For decades calories have been on an attention-stealing pedestal for everyone in the weight loss industry (and once again I have to insert my vehement viewpoint that “weight loss” as a goal is a fallacy — the real focus should be fat loss). But calories are NOT what we should focus on, at least not the way we have been. Too many people spend days (and sleepless nights) worrying about the number of calories they’ve ingested, or sadly fretting over the delicious calories they’ve avoided because of the idea that consuming (and enjoying) those calories would make them gain weight (fat). In my opinion, counting calories destroys the joy of food, which when not abused, is one of the paramount joys of life.
I too have used calories as a focal tool — I always say to my clients “calories in vs. calories out.” Now while this is true in a simple scientific theory, it is NOT what we should be focusing on. Here’s why:
What is a calorie?
A calorie is a unit of energy — more accurately a unit of heat. Heat energy is what fuels our body so that we can think, move, and maintain our systems. Everything from simple things like standing to taxing accomplishments like running a marathon. All foods have calories and different quantities of calories. Fats, carbohydrates and proteins (which in essence is all foods) contain calories in differing amounts. There are nine (9) calories per gram of fat. Seven (7) calories per gram of protein, carbs, and alcohol.
Okay, that’s enough of the schooling portion of this post, let’s get to the meat of my theory put forth in the title: that Calories Destroy. What the focus of calories does for the MANY obsessed over-weight individuals and fitness addicts alike is destroy their enjoyment of food, fun, fitness, and LIFE. Think about how often you have beat yourself up over that cookie that you ate last night, or the two daiquiris you enjoyed the other day. Are you one of those who is plugged in (almost literally) to a Body Bugg, Fitbit, or Nike Fuel Band? How many times a day/hour do you check your wrist, smart phone or PC to see how many calories you’ve burned thus far. Do you revel in the joy when you realize you’re 200 calories short for the day and you can have something “indulgent” (i.e., higher in calories)?
Think about how much time is wasted thinking about a number! Contestants on NBC’s The Biggest Loser routinely engage in a competition for cash or prizes wherein the winner is the person or team that can most accurately count calories in a meal. I may be a fitness professional, and I may encourage my clients to burn more than they consume, but I have to say that life is too short for all this concern over calorie counting.
What is the solution?
The solution is simple. Get off the calorie train. Eat clean, lean and healthy. Eat small portions six times a day. Drink water eight times a day. Exercise in an effective and efficient manner 3-5 times a week (i.e., burn stored energy (fat) and fatigue muscles so they continuing burning that excess fat long after you’re done exercising). When not actively exercising, make choices to move just a little bit more. Take the stairs, park further away, play with your kids. All these moments of extra energy expulsion will tick away at the extra calorie consumption.
Lastly, enjoy your favorite foods and drinks — just do so in a moderate quantity — but DO NOT deprive yourself of anything. Who cares how many calories it is. Eat it. Enjoy it. Exercise a little extra the following day — and it doesn’t even have to be the following day. Use an aggregate approach, like a seven-day period. Experiment with your nutrition and exercise plan. If after a two-week period you’ve lost fat (clothes are fitting loser, because again we DO NOT use scale weight as an indication of successful body transformation) then you’ll know you’re on the right track. If not, adjust the quality and quantity of what you eat and when you eat it, and ramp up the exercise quantity and quality a bit.
Remember, stress is the biggest block to fat loss there is. If you’re under a lot of stress, take solace that you can eliminate one stressful element of your life — that of caring about calories. That doesn’t mean stop eating sensibly, it just means get a plan in order, then stop worrying about the nuances.
If all this sounds easier said than done, then contact me and I’ll help you find the path of least resistance to your fitness goals!