loss Strategy Call with me today and let’s talk through your key struggles when it comes to your weight and health, and I can get you moving forward in the right direction, we’ll have 40 minutes together and its free. Click here to book your call slot in!

Trying to lose weight? Change your approach with these nourishing principles

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Every Body is Different – Calories v’s Nutrients

The world of weight loss can be a confusing and overwhelming place; with so many different diets all claiming to be the new best approach. The problem is that every body is different and the biological needs of one person wont be the same as the another, and that needs to be taken into account when embarking on any weight loss plan. Many people can got through their adult life following diet after diet and getting no where, or losing some weight but then gaining it back again when they return to ‘normal’ eating, because lets face it, most of these ‘diets’ are difficult (and no fun!) to follow long term. When it comes to diets and calorie restriction many people could be wreaking havoc on their thyroid and adrenal gland health. We need to provide the body with the right environment for it to start burning fat.

Here are 3 principles that I hope will change your approach to weight loss.

1) Switch the focus to nourishment rather than calories

Focus on food that nourishes your body, giving it what it needs to thrive, burn fat and balance your energy and mood. Huge improvements in health and wellbeing can be seen from switching the focus over to nourishment from real whole foods, containing good fats, quality protein, and plenty of vegetables, and good quality carbohydrates, rather than counting calories. This shift will leave you feeling more satisfied, and help you to think more clearly and be more productive, because our brain needs to be nourished. You will probably end up eating more calories than you would think you should or ever have before, but once you see the old stubborn fat coming off and you start to feel great, and your cravings diminish, you will see that calorie counting wasn’t the key after all. For some people, restricting calories does indeed lead to weight loss, but this isn’t usually true fat loss, more water and muscle, and the loss is almost always unsustainable unless and not to mention unhealthy, the weight usually piles back on with a vengeance. Calorie restriction usually signals to our body that we are in some state of famine or distress and our bodies are very cleverly designed to deal with this.

Let me explain more – If we are highly stressed, or we are simply just under eating, the body goes into fat preservation mode. It does this to protect you and help you, only when we are desperately trying to lose weight/body fat we don’t really appreciate this, and unknowingly we are causing this to happen. It’s usually at this point that we blame ourselves and conclude that we’re not working hard enough i.e. we’re not restricting calories enough and exercising hard enough – we either give up or we start pounding the pavements more often and for longer, and eating less. This just makes the situation a whole lot worse, not to mention how bad it feels! The key is to provide the body with the right nutrition for it to feel safe and not perceive famine or stress, which just knocks hormones out of balance and triggering your body to hold onto your fat stores.

2) Understand how your body reacts to different foods, irrespective of their calorie content

For example, when you eat a bowl of Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes or a can of Fanta, the body absorbs the sugars quickly which raises the level of sugar in our blood stream to above its ideal level (which is about 1 tsp at any one time). This calls upon the hormone insulin to move the excess sugar out of the blood stream. Insulin looks to our body’s cells when moving the sugar, and it heads mostly our fat cells around our middle, insulin has an important job to do but it is a fat storing hormone. This scenario will increases inflammation in the body, raises triglycerides (fat in your blood), and blocks the appetite controlling hormone leptin. Leptin is a hormone that tells the brain when we are satisfied i.e. that we’ve eaten enough food. If the brain can’t receive this message then the body will most likely continue to feel hungry and we will continue to eat. So, can you see how calories have no relevance here? If this scenario of high sugar food choices is then repeated many times throughout the day, it will lead to weight gain (and stubborn midriff fat stores) and most likely lead to disease, seeing as inflammation, and fat in the blood will continue to rise, and leptin will continue to be blocked.

