Whether it’s disguised as points or eating windows, the ‘calories in vs calories out’ model forms the basis of most modern weight loss programs and diets.
Most people these days are familiar with calorie tracking apps, calorie calculators and energy tracking devices. Some people even obsess over them in an arguably unhealthy fashion
Should we really be focusing all of our efforts on weighing foods, checking calorie content and restricting ourselves to certain calorie intakes?
In this podcast episode, Dr Matthea presents us with an alternative view to the diet industry’s ongoing obsession with calorie counting. She encourages us to look for the answers internally, instead of fixating our attention on external factors.
In this episode, you will learn:
05:55 - “We see people perfectly following the calorie numbers and they’re not losing the expected amount of weight.”
07:00 - “It doesn’t take into account you listening to your body.”
08:41 - “It's a constant stress response because they're used to using something outside of themselves instead of listening to themselves.”
13:27 - “It creates a lot of obsession and disordered eating, and it's just not a way to live long term.”
14:00 - “If we're not able to consistently keep doing things or coming back to them, it is not the way forward long term.”
2:28 - Dr Matthea talks us through the history of where the calorie model come from
4:20 - How to know if someone is subscribing to a calories in/calories out model and some of the flaws of this model
6.50 - Dr Matthea explains three reasons why The School of Sustainable Weight Loss does not use the calorie counting model
14:00 - Dr Matthea discusses how we can start to learn a new way of doing things and take a more long-term approach concerned with quality of food and listening to your body.
15:41 - We learn about the importance of listening to yourself
welcome back to another episode of the podcast. It's Coach Dr. Matthea with you today. How's everybody doing? I know that I definitely live somewhere where we have the four Seasons and I'm ready for winter to just kindly take an exit. it has been a lot colder than normal. We have had a lot of snow. I feel more snow this season than normal, and I'm just ready for there to be a little bit warmer. Temperatures, the opportunity to get out more, a little bit more sunlight. So this is always the time when we're a few months into things where I'm ready for. For things to change there I did find out recently that I passed my obesity medicine boards, which was really exciting because it's an area that I've practiced in for a long time and just sort of wanted to make sure to, to get that board certification. So I'm actually really excited to talk about today's topic, which is our take on calorie counting. It's actually quite interesting because I don't think that a lot of my fellow physicians that practice in the area that I'm practicing and actually share this opinion. And today I'm not here as a physician, I'm here coming from the coaching standpoint and what we see with our clients and so I really want to kind of just share some of that insight information with you that we see, and then you can make whatever decisions you want to make. So, if this topic feels controversial to you, it because it might run so counter to everything that you've ever learned. You might be rather new to hearing some of the things I talk about today. You might have actually never heard about some of the things I'm gonna talk about, and I really wanna remind you. You always are the authority on yourself. You get to look internal and decide what does or doesn't work for you. You get to decide what you're gonna implement, how you're gonna implement it, all the things you're gonna do. So if you are someone that you absolutely love, calorie counting. That's your decision to make and your decision to follow. And today we will just have some thoughts in a different direction and see what you think. So first of all, I just want to address real quickly, where does this come from? This this calorie model of, okay, I need to eat this amount of calories per day to lose weight. And I'm gonna give you a very quick, a very quick history lesson on this. Cause this is always fascinating when I learned. so I want you to take it back. Decades ago they needed to decide what they were going to give to people in the army. How much food were they gonna give them when they were going out on different missions? So they had a scientist, literally in the lab, he put a pound of fat into something called a calorimeter that lets you know how many calories something has in it. And it was determined 3,500 calories is how much a pound of fat is. And from that time forward, you can see if you look through diet, culture, history, From that time forward, it was then extrapolated and people just ran with that and many things sprout out after that time. So you'll start to see that people just decided that if that's one pound of fat, that then you have to reduce the food you're eating in order to burn that. And it just became gospel fact. And that model is called the calories in, calories out model. The classic way, how are you gonna know? Because. Per no medical person or nutritionist or dietician, anyone you go to, no one's gonna say The calories in, calories out model. Here's the kind of phrasing they're gonna use. You know that they subscribe to that. If they tell you things like, I want you to eat less and move more. That's usually the classic definition of someone that believes in that model. And a lot of times nowadays, people know that we're onto them about diet culture. Like a lot of, companies, I'm not even gonna say any names on here, but you've seen the advertising in January. I know you have. And they're no longer calling themselves a diet. They're calling themselves a wellness program. They're not even focusing on the fact that you're gonna have to count calories and points in there. They're being very crafty about it. Like look at the flexibility when you're gonna go to an event, but I want you to know. How do you know that someone is subscribing to