How Calorie Counting Is Sabotaging Your Weight Loss

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Calories in, calories out. The saying is painted on the Pinterest boards of health enthusiasts, raved over by fitness models, and even preached by some nutritionists. But recent studies suggest that this method of dieting could be making people less healthy in the long run.

The premise of calorie counting is that based on your weight, height, and activity level, there is a magic number of calories that is optimal for your daily consumption. Those who wished to regulate their calories would theoretically limit their intake to that calculated number (numbers that may be more difficult to find once Obamacare ends).

There have been multiple apps, websites, and programs based solely on the practice of calorie counting for weight loss. MyFitnessPal, VeryWell Calorie Counter, and Lose It! are a few well-known examples. Despite the many articles presenting evidence that all calories are not created equal, the proliferation of calorie counting has gotten out of hand.

Even if calorie counts were accurate, evidence suggests it still isn't a good idea. In essence, calorie counting is a strict version of dieting: the body's natural signals of hunger and fullness are thrown to the wayside in favor of a predetermined number.

Many who count calories have reported going to bed hungry, obsessing over their calorie counting app, and becoming frustrated when their weight stalled at a higher number than expected. When it comes down to it, calorie counting is often an attempt to control the body and adhere to a weight loss diet.

The science tells us that weight loss diets don't work. One study showed that 90 to 95 percent of weight loss diets result in any weight lost while dieting simply being regained in the following years. You don't have to be a health enthusiast to see this effect in real time; there's a reason your friends' conversations so often revolve around attempted but failed weight loss attempts. If dieting worked, it would be easy. If dieting worked, people wouldn't need consumptive programs like Weight Watchers or "going low-carb."

In an attempt to understand the widespread failure of diets, another group of experts convened to evaluate the effects of calorie restriction on the body. Their investigation revealed that "one-third to two-thirds of dieters regain more weight than they lost on their diets." So, in essence, weight loss attempts were actually counterproductive.

Like nutrition expert Jonathan Bailor, author of The Calorie Myth, told Prevention, "counting calories leads to failure 95.4 percent of the time — and often leaves people fatter."

The specific reasons for this failure of dieting are a little less clear, but research suggests that it has to do with the body's fear response to starvation. According to Traci Mann, a professor of psychology who has studied nutrition for over 25 years, "After you diet, so many biological changes happen in your body that it becomes practically impossible to keep the weight off."

To summarize her explanation, the three changes that occur are reactions from the body to try and escape the state of deprivation:

  1. Your brain has a heightened neurological excitement to food.
  2. You undergo hormonal changes that send your brain more hunger signals than it was receiving before the diet.
  3. Your metabolism slows down to conserve energy.

There has been no reliable evidence published to support that dieting improves any aspect of health or wellness. To the contrary, however, studies have revealed some adverse health effects of dieting, including irreversible effects on metabolism and mental health.

By restricting your body to a calorie number, you could be condemning yourself to future weight gain alongside negative effects on your health.

It's time to put down the calculator and leave diets in the dust — they're not doing our health or our waistlines any favors.