3) Make a shift away from the wrong carbs, but understand why

Carbs come in all shapes and sizes. The important thing to know is which carbs to avoid and which ones to include. The majority of people today are eating a low fat and carb heavy diet, and whilst they think they might be doing the right thing (according to mainstream media), they’re not. The government ‘Eatwell Plate’ is extremely out of date and incorrect, with its suggestion to keep fats low and have a third of our plate made up of bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, or other starchy food. This will only increase the scenario mentioned in point 1 above (fat storage!). The BANT wellness plate is much more up to date and supported by up to date research, you have a look at this here. It suggests that a quarter of our plate should be made up of whole grains and root vegetables, a quarter should be leafy green vegetables, a quarter of other veg, and a quarter of it protein making fish, poultry and eggs your principal sources of protein. Most people who eat a diet low in fat and high in carbohydrates (as per the government Eatwell plate) may feel like they’re never really full or satisfied long after eating, this is probably because leptin is having trouble getting through to the brain (see above). Instead of bread, white rice, white potatoes and pasta use whole grains like rye, quinoa, brown rice, buckwheat, and oats, use root veg like sweet potato and beetroot, plenty of vegetables with lots of dark green leafy stuff, and use low sugar fruits like berries, apples and pears. These types of carbohydrate foods do not spike blood sugar levels in the way that starchy and refined carbs do, plus they offer a whole heap of vitamins and minerals that we so desperately need on a daily basis. Snack on nuts and seeds, hummus, avocado, cottage cheese, rather than carb heavy snacks like bread, cakes, biscuits and muffins etc.

If we stop focusing on calories and we focus on eating whole, real foods that nourish the body we are much more likely to be and feel healthy and keep our weight under control. The body has an in-built system that controls our appetite but by eating refined foods high in sugar, and keep fats low, we are messing with this system. Some foods that are highest in fat and calories are the most nourishing of foods that work WITH our system not against it, supporting our metabolism, rather than slowing it. These foods are much more likely to promote weight loss and decrease our risk of heart disease and diabetes, such as avocados, which is a fantastic example.

So, if you have trouble with weight around the middle then take a look at your approach to your diet, are you counting calories rather than nourishment? Is your diet high in sugar and carbs and low in fats? Is it high in hidden sugars coming from refined carbs like wraps or white bread, sauces in jars or packets, regular cereals we see advertised on TV? Check labels to look for the ‘of which sugars’ content and know that 1 teaspoon of sugar equates to about 4.4g of sugar, so if the label tells you there is 16g of sugar in the portion of that food you’ll eat then that’s a out 4 teaspoons in one go, that’s only going to spike your blood sugar and call upon insulin. ‘Low fat’ usually means high sugar/high insulin spike, so be aware! Keeping insulin at bay, and supporting the body’s natural hormonal system is a whole lot more effective than any calorie counting.

I hope you found this useful and it helps to steer you in the right direction :-)

Fad Diets & Weight Loss

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Restrictive diets that are low in calories and low in fat don’t work long term and they can become an unhealthy obsession. Any eating plan, which severely limits food intake, will have short-term weight loss results, but this isn’t fat loss, it’s actually muscle and water loss. We need muscle in order to burn fat so by losing muscle mass on a restrictive diet we can’t burn fat properly and we slow our metabolism down. When you give your body less calories your metabolic rate starts to slow down to adjust to the small amount of energy it is being given, this is a survival mechanism that dates back to our caveman days when we were genuinely starving and genuinely needed a slower metabolism in order to survive.

Many people believe that these low calorie, low fat diets work because they do see results quickly, but as I said these results can’t be maintained and the results are false because true weight loss is to lose fat, not water or muscle.

Your weight on the scales is just a number!

So many of us are fixated by what we weigh on a set of scales or what our BMI is, but this is a false measurement, because weight and BMI can increase with more resistance exercise, as we increase our muscle mass and decrease our fat mass. And this is what really matters – a higher muscle mass to fat mass, that’s the true measure of success, and its known as our body composition. This cannot be measured on a (regular) set of scales, and that’s why we need to ditch the scales and stop obsessing over how much we weigh! Other best measures are how your clothes fit, and your waist to hip ratio. Eating a natural whole food diet with good amounts of lean protein, essential fats, and plenty of vegetables, with minimal refined carbohydrates and sugar is the best way to lose fat, keep it off and stay healthy.

If you have any questions or would like to know more about the nutritional therapy packages I offer to help you lose fat and feel great then drop me a line at francesca@flnutrition.co.uk today, I’d love to hear from you :-)

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