a Calories Inn? Calories out model, which is steeped in counting calories, you're gonna know that model because they're gonna tell you things like you're gonna eat less and move more. So the problem is with that is that we were assuming that the body is a perfect closed system. That means whatever comes in goes out, and we can perfectly quantify it and that we are this perfect machine. What ends up happening there is that we've realized over the decades that's not true, and so it's not taking into account things like hunger hormone regulation. How quickly do you get hungry? Are you satisfied? How long can you go between meals? Things like that. We didn't even know about something called the gut microbiome, which is all the bacteria that live in our gut. They have, they're a huge proponent we're seeing of whether you absorb more or less calories from the same food. Isn't this blowing your mind right now? Two people can eat the same food and they can absorb different amounts of calories. Okay, so going on from that also, this didn't take into account things like the term metabolic adaptation, which means as we lose weight, it's not linear, the amount of energy that we need, as in. If you lose 10% of your body weight studies show us that depending on what you're doing to lose that weight, your metabolism can slow down anywhere from 20 to 25%. So if you were assuming as you lost that 10% of your body weight, okay, I'm just gonna keep slowly decreasing the calorie number, you're not necessarily gonna get the results that you're wanting to. And so what's interesting about this is when you hear this, it's literally a flawed logic. We see people where they're following perfectly the calorie numbers and they're not losing the expected amount of weight. And in the past we would actually blame and shame them. you can see this within the medical community, and they would say, well, I don't really know, bring me your log. I don't trust you. What ends up happening is it's, it's also flawed on many levels because people are, even if they're measuring and weighing, there is so much variability between the accuracy of that. There's variability between what's on the food label as far as there's actually if you look up like with the fda, what the, allowances are as far as how much the food can differ, what they're putting on the label versus what's actually in the food. There can be a great variation between the two. And so you take all of this into account and it's so imperfect. And so today I wanna go through just a few reasons why we don't use the calorie counting model. So number one, it's this, it doesn't take into account you listening to your body. It is always about an external thing. So for example, you are having to sit there and weigh and measure food and what's the number that someone external to you as giving Nowhere in that equation does it take into account? Are you waiting for hunger? Are you stopping at enough, What's your quality of life like? Like as you're doing this. you end up in this scenario where you are constantly having to manage external circumstances and not ever listening to yourself. I tend to see that absolutely the most rare of rare person can stick with this long term. And what I mean by that is five plus years out. So I'm not talking about half a year, I'm not talking about a year. People can always do intense things for, X amount of time. But then if we really go 5, 6, 7 years out, are you able to stick with it? I'm gonna tell you anecdotally, from thousands of patients that I've seen in the clinic, one, I can literally count one on this hand, was able to come into the office long term with food logs, written out the calorie numbers. I mean, this person, this is how they enjoyed this person had an engineering background. This is how they enjoyed doing it. Everybody else falls off the wagon and after a few weeks, months, a year or two, but they don't stick with it long term. It is too consuming and they've never learned how to listen to themselves. So every single scenario scares them. Like they'll go out to eat somewhere suddenly if the menu isn't perfectly written out, they have absolutely no confidence that they can handle the scenario. Or suddenly, when holidays come around and they're may be at a family member's house where there's not a calorie written menu, suddenly they don't know what to pick, what to do. It's a constant stress response because they're used to using something outside of themselves instead of listening to themselves. So that's number one, is you're not actually listening to your body. number two it doesn't take into account your starting place. So I'm gonna give two examples on this. The the one first example that is actually much more common than you would realize, and we definitely see this within our membership. If you are someone that has chronically dieted, chances are you might actually need much less food to begin with because if you've been chronically dieting, maybe your metabolism is really shot and you actually need to slowly eat more. In the diet industry, they call that reverse dieting, but the problem is, If you use a conventional calorie counting calculator, it might actually be telling you to eat more than you've eaten at that moment. And so what ends up happening is you can put on weight really quickly, and if we would be listening to your hunger hormones, we would just very gradually be honoring what your body's telling you anyway, and we would slowly get you to where you need to go, and we would be helping out your metabolism. The the flip side of that is if you're used to eating, Let's say 3000 calories a day and suddenly you're popping this number in a calculator and it's telling you how many calories based on how quickly you wanna lose it, and you know, all the kind of things that they normally do. You can end up in a scenario where you very quickly, Put your body into, I'm gonna call it starvation mode, because again, it's saying you need to do these things in order to get that result. And your body is so shocked by this that usually after a few months, so we see this around