Counting calories isn’t always the best way forward
Traditionally weight loss diets were nearly always centred on meticulous calorie counting and yes, if you have very specific goals, this may still be relevant. However, for the vast majority of us who just want to slim down, tone up a little and improve our overall health, calorie counting isn’t always the best approach.
Here I run through some of the reasons why counting calories meticulously isn’t necessarily the way forward if you want to shed a few pounds:
1 - Counting calories means more processed foods
To stick to many of the fad diets available nowadays, we need to be scanning items and meticulously counting calories for our final logs at the end of each day. There are a couple of things wrong with this from my point of view. Firstly, if we are counting calories religiously, picking from our favourite diet range or scanning barcodes at each meal, it suggests we are eating more processed foods.
Packaged foods are much more likely to lack all the essential vitamins and minerals we need to support normal energy metabolism processes in our bodies. From B vitamins to minerals such as chromium, a healthy spectrum of nutrients in our diet is an important first step for supporting a healthy body weight.
2- Packaged foods are often more energy dense too
Not only are packaged foods more processed (with often unidentifiable ingredients in them), but they are also often more energy dense, which won’t be doing our expanding waist lines any good! Packaged foods generally include more hidden fats, sugars and sweeteners meaning that smaller quantities of these foods can easily ramp up the calorie count much quicker than a fresh food counterpart.
Rather than using numbers and packets to try and second guess how much we should be eating, why not try to base your diet around more fresh foods? Fresh foods naturally have a higher water, fibre and nutrient content, all of which contribute to satiety. So, you’re much more likely to feel satisfied quicker with a fresh meal, rather than realising you’ve eaten too much by the time it’s too late, when it comes to more nutrient dense, processed options.
3 - It’s too stressful!
Let’s be honest – counting calories is a chore. With busy work, social and family lives to contend with already, do we really need to be worrying about counting calories as well? My guess is probably not. This isn’t something we would have done naturally many years ago to manage our weight and we shouldn’t have to now, plus did you know that stress can have adverse effects on our body composition?
Chronic stress and addictive habits can easily contribute to both mental and physical stress. This can easily scupper your weight loss attempts as your body goes into survival mode. You can risk storing excess fat (particularly around your middle, just where it’s least wanted) in a desperate bid to conserve energy for the supposed life or death situation that you’re in! After all, this is what ‘stress’ would traditionally have involved!
4 - It isn’t sustainable
The reason most fad diets fail is because they aren’t sustainable. We need a lifestyle change that will stick, rather than something you struggle to stick to daily, and let’s face it, don’t enjoy.
The main reason that diets fail is because they leave people feeling hungry and because it’s too far removed from a normal routine that people can actually keep up with and implement into their day to day lives. Therefore, if eating slightly more means you’re more likely to stick to better habits for longer, then this is the way forward.
Food should be enjoyable and you should still feel satisfied after eating, otherwise it’s less likely to last.
Slimming World is considered one of the best ‘diets’ – why?
Although fad diets aren’t always ideal, for some people who feel they need more of a ’set’ plan (at least initially) in order to have some guidance, there are some better options out there than others.
Some research by the University of Leeds aimed to compare Slimming World to an NHS diet plan which restricted it’s participants to a measly daily diet of 1400kcals. Interestingly, Slimming World came up trumps with better rates of weight loss, and more importantly, better scores for motivation, suggesting that people were more likely to keep up their new and improved habits longer-term1. Plus guess what – it turns out that these people got to eat more! They just ate better, and surprise surprise, were more likely to stick to their new diet as a result.
So, what’s really so effective about Slimming World? Basically, it’s less restrictive, involves cooking fresh foods (which just so happen to be healthy and less calorie dense) and it’s more centred on the principles of healthy, balanced eating.
Although healthy fats could perhaps be given a little more prominence, and the principle of eating less processed items should perhaps come through a little stronger, the basics are most definitely there!
A summary of my tips for managing your weight through diet...
The research above highlights nicely that if you eat fresh foods, you’re actually more likely to be able to eat more, yet still lose weight if that’s your aim!
Cooking from fresh means you are more likely to acquire a wider spectrum of nutrients, plus you are less likely to take in unwanted added extras such as unhealthy fats or carbohydrates. These will not only ramp up the calorie count unnecessarily but they can also promote inflammatory processes in your body, which won’t do your waistline any favours.
A wider variety of fresh foods will not only mean that you’re more likely to supply your body with a range of nutrients needed for a number of essential bodily processes, but actually, eating a wider variety of foods will also mean you’re more likely to enjoy your food!
Preferably we want your ‘diet’ to turn into a new lifestyle and getting into the kitchen is a great way to make food more exciting again. Get experimental with new foods, exciting flavour combinations and begin managing your weight the fun way!
Listen to your body
If you can’t imagine a routine where you do not count calories, why not try listening to your body instead to see how you get on? Dieting shouldn’t be about feeling desperately hungry (you’re much more likely to cave and revert back to your old ways if this is the case), but actually, feeling full is normal and we can still do this whilst maintaining a healthy weight; it’s all just about eating the right foods!
Ever felt hungry soon after eating a cheat meal? Refined carbohydrates cause spikes and then crashes in your blood sugar which can easily leave you feeling hungry soon after eating, with cravings also being a more likely occurrence. If you aim to have more balanced meals comprising sources of healthy protein and fats, you’re much more likely to feel satisfied for longer. Also you are less likely to be tempted by snacks or risk overeating when you do eventually have your next meal. However, don’t be scared of fats either as your body needs these, including healthy fats, too. In moderation this is a healthy habit which may even help to support a healthier frame!
Supplements can have their place too, but they’re not the be all and end all
I often get asked what supplements people can take to help manage their weight. ‘Help’ being the operative word there! Although it’s not always what people want to hear, diet and lifestyle really is the key to managing your weight, there’s no magic pill unfortunately!
It’s estimated that diet contributes to around 80% of our weight management efforts, so it really is key. Exercise is important too, although this doesn’t have to be anything extreme – just aim to move a little more than you already are and take part in some gentle activities that you enjoy.
However, in terms of supplements, there are a few picks from me you can add in to assist in your weight management efforts:
1 - Kelp
Kelp is nature’s richest source of iodine. Iodine is important for supporting your thyroid gland which in turn, is responsible for supporting your metabolism. It therefore has an important role in supporting our weight balance.
Iodine is mainly found in products that come from the sea (namely fish, shellfish and seaweed), and also dairy products. So, especially if your diet is lacking in some of these key ingredients, a kelp supplement may come in useful.
2 - Probiotics
There is more and more research to suggest that the balance of your gut bacteria can have an impact on our weight2. Try taking a good quality probiotic, or even better, couple it with a prebiotic such as Molkosan to help set the internal gut environment first, in order to help better support your weight management regime.
3 - Soluble fibre
Recently prebiotic supplements such as inulin have also hit headlines for helping to support weight management. There are a number of possible mechanisms for this. Firstly, inulin acts a prebiotic so, as above, it can help to support your digestion and more specifically your gut bacteria, which has been shown to have favourable results in terms of supporting our weight.
Next, inulin is a form of soluble fibre, so it also may help to keep us fuller for longer and help manage bigger appetites. Especially if you drink more water alongside it (having more water is a top tip in itself), sources of soluble fibre absorb excess liquid and can help to add bulk to your system, which can help to keep you feeling fuller and more satisfied for longer.