It’s the most popular way to lose weight, but will it work for you?
Everyone knows how to lose weight, right? You eat fewer calories than you expend until you reach your goal weight.
Few people question the dogma of the “calorie intake versus calorie intake” diet. This is the core strategy that underpins even the latest technology-based weight loss programs. But while calorie counting is based on basic biological truths, it dramatically simplifies the complex mechanisms that determine human body weight, according to research and nutritionists. Take a closer look to see if counting calories really works for weight loss and if this approach is right for you.
What is a calorie?
A calorie is an exact unit of energy; more specifically, it is the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of one gram (g) of water by one degree Celsius. The “calories” in food are actually kilocalories, or 1,000 of those tiny units. At around 9 kilocalories (kcal) per gram, fats are the most calorie-dense food we eat. Carbohydrates and proteins each contain about 4 kcal per gram. At the simplest level, eating fewer calories than you expend leads to weight loss.
What is a calorie deficit?
“Calorie deficit” is a term you hear a lot when it comes to weight loss. It’s another way of saying you’re burning more calories than you need to maintain your current weight. However, remember that it is almost impossible to know exactly how many calories a person needs. It depends on variables such as gender, age, activity level and weight. Whatever equation you use to estimate it, it’s only a rough estimate.
In general, nutritionists recommend a deficit of 500 calories per day to lose weight. Over a week, that’s 3,500 calories, the amount long thought to be equivalent to 500g of fat (although that calculation is increasingly being questioned). The ideal is to create a deficit by combining increasing physical activity, such as walking, and changing foods, e.g. B. Drink soda water instead of soda.
Is Counting Calories Effective?
Thing is, calorie counting doesn’t take into account that calories aren’t interchangeable. The quality of the calories you eat is just as important, if not more important, than the quantity.
If you’ve ever tried to lose weight, you surely know that creating (and maintaining) a calorie deficit is harder than it looks. Oftentimes, counting calories can lead you to eat snacks that meet your calorie goal but make you hungry soon after.
Having 500 calories of chocolate cake in front of you doesn’t have the same effect on your body and your well-being as eating a balanced meal that contains different food groups and the same number of calories. . A chicken breast with brown rice and broccoli might have the same number of calories as a piece of pie, but the chicken will fill you up and give you energy for hours as your body digests protein and fiber more slowly while the sugars in the pie can fluctuate in the cause blood sugar (sugar levels) that trigger hunger.
What is metabolism and why is it important?
The number of calories burned by the body at rest is a factor over which dieters have little control. This is informally called metabolism. And when it comes to calorie restriction, the news about metabolism isn’t good. Research shows that calorie restriction can cause your body to compensate in other ways. A study published in Perspectives on Psychological Science in September 2017 found that “short-term reductions in energy intake are counteracted by mechanisms that reduce metabolic rate and increase caloric intake, thereby ensuring weight regain.” For example, even a year after a diet, the hormonal mechanisms that stimulate appetite are increased. It might be a good idea to limit your calorie deficit to around 250 calories (instead of the usual 500) and lose the desired weight more slowly, more metabolically, and easier in the long run. .
Body composition also plays a role here: muscles burn more calories than fat, even when at rest. Research has shown that two and a half months of strength training can increase lean weight and reduce fat. So burn calories with cardio, of course, but add strength training as well.
Other factors affecting calorie consumption
Another thing that many people don’t take into account is that a variety of other factors can affect calorie expenditure. For example, according to a November 2016 study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people eat more and choose higher-calorie foods when they don’t get enough sleep. Previous research has found that calorie restriction can increase cortisol, a stress hormone that causes cravings for high-calorie foods.
Ultra-processed foods, i.e. those that are industrially produced with multiple ingredients and additives, are another major reason for hunger for many people. A 2016 study published in BMJ Open suggests that these foods account for 89.7% of added sugars in the Western diet. And the high-calorie excess of sugar makes a low-calorie diet difficult. When you eat a meal or snack high in sugar, your blood sugar spikes and then drops, leaving you hungry again just hours after eating. In a study published in Nature Metabolism in April 2021, people who experienced this drop in blood sugar consumed an average of 312 more calories during the day than those whose blood sugar was more stable. It’s a diet that can easily sabotage any weight loss effort.
On the other hand, many nutrients make it easier to save calories. Previous research has shown that fiber intake is associated with lower body weight. Other research shows that a high-protein diet makes you feel fuller and satisfied longer than a low-protein diet. The smartest calorie counters account for both at every meal and snack. It can be useful to look at foods in terms of energy density, which is the amount of calories they provide in a given volume. A tablespoon of butter is a high-energy food at 96 calories. Broccoli is a low-energy-density food: you need to eat more than three cups of this vegetable to get 100 calories. Research shows that a diet high in energy foods is associated with better nutritional quality and lower body weight.
Does Counting Calories Help You Lose Weight?
If you want to achieve a healthy weight, counting calories is one possible strategy. It can help someone become aware and enlightened about nutrition. This can help people realize that a small amount of cake, jam, or spread has the same number of calories (or more) as a filling serving of leafy green vegetables. Counting calories should always go hand in hand with learning good nutrition.
Counting calories can work. If you do it in a way that promotes a calorie deficit, you will lose weight. But it doesn’t always result in the healthiest or most satisfying choices. If you’re not careful, it can backfire.
Remember that counting calories isn’t the only way to lose weight and it’s not for everyone. In particular, people with a history of eating disorders should avoid this strategy. A 2018 study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders found that participants who used food monitoring tools exhibited more compulsive behaviors than those who didn’t. Counting calories is then counterproductive.
Instead, learn to consistently choose balanced meals and snacks that support multiple goals. If you only count calories, your diet is likely to be lacking in micronutrients.
You can make small adjustments to your current diet and lifestyle that add up over time. If you gradually switch to a plant-based and wholesome diet with a low energy density, you will slowly lose weight if you are overweight without co
* Presse Santé strives to convey health knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE can the information given replace the advice of a doctor.
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