Is counting calories and losing weight the same as eating for our health?
There is an abundance of information out there, a google search this morning of “weight loss diets” returned 235 million hits and some research suggests that around 40% of UK residents spend “most” of their life on a weight loss diet.
While there are some positives here and being in the healthy range for BMI, Body fat & weight is important for long term health its not always the case that dietary choices that promote this are optimising our well being.
If you’ve decided to change you diet to lose weight, it’s worth asking yourself the question: are you eating for health or are you eating for weight loss?
Because in my professional opinion they aren’t always the same thing, and 3 guesses which one I’d encourage you to focus on.
I think we are all in agreement that in order to reduce our weight/body fat we need to manipulate our energy balance and create a state in which we are expending more than we are consuming. This can be done by both increasing activity and adjusting our diets.
We are SO much more complex than this however and we have to think beyond this equation if your desire is to lose weight and keep it off.
A calorie deficit can be achieved with any food at all, even ice cream, KFC, McDonalds, alcohol, sweets, ready meals etc etc but despite this potentially achieving a short term weight loss result it will have a very limited impact on your health and longevity.
When choosing a weight loss diet I’d encourage you to think about the following factors rather than simply seeing the scale reduce
1. Your gut health and digestion: this won’t be optimised by processed foods, artificial sugars (think low calorie/zero calorie foods), alcohol or cutting out food groups such as carbohydrates (cut carbs, you cut fibre)
2. Your muscle mass: including adequate protein through a weight loss phase is important to protect muscle mass. Its very hard to do this however if you are focusing on low kcal processed options or saving calories for nights out or “treats” such as take aways or sweets/chocolates
3. Your immune system: our immune system thrives when we are consuming minimally processed, colourful whole foods and struggles when we over do the pro-inflammatory foods such as heavily processed items and artificial ingredients
4. Mood and brain health: When we feel better we live better. Our diet has a profound impact on our mental health and mood and key features include colour & variety of fruit/veg and whole foods and also health fats such as omega-3s. So be mindful of reducing fats to reduce calories as you may be missing out on crucial nutrients.
There are of course many many more examples that could be given here but these are some that I personally consider the most important to consider and why I would encourage everyone to think beyond just calories and weight loss and approach any dietary changes from a pro-health perspective.
Choosing minimally processed foods, limiting artificial ingredients, reducing sugar and alcohol and eating protein sources through the day will without doubt guide you closer to your weight loss goal without getting too bogged down by weight loss diets and calorie counting.
1. Choosing calorie free or virtually calorie free foods . E.g. sugar free jelly, diet drinks, “skinny” cereal bars etc
2. Only consuming processed foods because it’s easy to identify the calorie content from the pack.
3. Avoiding fats and choosing low fat everything. This may also involve avoiding foods such as oily fish, avocado, nuts, seeds and olive oil. All of which have great health benefits
4. Saving calories for “treats” such as alcohol or meals out/take aways. While it's useful to be aware of these things you miss vital nutrients by under eating ahead of these events/foods.
5. Cutting out carbs. Reducing sugar and refined carbs can be a positive choice but banning all carbs all together is a recipe for low energy, low fibre, poor digestion and low adherence to a diet long term. (Plus really low joy)
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