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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!

Is Stress wreaking havoc on your weight, energy, hormones and digestion?

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Our body really is quite remarkable, we have a built in system within our nervous system that helps us to deal with stressful situations, acting as a protective support system.

Let me first explain how this system works and when it gets kicked into action.

Our physical response to stress is known as the ‘fight or flight’ response and it’s our primitive survival mechanism that starts in our brain and quickly moves into our entire hormonal system, via the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis, and basically means a message gets transferred from our brain to our adrenal glands). Our brain is hard wired to protect us, and so it responds to anything that it thinks may be causing us stress, danger or upset. BUT, if this response happens too often and for the wrong reasons it can send us on a stress-hormone rollercoaster ride.

Let me explain…

The HPA axis is very clever and very effective at providing us with the energy we need, either to run or to stick around and fight (hence ‘fight or flight’).

Here’s what happens once the brain perceives a threat or upset:

  • The adrenal glands release the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline
  • Plenty of sugar is pumped into the bloodstream, quickly. Your body tries very hard to make sure you have enough by breaking down fat and muscle for extra sugar, incase it’s needed.
  • Insulin (a blood sugar regulating hormone sent out by the pancreas) is pumped out into the blood to move the sugar from the blood into the body’s cells so it can be used as energy for your fight or flight.
  • Your blood vessels tighten up which raises your blood pressure.
  • Energy is directed away from bodily functions that don’t need energy in times of danger such as the digestive system and reproductive system; this affects the balance of your gut and your hormones.

Then when the ‘danger’ is over, your body is designed to quickly get back to normal without any lasting damage. The extra blood sugar gets swept away into the cells by insulin, your blood vessels relax putting blood pressure back to normal, blood flow returns to your gut and the reproductive hormonal system goes back to normal.

This built-in stress response helps us in times of real perceived danger such as being faced by a tiger when out hunting for food in the hunter-gatherer days, or if faced by a burglar in our home who is threatening our life. The problem is that the stresses and perceived threats we experience in today’s modern world are not usually life threatening, and don’t require us to fight or flight, AND they can occur quite often, even daily, here are some examples:

  • A permanently (or more often than not) stressful work environment
  • A stressful home life or stressful relationship
  • Financial worries about getting bills paid or tax bill submitted in time etc.
  • Having a million things to do and feeling like you have no time to do them
  • Illness either in yourself or a loved one
  • Getting stuck in traffic on your way to a meeting or to collect the kids from school
  • Getting stuck on the tube on your way to work and just generally being stressed about being late, and rushing around

All these daily real life stressors activate the HPA axis described above, and the response is magnified if you’ve suffered previous traumas in your life whether as a child or an adult, such as abuse of any sort, severe financial problems, bereavement of a close loved one, and any other trauma.

The problem occurs when this HPA axis becomes chronically activated (activated all the time). This can be the case for so many people today, for example if you start your day running late, you run for the train, your train is packed and people are pushing, you get to work just in the nick of time, you have a stressful work environment, you have a disagreement with a colleague, you have to rush home from work to pick up your child but your train is late, you cant sleep because you have so many things on your to do list – day in day out – this person is chronically stressed and is chronically activating their HPA axis. This puts the body into a state of ongoing survival mode and can have a big impact on our health, for example:

  • Excess weight, especially around the middle, with weight loss being very difficult or not happening at all
  • Difficulty falling asleep at night, waking in the night, or waking up tired and un-refreshed after a full nights sleep
  • Weakened immunity with frequent colds
  • Chronic exhaustion, feeling overwhelmed, lack of emotional and mental resilience
  • Anxiety, irritability, feeling tired but wired, feelings of depression
  • Cravings for sugar or caffeine or both
  • Hormonal issues such as PCOS, infertility, fibroids, PMS etc.
  • Problems with blood sugar regulation
  • Insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol
  • Lack of concentration, memory and cognitive function issues
  • Underactive thyroid

The constant release of cortisol sending large amounts of sugar into the blood stream causes us to gain weight because the excess sugar is stored as fat by insulin, PLUS our energy levels spike up then down leaving us exhausted by the afternoon!

Even stimulants like coffee can activate the HPA axis. Stimulants work by stimulating our nervous system to produce the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, activating the HPA axis in the same way that a physical stressor does.

Stress can deplete our bodies of vital nutrients

Whenever adrenaline is released into the body it uses our stores of magnesium, vitamin C and B vitamins, we need all these nutrients to produce energy, so stressors and coffee can leave us feeling drained.

