Marie in the situations in which you

Marie picks up the chocolate bar,
turns it around, reads the nutrition label, opens her notebook, writes down the
calories and then eats the bar. Marie has been doing that for nearly a year.
Marie has almost lost the weight she initially wanted to. Marie, however, is
not happy. Do you wonder why?

The
mathematics of weight loss

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To
understand Marie’s situation, we should go back to the core of it. There are
many reasons why you might decide to lose weight, and consequently to count
calories – from fitting in your dream wedding dress to getting a “bikini body”
for summer. Whatever it might be, there is only one way to start losing weight
– that is, to be in calorie deficit. There is really no way around it. Calorie
deficit is achieved when you burn more calories than you consume. In order
words, calories in minus calories out should be a negative number. Now, it may
seem logical that in order to make sure you keep up to the simple equation, you
should start tracking the calories you eat (or drink) and the calories you burn
throughout the day. And it may also sound easy peasy, but that is when we
encounter the first problem of calorie counting.

People
are not good at being accurate

This does not hold true
only in the situations in which you miscalculate how much time you will need to
get to your workplace and you run late for a meeting. It also happens when you
try to calculate your food intake and your energy expenditure. You can
underreport your calorie consumption by as much as 45%, which may be around
1000 calories. Thus, on top of not being in a calorie deficit, you will be in a
calorie surplus, which means you will gain weight. Imagine that the meeting you
ran late for was about your promotion. But because you did not arrive on time,
your boss changed his opinion about you, and actually fired you. The two cases
are similar. But while you may not be in control of the traffic and you may not
be responsible to certain extend for running late, you are in control of
whether you will count calories or not.

You
might think, “What if I am not one of those people who did not estimate their
calories correctly?” Well, that is when we encounter the second problem. Even
if you manage to accurately do all the calculations, you may be doing them with
the wrong numbers. What is meant by this is that calorie labels themselves are
not correct. So, you may unwillingly and unknowingly eat above your calorie set
point for losing weight. This is like the speed nail polish that says it will
be dry in 30 seconds, but even after 3 minutes, it is still not. When you are
misled by the numbers on the label, you may end up ruining you dress for the
night with the nail polish. Or your weight loss journey, with the calorie
counting.

It
is unsustainable

You
can argue that people are not always inaccurate, or at least not to the extent
to which it will impede their weight loss journey. And you will be right.
Counting calories does work sometimes, and if done correctly, it can be a
successful method for losing weight. However, there is another downside to it.
It works, but only in the short-term. If you are striving for a permanent
change, tracking calories is not going to be useful. It is unrealistic to
believe that you can keep on doing it forever. It is exhausting,
time-consuming, and impossible if you did not prepare the food yourself and did
not measure every ingredient carefully. This means that you cannot eat a piece
of cake at a birthday party; you cannot take popcorn when you go to see a movie.
It may not be a problem in the beginning, but later on, it will most probably
become one.

It
may still look like it is a good idea to start monitoring your calorie intake,
because you may think that after you reach your goal, it is no longer necessary
to continue with it. However, there is evidence that most people will regain
the weight they lost once they stop with their diet. Especially if you restrict your calorie
consumption severely, you will do more harm than good. You will slow down your
metabolism, which means that after a certain point, it will become a lot harder
to keep losing weight. The
more you restrict, the more your metabolism will slow down, the more you will
have to restrict, and the cycle goes on. Your body will go into the so-called “starvation
mode” and will try to preserve everything that you ingest. Although you will
not “destroy” your metabolism permanently, it will take a lot of time to offset
the results of this self-imposed starvation.

It
will make you hungry

In
addition to the bad outcomes that might result from calorie counting, the
process itself is not likely to be very pleasant. It seems obvious that you
might experience hunger when you eat less than your body needs to maintain its
weight. However, how many calories you eat is not the only thing that
determines if you are going to feel hungry. How many calories you believe you
eat is what is just as important, if not even more. As a result, if you think
you are eating less than your body wants, and although that may not be true due
to one of the reasons stated above, you might still feel unsatisfied. How long
do you think you will be able to ignore the feeling? My bet is that even people
with extraordinary willpower will not make it through the third month, if a
constant feeling of hunger is present. What is more, according to Maslow’s
hierarchy of needs, in order to be able to move up the pyramid, you need to
fulfill your basic physiological needs first. And the need for food is at the
base of it. If you are hungry, you will not be able to search for safety, love,
esteem, and self-actualization. So even if counting calories helps you to
achieve one of your goals, it may stand in the way of the rest of them. Are you
willing to give up on everything else just to see the scale hit that one number
that you have always dreamt of?

