WE’RE often told to stick to lower calorie foods in order to lose weight.
But what if you were told eating more could give you better, long-lasting results?
Swapping to more calorie-dense meals than a usual diet advocates may seem counterproductive.
But Tamara Willner, a British nutritionist from the healthy eating plan Second Nature, backed by Public Health England, explains this is the best way to make real change.
She warns you could be sabotaging your weight by eating a low-calorie diet.
It could lead you down a path of yo-yo dieting, but even more worrying, it could lead to an eating disorder such as binge eating.
"Many of us who count calories end up achieving a calorie deficit (taking in fewer calories than we use up), and losing weight in the short-term," Tamara said.
"But then our metabolism and hormones adjust to this "new normal", promoting fat gain and increased appetite."
Food swaps to make today
If you’re watching calories, your soul focus is likely “the lower the number, the better”.
And you may have found a way to eat things that fit within your calorie range but that have little nutritional value and energy.
This includes a biscuit, a diet coke, a small turkey or ham sandwich, crackers, sweeteners in your coffee, low-fat spreads or a small fruit yoghurt.
You may also be accustomed to hunger between meals, lack of energy, huge cravings and wondering how you can keep it up forever.
Consider eating more calorific options that are actually far healthier – such as avocados, nuts, pancakes, greek yoghurt, curries and dark chocolate.
These options will help you feel fuller for longer, reduce sweet cravings, and provide you with essential nutrients and vitamins which generally help with sleep, energy to exercise and immunity.
The harmful side of calorie counting
It creates a damaging relationship with food
When counting calories, you have to carefully consider every single piece of food you eat.
Those who have counted calories for years probably notice it’s the first thing they see when they look at food – "a banana, that’s about 100 calories".
Sustained calorie counting has the potential to trigger or exacerbate eating disorders.
Some evidence suggests over time more than one in three dieters develop disordered food habits with some going on to develop clinically diagnosed eating disorders.
It can lead to binge-eating episodes and we're more prone to overeat in response to emotions.
This can develop into a dangerous, unhealthy cycle of restriction, binging, followed by more restriction, preventing us from losing weight and even causing us to gain weight in the long-term.
What should you eat?
LOW CALORIE AND "UNHEALTHY":
Breakfast: 2 slices of toast with low-fat spread, 280 calories
Lunch: 2 slices of ham, a handful of crisps, some lettuce and tomatoes, 220 calories
Dinner: Chicken breast with steamed broccoli and rice, 290 calories
Snack: 1 spoon of cottage cheese on a ryvita cracker with artificial sweetener, 110 calories
Drink: Coffee with low-fat milk and artificial sweetener, 40 calories
TOTAL: 1,015 calories
HIGHER CALORIE AND "HEALTHY":
Breakfast: Blueberry oatmeal pancakes with a spoon of natural yoghurt, 410 calories
Lunch: 2 large halloumi and vegetable skewers, 380 calories
Dinner: Homemade butter chicken curry with green vegetables, 420 calories
Snack: Apple slices with a large spoon of peanut butter, 220 calories
Drink: Coffee with full fat milk, 100 calories
TOTAL: 1,630 calories
Calories don’t reflect nutritional value of food
Not all calories are created equal and they shouldn’t be viewed as equal sources of energy.
To illustrate this, consider 500 calories of sweets and biscuits and 500 calories of chicken and avocado.
Despite the same number of calories, we’d gain many more vitamins, minerals, and fibre from the chicken and avocado.
Getting enough varied vitamins and minerals in our diet contributes to good sleep, which has direct and indirect effects on our weight.
Plus the higher amount of protein and fats would keep us fuller for longer and reduce our cravings later in the day.
If we experience fewer cravings and feelings of hunger over time, we’re much more likely to lose weight and keep it off.
On top of the fact not all calories provide equal benefits to us, they’re also not digested the same way in our bodies.
For example nuts, which are high in calories, are harder to break down by the body, and so we may take fewer calories in than written on the packet.
Contrastingly, if we were to eat a refined doughnut the calories from the fat would be accessible to our digestive system.
Calorie counting doesn’t consider the full picture
We’re all unique, physically and psychologically, and so calorie counting can work for some people.
One study showed people who were on a very low-calorie diet and then slowly reintroduced a healthy, balanced diet, had significant weight loss and type 2 diabetes remission.
It’s not that energy balance isn’t important – it’s more there are much healthier and more sustainable ways to lose weight.
In addition, there are other factors aside from our diet that are necessary to see long-term results, which calorie counting doesn’t consider.
These include our sleep, stress, mindfulness habits, and motivation.
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