Why Calorie Counting Doesn't Work

Calories in, calories out...if I burn more calories than I take in, I’ll lose weight, right? Oh, if only it were so simple! Our bodies are miraculous, awe-inspiring creations. They are so intelligent they complete hundreds, possibly thousands, of functions every moment without us having to think about them, or even acknowledge them. It’s easy to think that this concept of how we utilize food is so simple. Unfortunately, I know A LOT of people who have tried and failed the calorie counting approach. Hare 3 reasons why it doesn’t work.

1. Not all calories are created equal. If you’ve ever followed a calorie-counting diet program then you know that the theory is simply to count the calories, don’t go over. But what about how those calories are being used by your body? 200 calories from broccoli will not act the same way in your body as 200 calories of Coca-Cola. Our bodies metabolize sugar much differently than they metabolize fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals. Here’s a comparison of these two foods:

Broccoli – 4 cups = 124 calories
24 g carbohydrates
8 g fiber
8 g sugar
44% Vitamin A
540% Vitamin C
16% Calcium
16% Iron

 Coca-Cola – 8 oz. = 123 calories
(Lower in calories than the 4 cups of broccoli!)
31g carbohydrates
0 g fiber
31 g sugar
0% Vitamin A
0% Vitamin C
0% Calcium
0% Iron

These two foods – nearly equal in caloric intake – are going to act very differently in your body. An excess of sugar and carbohydrates with none of the fiber, vitamins or minerals is going to fuel fat production. The body is going to recognize that it is not getting nourished, thus sending the signal to HOLD ON to everything it can – we must be in a state of emergency! We must be in times of famine!

This is an extreme example – of course broccoli and Coke are not comparable foods – but this drives home the point: not all calories are created equal.

2. Are all systems working optimally? Okay, let’s assume that you’re counting calories and making wise choices – eating no more than your daily allotment and choosing foods that are pretty nutrient-dense, rather just a party in your mouth. What could go wrong now?

The digestive system has the job of transforming the food we eat into nutrient fluid that can be utilized by the body and then effectively separating out the waste products to be eliminated. If this system is not up to par, it doesn’t matter how many calories you’re putting in if the body is unable to properly process them. In Ayurveda, we call the build up of undigested food ama. This can manifest as “gunk” stuck to the lining of the intestinal walls, excessive mucus production, lethargy and fatigue…or as fat storage. When the physical process of digestion isn’t working properly, the nutrient fluid (rasa) that is supposed to be created to nourish the tissues is also not properly formed. Because of this, when the nutrient fluid is transported throughout the body, it can under- or over-nourish any of the tissues, including fat tissues.

In order to properly utilize the food you’re eating, the digestive system must be in excellent working condition. Consider a seasonal cleanse as a digestive reboot. Most people find that once they get this basic piece in place, calorie counting is no longer necessary because weight management happens naturally.

3. It gets into your head. You know the feeling when you’re NOT supposed to do or have something you want…you want it even more when it becomes taboo, and especially if you are trying to go without it for long periods of time. Calorie counting gets psychologically stressful. You might start doing crazy things like not eating the rest of the day so you can splurge on that cake (and eat three pieces) but still be “under budget” with your caloric allowance. This does not send your body messages to lose weight. Again, it goes into deprivation mode because it hasn’t had any real nutrients in a while and will try to hold on to everything it’s got.

This (practically ancient) theory of calorie counting doesn’t work. Instead of starving yourself or meticulously counting every gram and ounce of food you eat, work to get your body systems functioning optimally again.

Once all body systems are operating properly, focus on eating nutrient-dense foods, eating when you are hungry and finding healthy ways to satisfy cravings. The benefits go beyond weight management; these actions will also support energy production during the day, sound sleep at night and a positive mental-emotional state.

For more info on a 14 day digestive reset based on ancient Ayurveda, check out my cleanse page.