The Mayo Clinic site we saw earlier recommends counting calories as a way of preventing weight gain when taking Insulin. Sounds good in theory. After all energy out has to match energy in. If you take in more energy than you put out you gain weight. If you take in less energy than you put out then you lose weight.
The only problem is that it is much, much more complicated than that. Here’s what I see as both sides of the question.
Positive Side of Counting Calories
- Can be reduced to simpler terms, like exchanges.
- Can eat until we reach our calorie limit and then stop for the day. This produces an extended fasting time which is good.
- Being aware if how much we eat by logging can show we are eating a lot more calories than we think we are.
Negative Side of Counting Calories
- Calories don’t take into account the type of calories consumed and their impact on blood sugar control. A packet of white sugar and a piece of lean chicken breast could have the same number of calories but a completely different response in a T2D. We don’t process them at the same rates (previous BLOG post on this).
- As an example of the type of calories mattering a controlled study was performed which showed the higher protein and lower carbs group had improved insulin sensitivity and cardiometabolic profile in overweight women. So if the advice is to count calories with the goal of restricting calories then the type of calories need to be considered as very important.
- The type of calories consumed also affected the bounce back after the diet (Study here: Diets with high or low protein content and glycemic index for weight-loss maintenance). Bottom line is higher protein is better.
- Counting calories is the standard weight watchers approach and thousands of other companies which want to sell you books and meal plans. It doesn’t work in the long run except for getting repeat customers.
- My own experience is that I still pick up stuff I buy and look at the labels to see what is in them. I don’t eat bread very often and stay away from most carbs and still have way too much weight.
- Most of the people I know comment on how I never eat. It’s not like I am secretly binging either. I have been on many restricted calorie diets.
- The Biggest Loser show does the most extreme intervention of restricted calories and exercise possible and many/most of the people gained the weight back. The ones that only had a modest gain were those who worked as trainers.
- The biggest problem is the reduction in our metabolism that inevitably happens with a restricted calorie diet. This is a long term effect. That is my problem personally and with this sort of diet. In the case of the Biggest Loser show the study concluded:
By the finale, all their metabolisms had significantly slowed down due to the weight loss from diet and exercise routines, and their bodies were not burning enough calories each day to maintain their thinner frames. This was not a surprise to scientists, because studies have previously found that everyone’s metabolism slows down after a diet. But it was shocking that over the next several years, their metabolisms did not recover and return to the normal rate for a person of their size. Instead, their metabolisms became even slower, which caused the pounds to pack back on.
That is the key and the problem with the counting calories form of dieting. Sure you can lose weight but your metabolism drops.
The advice I give my own children is to not go on a diet to lose. Weight. They will gain the weight back and then more when they permanently alter their metabolism.