Eating Well: No Calculator Required

An article on a recent study got me thinking about the different ways people try to manage their weight. The study subjects ate an extra 1,000 calories a day for about two months. Surprise - everyone gained weight. The twist is that even though everyone gained about the same amount of body fat, those who followed a low-protein diet gained less weight than those who ate a normal- or high-protein diet. What happened? The low-protein group lost lean body mass. Whoops! This raises questions about what to eat if trying to lose body fat, since we want to keep lean body mass. 

I think we have all heard that paying attention to energy balance, or calories in versus calories out, is the way to manage body weight. This simplistic belief reduces all foods down to the number of calories they contain and disregards the quality of those calories. It leads to the assumption that 100 calories of cake is nutritionally the same as 100 calories of vegetables.

Balancing Scales - It is not as simple as calories in versus calories out
Balancing Scales - It is not as simple as calories in versus calories out

I certainly do not agree with that!

Your health is much more than just your weight and the quality of the foods you eat is very important for your health. Those vegetables contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals that cake just cannot match!

The energy balance equation goes against some other philosophies of weight management, which stress that the amounts of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, fat) is the most important aspect of a diet. This belief is what leads to diets that emphasize one food group over the others, such as low-carbohydrate, low-fat, or high-protein diets. This view believes that the quality of the calories consumed is more important than the number of calories consumed.

I do not agree with that either.

Whichever school of thought you lean towards, one thing is certain and is upheld by the recent study: an excess of calories, from any food group, will lead to an increase in body fat. However, if your concern is your health, then both the number of calories and the quality of those calories are important.

What is someone who is interested in improving their health and achieving a healthy body weight to do?

For starters, never make changes to your current eating habits based the results of one study. Then ask yourself this question: why even count those calories or be concerned about the percentages of your food groups in the first place?

Grocery bag full of whole grains, vegetables, fruits
Grocery bag full of whole grains, vegetables, fruits

Eating should not require a calculator!

So put down your calculators and focus instead on eating a balance of lean proteins, whole grains/carbohydrates, colorful fruits and vegetables, and unsaturated fats. Eat a variety of foods and allow yourself to enjoy your favorite foods, and yes even treats, in moderation. Let the way your clothes fit, the way your body performs physically and mentally, and the way you feel after eating be your guide.

Check in with your body and listen to what it is telling you about how you feel when you eat certain foods. Do you feel energized or sluggish after your meals? What did you eat that may have made you feel this way? Also, pause mid-meal and check in to let your body tell you about your fullness level. If you are satisfied or full, then wrap up the rest of your meal to have as a snack later. If you are still feeling hungry, keep eating.

If you start paying attention, your body will let you know what it needs.

Yours in good health,

- Alexia Lewis, M.S.        

See the article on the above-referenced study here:

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