Losing weight involves burning more calories than you consume. Given this, the logical thing to do when you want to shed a few (or several) pounds is to eat less and exercise more. In other words, decrease intake, increase expenditure, and reap the rewards: a flat stomach and body you can be proud of.
And that’s what many attempt to do when going on a diet. Some even take things a step further – weighing food and meticulously counting/tracking every last calorie to hit their lips. Furthermore, the growing popularity of sites such as SparkPeople.com and MyFitnessPal.com – are turning this into a mainstream practice.
Now, on the surface it makes total sense that the better you account for what you eat – down the the last detail – the more predictable your fat loss will be. Unfortunately, things never play out this way in real life. And a recent study conducted at USCF may explain why.
Scientists wanted to investigate the effects of low-cal. and calorie-counting diets on the weight loss process. They recruited 121 women and randomly assigned them to four diets.
The first group tracked calories and limited them to 1,200 per day. The second group also counted but didn’t have a set limit. The third group ate 1,200 calories per day but didn’t have to track or record (they were given foods with pre-established values). Finally, the fourth group just ate – no counting, tracking, or journaling of any kind.
At the end of the 3-week experiment the researchers measured the cortisol levels of the participants. They found them to be elevated in those groups that had cut calories. Furthermore, the groups that also tracked had higher levels of perceived stress.
Now, there are a couple of big take-aways from this study…
For starters, restricting calories puts a strain on your system. This manifests itself in the form of increased cortisol secretion – a hormone that’s known to pack on belly fat and promote muscle breakdown (among other undesirable things).
Secondly, having to always think of and account for some set limit of food (e.g. 1,200 calories) just makes things worse. The very things you’re doing to burn fat are actually causing you to store it both directly and indirectly.
The former through cortisol’s action on fat metabolism and the latter through the loss of muscle mass which ultimately slows down your metabolism promoting further weight gain.
Given these facts, the message is clear: don’t diet or attempt to control calorie intake. Instead, make better food choices. The reality is, a calorie is not just a calorie as most people (wrongly) believe. The actual source of that energy ultimately determines what your body will do with it (i.e. burn or store it as fat).
You can cut calories and exercise till your blue in the face. But if you’re eating the wrong foods you’ll never have the body or health you really want. The only way to achieve your fat loss goals and maintain them for the long haul is to eat the right foods.
By doing so, you’ll not only lose weight AND keep it off… but faster, easier, and without any of the hassles of counting, tracking, journaling, or any other gimmick that dieters typically fall victim to.