Do calories count?

Posted by & filed under Health and Fitness.

Oh hurrah.  Lettuce again.

Oh hurrah. Lettuce again.

The annual dieting season comes round with depressing regularity.  Faced with the imminence of summer holidays, we decide yet again, ‘Begone vile flab!’ and embark upon losing weight, possibly following the success of our favourite celeb: Jennifer Hudson or Christian Bale.

There are many diets, and all work provided we stick to them.  They may not do us much good, but we will look slimmer.

The problem is long term. We manage to lose weight; keeping it off is quite another matter.  If we return to what we used to eat, we will get fat again. And I don’t think anybody is happy looking like a bit of a porker.

Whilst ‘Do more, eat less’ is a rather simplistic mantra, it does work.  Especially in the short term.

Again, long term is a rather different matter.  No one can keep doing more, and the body adapts to whatever we do.

Jonny Bowden summed it up in a lecture I attended once, ‘Calories sort of do count and sort of don’t’.

The problem with a calorie counting diet – or strict portion control diet: it gets fanatical.  Long term eating is either going to be a constant hawk eyed watch on just how much we poke into our face or we slowly slacken off the good intention, and then have to keep slackening off our belt to allow for the increasing girth.

The diet that I recommend is Paleo type – plenty of meat or fish and vegetables with a reasonable amount of fat.  The amount of carbohydrate in the form of starch or sugars is hugely variable from person to person and activity levels plus body type.

Overall, on this way of eating, we eat until satisfied.

Two problems: if we tend to overeat, even the strictest adherence to Paleo style will ultimately make us fat, so sometimes we have to get a handle upon just how many calories we do eat a day and adjust them down in a way that suits us.  And yes, for a couple of days, we will feel a bit hungry.

The second problem is calories: those from nuts and maybe cheese.  Strict paleo eschews the cheese, of course.  But I’m a bit more relaxed about that.  I want this way of eating to be life long: healthy, energising, easy to lose or maintain weight on.  And all you lose is the rubbish food – which can still be eaten occasionally.  What’s not to like?  The problem with nuts and cheese are those pesky calories.  Both have enormous amounts of calories per mouthful: a small bag of cashews contains about 157 calories, 100g, 553 calories.  Cheddar cheese comes in at 402 per 100g, or 114 calories for a slim, 28g slice.  Both cashews and cheddar are notoriously more-ish, so just a 28g or 1 oz snack won’t cause the trousers to undo;   and at first, we are restrained in our nibbling.  But as time goes by I tend to think, ‘Hey, its going well, I’m losing weight.  So I’ll just eat a few more nuts, yum yum.’  And then it becomes, ‘Yum, yum on my tum’ – yet again.

We can all draw our own conclusion from this, but for me, I stick to snacks of protein and some vegetable that’s easy to eat raw. Plus three main meals a day.

Other problems with calorie counting:  the siren call of low fat snacks.

A bag of some sort of low calorie crisp like the latest fad, Popchips, will give about 100 calories.  But the quality of the food is terrible.  The usual way of making crisps involves hot, rancid fat – artery and cell wall hardening.  Popchips are popped – heat and pressure – which denatures food and again makes any quantity of this stuff very bad for us.  And we have still had 100 precious calories from a rubbish food source.

Only the highly active can really stuff their faces, the majority of the rest of us have to be a bit careful about what we eat and we really can only eat a certain amount of calories each day.  Ultimately it can be a choice of eating something grotty in the moment and feeling either virtuous or guilty, depending upon that calorie count, or eating as well as possible for most of the time – and then really enjoying the occasional bit of tat in the food line along with a slimmer tum and more energy.

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