Trying to lose weight? Do calories still matter?

For many years dietitians, fitness professionals, doctors and other weight loss experts have all echoed the same refrain: weight loss is a matter of calories in vs. calories out. If you take in more calories than you use, you gain weight; take in less and your pants size drops. Simple mathematics, right?

This attitude lead to an influx of diet foods; low in calories and fat, but chock full of sugar, additives and other unpronounceable chemicals. No matter! As long as the calories were low, dieters could lose weight.

So our nation consumed fat-free cookies, low-fat salad dressing and non-fat potato chips with abandon (remember those? They contained a warning label cautioning consumers they might cause anal leakage? Yum), and still we got fatter. More of us suffered from heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

Scientists went back to their labs, and current research points to certain foods being more likely to spur weight gain or weight loss, regardless of the calorie count. “Inflammation” became the buzz-word, and now I imagine my insides red, angry and swollen. What’s really going on here? Is weight loss about to get even more complicated?

My answer is no, I don’t think so. I think it will be easier. Well, easier to understand what to do, at least, though the doing will still take work.

In a nutshell: instead of stringently measuring calories consumed, think about the QUALITY of your calories.

If it comes from a box with lots of ingredients, or in a can that pops and fizzes when you crack it open (cough, cough, diet soda, cough), it’s going to have a negative impact on your body. If you need to wash, peel, dice or steam it before you eat it, and the list of ingredients is short, it’s a good bet your body will thank you.

Lately, I’ve noticed a lot of articles about this topic piling up in the library of my mind, and cheesy as it may sound, I’ve noticed my body agrees with the research. Eating foods like nuts, avocado, eggs and Greek yogurt make me feel good, light and satisfied, even though they are all higher in calories and fat than so-called diet foods. Lower-calorie options like crackers, cereal and granola bars leave me feeling bloated and still-hungry, a strange and contradictory feeling.

Not only is the first group of foods high in healthy fats and protein, those foods are also closer to their natural form. The second group is more likely to contain sugar or sugar substitutes, and is more highly processed.

The most recent article I’ve read on the topic of quality foods was published in the March 2012 issue of Experience L!Fe magazine. One expert quoted in the article said that we should use weight gain as an external indication that something is wrong internally. “If you are 10 to 20 pounds overweight, and if you feel lethargic, moody and sick most of the time, there is a good chance that something is biochemically broken,” says Marcelle Pick, MSN, OB/GYN, NP. I think Pick’s way of looking at things is excellent! Remember that image of red, angry, swollen insides? It may not be so far off.

If you’re interested in the idea of changing how you eat because you want to feel good, function better and have glowing insides (which will of course, lead to looking fabulous), check out the whole article, here.


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