It
will make you stressed

Imagine
that you have 3 exams coming, you need to write 2 essays, you are having
troubles with your boyfriend, and on top of that your dog is sick. This sounds
stressful enough already. Now, imagine that you add up counting your calories
to all of that, which means adding even more stress. Monitoring your food
intake has been linked to increased psychological stress. And even if your
exams eventually pass, you hand in your essays, you make up with your
boyfriend, and your dog gets better in the course of a month, counting your
calorie intake will inevitably continue for a longer period of time in order to
see some results. As well as the stress that accompanies it. When some kind of
stress that is present every day lasts for a prolonged amount of time, it
becomes chronic. It is common knowledge that chronic stress is not good for
you. Apart from the numerous health problems that it can cause, it may lead to
weight gain as well – the opposite of what you are striving for. And so much
stress will certainly not make you happy.

Counting
your calories means calculating each and every bite you take. If you are at a
birthday party for example, and you do not know how many calories there are in
the food and the drinks available, you may choose not to eat or drink at all. This
will not only require a huge amount of self-control, which can be rather exhausting,
but it will most probably make the people around you wonder what is going on.
So, you may not only end up not being able to eat anything of the delicious
food present, but you may also spend your night explaining to people why you
choose to do that. As a result, the next time, you may simply decide not to go
to another party; or to the movies; or to a café with your friends. The stress
of being there may become too much to put up with. However, this way you will
isolate yourself from your friends. This is something that can cause you both
further stress and sadness. Do you still wonder why Marie is not happy?

The
alternative

            All said so far should not dishearten you, for there is
an alternative way to lose weight, namely intuitive eating. As the name
suggests, intuitive eating is about relying on your internal cues as to how
much to eat. You should pay attention to your physical hunger and respect it.
The most important aspect of it is that intuitive eating is not a diet. It is
something that can be turned into a lifestyle – it is a sustainable, permanent
change. Moreover, it does not involve any calculations and does not depend on
their accuracy. And last but not least, it will not cause you stress, it will
not prevent you from enjoying food, it will not isolate you.

However,
there is one downside to it that you should be aware of – the process of losing
weight will be slower, and it may not necessary lead to the goal you initially
set. But instead of completely rejecting the method because of this, you should
think about the reasons behind this. First of all, the more gradual the process
is, the more likely it is the change will be permanent. Since it is not a
short-term diet, the results you get from eating intuitively will simply not be
offset. Second of all, it may not yield the results you hoped for when you
started, but that is because the primary focus of intuitive eating is not being
“skinny”, but being healthy. When you count calories, it is easy to opt for
food that may not be good for your body, as long as it is within the calories
limits. When you eat intuitively, you will know what makes you feel good and
really satisfies you. It is about maintaining healthy and attainable weight. Because
what is the point of getting the “ideal body” of your dreams, if that means
putting your health at risk, and neglecting your happiness and overall
well-being?

To
sum up, counting calories is a good method for losing weight provided that you
do it accurately, the foods you eat have accurate labels, you are looking for a
temporary change, you do not feel the hunger that may accompany it, or at least
you do not pay attention to it, and you are able to not stress over it. In
other words, counting calories is not the most suitable method for losing weight,
but there is a healthy alternative to it – intuitive eating. Think of it as a
high school subject. If you pay attention to the teacher in class, you will not
have to rely on external material to study for the test in order to get good
results. Because no one knows better what is going to be on that test than the
teacher who made it. If you pay attention to your body, you will not have to
rely on external sources telling you how much you should eat. Because nothing
can tell you what and how much of it your body needs than the body itself.

And
when Marie realized all this, she burnt her notebook and she lived happily ever
after. What are you going to do?