the two to six month mark. Okay? That's like what science is gonna show us. Your body massively shuts things down. So in all cases, it's not helpful. It's not taking your hunger hormones into account. It's not taking into account where you're starting. What I often say is when people want a calorie number, I just say it's irrelevant. And I ask them if they, if they've come from the calorie counting history, I say, do you eat one hungry? Do you stop it enough? They have no idea what I'm talking about. They look at me like, oh, I should care about that. And I think to myself, interesting, all they've cared about is are they reaching that calorie number per day, but they have zero idea what is going on inside their body. It's just an interesting observation when we start to work with people. The other third thing that I really see with calorie counting is, is that it creates a lot of obsession and disordered eating. And it's not only even about the restriction because a lot of the times to get the calorie numbers to be lower, that people are eating the they will try to gain the system a lot. So they're trying to eat big amounts of low calorie foods. And so they're constantly trying to figure out how to get the most for that small amount, right? Because they're hungry often, it's like they're grossly undereating. Their body is hating every single moment of it. And so, rightfully so, you're trying to use your brain to overcome that this thing isn't working for you, but yet you just go rounded round, right? We just are not about creating disordered eating. A lot of the times when you, uh, put the number that low, if someone is able to stick with it, it will become very obsessive for them what they have to do to manage it. And, you might say, well, when someone comes into our program, we recommend some dietary changes, but it's in the name of getting the hunger hormones regulated so that you're less hungry, so that you know when you're hungry, you know when you've had enough. There's a logic behind it. And if someone isn't ready to move toward more of an unprocessed diet, then we have very gentle ways that they can support themselves. That's within the school of sustainable weight loss. So just to kind of summarize here, number one, with calorie counting, you're not listening to your body. It's all external and our, our body actually has some variation from day to day. Again, even depending on what life stage you're at. So for example, if you're in the years where you are still getting your period, I know for me I get very much so more hungry the few days before my period, and then it really dips down after the the first few days when I'm on it. And I used to really make that a problem in the past when I thought the calorie counting was the way and of course it was a problem. And then what would happen? Restrict and then binge. Right. So you're, you're able to kind of hold off so long. And then you're, you have so many things fighting you in your body that then you end up massively overeating again, no love for your body, no understanding of what's going on, not working with your body at all, and so that's number one. You're not listening to your body. Number two You're not taking into account your starting place, and so you end up with these drastic measures in either direction. Again, it always breaks down to not listening to your body. Number three, it creates a lot of obsession and disordered eating, and it's just not a way to live long term. So I want to caution you, if you've been listening here and you're like, this makes total sense. I've never been able to stick with it long term. Just sit here for a minute and just think back to the past 10 years if you have not consistently for the past 10 years, been calorie counting, it's not working for you. When we do not continue to do things or we don't right away, come back to them. I mean, maybe when we're. Starting new things. You know, we do it a week or two, a day or two, we drop off and then we get right back on it. If we're not able to consistently keep doing things or coming back to them, it is not the way forward long term. And so if this makes sense to you, like, yes, I need to be more concerned about the quality of my food, or that I'm listening to myself or really building out those different things. If that is important to you and you want to start to do this approach that we're talking about, you listen to when you're hungry, and then you listen to if you've had enough and you're not worried about the calories on a package. This can be hard at first, and I know this because I go through it and every so often, I even myself think, huh, what were my calories today? Because it's so different than what we've always done. But here's the thing about it. You cannot rush it. So do not judge yourself if you have either have started this or are debating starting this, or whatever stage you're at, it takes time to learn a new way of doing things. I want to give an example. We are currently going through, one of the rounds of the six week reset. And one of the members shared that she's now no longer afraid of full fat cheese. And this is also a member that has shared that she's just not hungry for the first time in a decade. And it's just, it blows my mind, that we sit there and we fear certain foods, but really if we would have just like a bite or two of them, We potentially could reset our hunger hormones and feel so much better, and maybe even overall eat less. Who knows? Right? Or maybe be able to eat even more and lose weight. We don't know until we experiment and we get curious. But the point is that usually long-term calorie counting isn't gonna work for people. I remember. worked with a client in the past and, she was working with a dietician external to me, meaning not, you know, not part of my medical team. And she was actually felt like she was gonna pass out at the gym. And by the way, I've actually heard this from multiple clients. I'm just thinking of one in particular and still sticking with the calorie number, and I'm sitting there thinking, I mean, I said as much to her