So, stress upsets our digestion, depletes our body of nutrients, reduces our immune function, affects our mood, alters our ability to think clearly because it interferes with the production of our feel-good brain chemicals which are made in our gut, and it sets the stage for inflammation which is at the root of nearly all chronic diseases, as well as weight gain. So its important to manage our stress by including daily stress relievers like yoga, meditation, deep belly breathing, doing things we love and make us laugh, reading a good book even if just a few pages, having a bath, whatever it is that makes your happy, DO THAT!

Find a yoga, meditation and pilates class, these truly are wonder-exercises as they encourage us to focus on our breath which in turn sends a signal to our para-sympathetic nervous system that all is well and that we are calm and ok. The para-sympathetic nervous system is the section of the nervous system that doesn’t activate the HPA axis whereas the sympathetic nervous system DOES activate the hpa AXIS. We want to increase things in our life that activate the para-sympathtic, that way we can remain calm and in balance. You can search on YouTube for videos showing you how to breathe deeply for calm and relaxation and then implement this into your daily life, even stealing a few minutes in the toilet cubicle at work just to calm your body! Short meditation and yoga videos are also on YouTube, or find a class near you, and enjoy!

Simply taking 5 deep breaths in through the nose and out through the nose, counting to 4 both in and out can tell the body you are not under threat and it doesn’t need to activate the HPA axis.

I hope this post has been helpful and will inspire you to make some small changes that can make a BIG impact.

x

How to make healthy choices when you’re out and about town

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Staying healthy when you’re out and about can be easy when you know the right foods to look for and where to find them. In London or a big city there are so many healthy options for meals or snacks on the go.

Here’s where to look:

  • Pret
  • Pod
  • Crussh
  • Wholefoods
  • Planet Organic
  • Chop’d
  • Itsu
  • M&S

Pret for example do great snack pots containing nutritious winners like salmon, boiled egg, quinoa, spinach, chicken, hummus, edamame beans. They do lunch pots with quinoa and rice with a vegetarian or meat option, and salad boxes with avocado and crayfish, which can be added to a snack pot to create a larger meal. Just avoid their sandwiches, melts and wraps. They now have a great coconut dairy free yogurt with raw cacao nibs too.

Pod and Crussh have excellent choices for breakfast, lunch and snacks. Just look for good quality protein like salmon, chicken or eggs, whole grains like quinoa, brown or wild rice and dark green leaves, other veg, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds.

For people who are not in London or a city where these types of places are available to you then keep little airtight containers with you containing nuts, seeds, good quality dark chocolate, chopped apple or blueberries. You can even carry things like boiled eggs and spinach, smoked salmon and avocado and a plastic fork so you don’t get caught out needing to buy something unhealthy to eat due to lack of choice.

Stay hydrated when out by always keeping a bottle of water in your bag and stopping off for cups of herbal teas like green tea, chamomile and peppermint.

Pesto & Prawn Buckwheat Pasta

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This is definitely one of my favourite meals, I have this for dinner but sometimes for lunch when Im at home as i like to make and eat it fresh. Buckwheat pasta is wheat and gluten free despite the name. Buckwheat is actually a fruit seed linked to rhubarb and sorrel which makes it a good alternative to grains for those who are sensitive to wheat or other gluten containing grains. It’s nutritious and energising, as is this entire meal! Buckwheat is rich in important minerals and nutrients such as copper, magnesium, manganese, and fibre. I use the brand Organ which can be found in Whole Foods, Planet Organic or online from Ocado.

The pesto is my homemade version, to make it just blend the following in a blender or food processor:

  • 1 dessert spoon of pine nuts
  • A handful of spinach
  • 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 dessert spoon of nutritional yeast flakes
  • 1/2 tsp of Himalayan pink sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Cook the pasta, buckwheat past only needs about 8 minutes as it softens quite quickly and you don’t want it to get too mushy, so 8 minutes will do, then rinse the pasta with cold water once cooked, (you will then reheat the pasta once you mix it into the pesto).

In a pan add a heaped teaspoon of coconut oil and gently fry half a chopped red onion, 1 chopped garlic clove, some chill flakes and about 8 cherry tomatoes, then add the pasta, the prawns, a handful of spinach leaves, the pesto and 1 avocado chopped, simmer until heated through and the spinach has wilted. Serve and enjoy! :-)

 

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