Storage Wars, Parking Wars, Shipping Wars. Those are all great shows to watch on TV. Diet Wars, however, is not a TV show, but rather a social media phenomenon I see daily. It's people arguing about the best approach to weight loss -- counting calories versus intuitive (mindful) eating.
Counting calories is self-explanatory.
With intuitive eating, rather than count calories, you practice becoming more attuned to your body's natural hunger signals. Some believe this nutrition philosophy is a more effective way to achieve weight loss and creates a healthier relationship with food.
For my own selfish reasons of wanting to learn more on how to better get results for my clients, I turned to a few top-notch experts for their thoughts. In turn, I hope this will put an end to the diet wars and help you make a decision on which method is best for you.
Dr. Spencer Nadolsky, a board-certified family and bariatric medicine physician and author of The Fat Loss Prescription: The Nine-Step Plan to Losing Weight and Keeping it Off, says counting calories is a proven method for losing weight when looking at the research. "However, from a practical standpoint in the clinic, it isn't needed. If patients like numbers and counting, then it is a fine practice to teach," he says. "But some patients obsess and get frustrated, so you want to use it with the right person."
Nadine Shaban, RN, MHK and certified diabetes educator, notes that counting calories can be overwhelming for most. "Beginning a new diet and changing the quality of your food is a great start and will likely result in some weight loss," she says. "For continued fat loss, however, the key is manipulation of calories."
Jose Antonio, PhD and co-founder of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, is of the opinion that many methods work. "Ultimately creating a calorie deficit is needed. I don't think one method is necessarily better than another," he says.
James Krieger, a licensed nutritionist, master of nutritional science and exercise science, compares counting calories and mindful eating to awareness tools, "just like stepping on the scale."
"Research shows that people statistically do better when they count calories versus when they don't," Krieger says. "However, that doesn't mean it's for everyone at all times. They are all just tools in the toolkit and each person needs to select the tools that are right for them."
James Fell, internationally syndicated fitness columnist and the author of Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind, says approaches vary by person, but "almost all humans are notoriously bad at keeping an honest track of their caloric intake."
"At the very least, having caloric awareness of most foods and portions is valuable, but meticulous tracking can suck the enjoyment out of eating," says Fell. "For those who are struggling, a period of a few weeks of meticulous tracking can give them the awareness they need to then transition towards a more portion controlled approach to eating. That period of careful counting of calories gives them a feel for how much they need to eat in order to lose or maintain their weight."
It seems calorie counting can be a good learning tool to use, even if it is short term, but it's not necessary. Calorie counting is quite simple now. You don't need to carry a calorie counting book or calculator with you wherever you go. Numerous apps like MyFitnessPal and Lose It allow you to scan bar codes of food packaging or enter meals eaten at restaurants or food you make at home. As always, find what works for you, and stick with it if you enjoy it.
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Counting calories may be an effective weight loss strategy for some, but as we’ve pointed out before, the way the body processes food varies greatly from one individual to the next. Plus, health and fitness isn’t just about how much you eat, but the quality of your food, too. Not to mention, when keeping your calculations, you’ll likely come across many imperfections. For example, perhaps you’ve heard that one pound is equal to 3,500 calories. It’s true in theory, maybe. But one study that overfed 16 male and female subjects by 1,000 calories for eight weeks (which, according to the one pound/3,500 calorie idea should have led each subject to gain 16 pounds) resulted in entirely different weight gain amounts for each of the participants. So, while keeping track of calories may be helpful for some, for many it could become a source of anxiety (feeling deprived if you’re still hungry after hitting your limit for the day, worrying about whether or not a food fits into your daily allotment, etc.). Instead of obsessing over the quantity of your food, place a greater focus on the quality and enjoy everything you eat. Photo Credit: Thinkstock Click Here to See More Habits that Waste Your Time
For many, keeping track of weight using a scale creates a very bumpy roller coaster of emotions that no one should have to ride. Justine SanFilippo, health club owner and author of Lose Your Inches Without Losing Your Mind! 10 Simple Weeks to a Slimmer Waistline and a Healthier You provides a great example as to why. “We [did] a challenge where members had to work out three times a week for three weeks,” she said “We took their weight and measurements at the beginning and at the end of the challenge. What I noticed was that every single person lost inches, every single time. However, the number on the scale didn't always change to reflect the shrinking inches. It was truly fascinating. That’s when I discovered that tracking inches was a more encouraging way to show progress than the scale.” Photo Credit: Thinkstock
Obviously avoiding this habit is much easier said than done. Comparing ourselves to other gym members, friends and even celebrities is basically human nature, but it also doesn’t get us any closer to achieving our goals. This is especially important to remember because it’s impossible to change the natural shape of your physique, so saying “I want my arms to look like The Rock’s” or “I want legs like Beyoncé’s” will likely leave you feeling disappointed. Yes, you can work hard to improve your physique and it’s OK to use others as inspiration, but remember that your results will be unique to your body and reflect the best version of you, not someone else. Photo Credit: Thinkstock Click Here to See More Habits that Waste Your Time
There’s no reason to get upset with yourself for missing a few workouts or to feel ashamed for eating a certain food; it happens to everyone. Leading a healthy lifestyle doesn’t mean making every workout and never eating decadent desserts. Remind yourself that it’s all about balance, not perfection. Avoid being pulled into a downward spiral. If you do miss the mark and you’re led astray from your goal, just let it roll off your shoulders and get right back in the game instead of feeling disheartened or guilty. Photo Credit: Thinkstock
For some reason fitness culture loves focusing on how many calories a workout can burn. But it’s important to remember that burning calories isn’t the sole purpose of working out. In fact, you’ll probably enjoy your gym sessions much more when you forget about burning calories and focus on how your workout is improving your health and fitness instead. Click Here to See More Habits that Waste Your Time Photo Credit: Thinkstock
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