during the sessions, but if I'm sitting there passing out during my workouts, I'm gonna be increasing the calories. But again, if you're in this sort of like locked in, like, well, this is what's needed and it's the only way I've had results, and you're really locked into that belief, you're not going to be willing to say, this is absolutely insane. This is not serving my body in any way, and I'm gonna go ahead right away and change what I'm doing. Because you didn't listen to yourself the whole time to begin with. Why would you start listening? Do you see how that works? That if you don't start from the beginning, starting to develop a relationship with yourself, you're not suddenly going to develop that relationship when things go wrong. You've got to, from the beginning, you're checking in, you're listening, do I like what I'm doing? Do I feel okay? You know, for me, a really big thing that I check in often. I'm sorry if this is tmi, but I talk about this a lot within our group, like. When I say gut health, I tend to word kind of IBS, depending on what I'm eating. And so for me, I used to think that the most healthy version was just ginormous amounts of veggies and all this kind of stuff, and I realized my gut felt horrible on it, so I had to scale that back a little bit, up the good fats a little bit. I had to adjust. What I was doing so that I didn't feel poorly because in my mind it got locked away. You know, watching crapolla shows like Biggest Loser, that the way we're gonna do this is have these big amounts of salad with like low fat dressing and that's gonna be the way forward. It was not for me. but I learned this over time from starting to release some of these beliefs by listening to myself, listening to my hunger hormones, really see what was going on there. Okay, so I come back to this. This is the number one thing. If you are gonna start to work on this or are working on this, you cannot rush this. There will be drama because diet culture is so drilled in. and maybe they meant the best when they were creating whatever rule, whatever recommendation, but it doesn't work for you long term, then we've got to go ahead and drop it. So I just wanna come back to the fact that whatever you're doing, I want you to be able to do it long term. I want it to make sense. I want it to be logical. And I think for long enough we have given authority to other people, whether it be. I don't care who it is that you've been giving your authority to. And the reality is, every week, every month, every year, another study comes out saying something different, pointing in a different direction. What's up is down. What's down is up. It's literally all the time changing. The only constant here if you really think about it, is how you feel in your body, how things are working for you. You being the scientist of your body in the sense that. You try different eating patterns, you try different things, and you see, is this working amazing? I keep it, if not, I change it. I can't tell you how often I do that every few months, to be honest. It's not a static thing anymore. I don't assume that I've anyone has the gospel on it. I've, I've been a lot more interested recently in learning about the gut microbiome. That's, if you've never heard about that before in our gut, we've. Trillions of bacteria, And I have to tell you, they're really helping us out. They're doing a lot of work. Maybe a future episode, we can talk more about that. But the point is I've been learning a lot more about that, but I'm not getting fixated. I know that it's an entirely new area. Some people sound like they know incredibly what they're talking about. But I also know having been around long enough, having studied a little bit of Medical history. By the way, that was one of the best courses I took in college. I remember that senior year. I just learned about all the different things where, you know, we thought we had the answer and then something completely was turned on its head a few years later. And so once you are old enough, you kind of realize, while we think we might have the answer right now, we might entirely be wrong as well. I have just found people are not steered very wrong when they tend to listen to themselves. And that's a hard thing to learn how to do that. And so I just wanna put it out there, if calorie counting has not worked for you long term, perhaps listening to yourself a little bit more. And it can be tricky because I don't know about you, but I did not grow up listening to myself. I always grew up. And again, just having grown up as an overweight child, it was, okay, we're gonna get on the treadmill, we're gonna go on the bike, we're. do this. We're gonna decrease down that. It was not ever, Hey, how are you feeling? what's going on with you? Are you hungry? Or if you're not hungry, why do you want that? Like none. None of this kind of stuff was explored. And again, it's not that anyone was doing anything wrong, it was just we didn't know that this was a conversation we could even have. So now times are very different, and not to lose the plot here, but just listen to yourself again. I just wanna leave it there. You get to decide what works for you. But if you're someone that you realize it's never worked, I'm curious how I can build out this relationship where I eat when hungry and I stop it enough. Again, we are not an intuitive eating community because in that community it is not about weight loss and it's really about, there's different tools and I've made an episode on that before, but if you're curious to learn more about how to do this and why we do things, all of that, You can join us in the School of Sustainable Weight Loss. I will leave the link in the show notes. And if you've been loving this podcast, you're learning different things, it's a different perspective, please leave us a review wherever you listen. Of course, we love five star reviews, but we love honest reviews and you just letting us know what are you loving, why are you listening, and it really helps us to get the word out to other women. All right, have a great rest of the week.