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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