about a counting
How could a counting calories diet be a cause of obesity? Isn't this
the best way to lose weight? The only way to lose weight? Many people
start counting calories when
they want to slim down.
Why do we count calories?
Health professionals teach us to do this.
Doctors tell their overweight patients to cut back on calories.
Dietitians design meal plans that contain 1200 calories, or 1500
calories, or some other number that is supposed to be perfect for each
Before we became vegans, we did this too. We had a book that listed the
calorie count of thousands of different foods. When we went on a diet,
we looked up every food we ate. When we were at home, we used a scale
and weighed our portions to be sure our calorie count was accurate.
If you are overweight, you have probably tried this kind of diet. Most
people like the concept of losing weight with a counting calories diet.
It seems like a good idea because you can still eat and drink some of
favorite foods: french fries, chocolate cake, candy, chips, or alcohol.
You just have to keep track of portion sizes and calories.
This is similar to the concept of eating in moderation. Eating in
moderation implies that:
Eating in moderation is a great theory. Unfortunately, our hunger drive
often makes it impossible in practice.
- You can eat all of your favorite foods...you
just have to eat small quantities of the fattening ones.
- You can easily stop eating whenever you want.
You can just
stop eating before you are completely satisfied.
Hunger strikes again
What happens if you eat a moderate amount, maybe 1200 calories for the
day, and you are
You are not
alone. Millions of people have used a counting calories diet and
lose some weight at first. They can't control the constant hunger. They
eat. They gain back all of the weight, plus more. This is how the
counting calories diet causes obesity.
- You can be miserable for the rest of the day
and then go
to bed hungry.
- You can go ahead and eat.
If you are super hungry, you might eat and eat until you can't swallow
Why does this happen? It is not a lack of will power. Your body is just
taking care of you. To be healthy, you need a certain number
calories per day, but you need more than calories. You need those
calories in a good ratio of protein, carbohydrate, and fat. You need
vitamins, minerals, fiber, water, antioxidants, and hundreds of
different plant phytochemicals.
Your body checks to see if you are getting all the necessary nutrients.
Two ways it checks are with stretch receptors and nutrient receptors.
Stretch receptors and nutrient
The weight and
volume of the foods we eat trigger stretch receptors in our stomach.
Stretch receptors activate when our stomach is full.
They tell us to quit eating when we have enough calories, but
not too many.
Stretch receptors evolved when the main foods available to our
ancestors were whole plant foods. They work perfectly when we eat foods
plenty of fiber and water, and not too much fat.
Foods like cake, candy, and chips did not exist when our stretch
receptors formed. These processed foods are low in fiber, low in water
content, and high in fat. By the time they trigger the stretch
receptors, we have eaten too many calories.
Nutrient receptors in our cells accept the nutrients we eat.
have enough nutrients, the receptors tell our brain that we
satisfied. When nutrients are missing, our body asks for them.
tells us to eat. We can fight the hunger for a while, but not
forever. Eventually it takes control and forces us to eat, searching
for those missing nutrients.
If we eat a vegan diet of low
calorie foods, our
stretch receptors and nutrient receptors are satisfied with a
modest number of calories. We don't need to use a counting calories
diet at all. It is just not necessary. But if you love to count
calories and want to do it anyway, feel free. You will be amazed at how
much food you can eat within your calorie limits.