Home Calorie counting doesn’t work for weight loss: Except that it does

Calorie counting doesn’t work for weight loss: Except that it does


christransformationAn article in Time makes the claim that “calorie counting simply can’t be done accurately,” and thus is no longer considered helpful for those trying to lose weight.

Which I find interesting, considering my own experience.

In January 2014, I weighed in at 275 pounds. At 6’1”, I was obviously obese, borderline morbidly obese. As many do that time of year, I made a New Year’s Resolution: I was going to lose weight. I set my goal at 50 pounds, to get down to 225.

The challenge for me wouldn’t be getting off the couch. I exercised regularly, primarily weightlifting, but I went to the gym four or five nights a week, and made it a point to do something fitness-related for 45 minutes every day.

The key for me would be adding some cardio in, but more importantly doing something about caloric intake.

I tried what seemed to me to be a simple solution: yep, you guessed it, calorie counting. Which now supposedly doesn’t work, except that it did for me.

My goal each day was to consume 2,000 calories or less. I had no idea what that would translate into in terms of weight loss, but it didn’t take me long to figure out what I had been doing wrong for so long.

I had been taking in maybe 3,500 to 4,000 calories a day without even thinking about it, for years. I realized that when I started counting calories, and not just counting them, but making them count.

Within about a week, it became clear to me that I didn’t really need more than 2,000 calories to get through the day.

I was down to 225 by mid-April, and I decided to keep going. By mid-June, I was 195, and today, I’m a healthy 180, 95 pounds down from where I was 21 months ago.

I still count calories, but I’m not as strict on the 2,000-calorie cutoff. I also weigh myself every morning, which some, ahem, experts recommend against, out of thinking that one can develop a neurosis by being that zealous.

They can consider it neurotic all they want; I prefer the term accountable.

According to the experts, I guess, I still weigh somewhere in the neighborhood of 275.

“If you come into our clinic and say the word ‘calorie,’ we throw you out,” says Dr. Robert Lustig, director of the Weight Assessment for Teen and Child Health (WATCH) Program at the University of California, San Francisco.

Lustig is also author of Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease, who takes issue with the “calories in, calories out” approach to weight loss.

Another who shares that perspective is Dr. David Ludwig, a professor of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health.

“People think overeating makes you fat, when really it’s the process of getting fat that makes you overeat,” Ludwig said.

The Time article goes into myriad scientific theories about how the body metabolizes foods, how eating calorie-rich whole foods can counterintuitively help one lose weight, and a lot of it makes sense, if what you consider sense is what we’ve been sold for years by those who have a vested interest in making something that is actually quite simple seem needlessly complicated.

Eat less, move more. That’s all you need to do.

My case isn’t peer-reviewed science, so take it for what it’s worth. But also consider that I didn’t need a Ph.D. nutritionist and certified personal trainer to drop from 275 to 180 and go from struggling to finish five minutes on level one on the elliptical at the gym to running 6:56 miles for a 10K.

Makes me want to show up at that one guy’s weight-loss clinic with a life-sized cutout of the fat me from 2014, scream the word “calorie” at the top of my lungs, and dare them to throw me out.

– Column by Chris Graham



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