I have a client I am seeing currently that embodies why it can be important to discern what balance of carbohydrate, protein and fat works better for any one person. I have worked with hundreds, if not thousands, of clients with similar outcomes. But to listen to many nutrition experts, calorie counting is king. Not so fast.
A TRUNCATED CASE HISTORY
MB is a 40 something married woman with two children, Asian American descent. She eats mostly whole foods, vegetables and beans with small amount of animal protein. Exercises regularly. Splurges occasionally with wine, bread and cheese with girlfriends and a few sweets, but that didn’t use to be a problem. Gained 10 pounds over the last few years. Not happy.
MB showed me weeks of tracking intake on MyFitnessPal. Carbohydrate intake ranged 55-70%, but was especially high in the morning. Calorie intake ranged 1200-2000 per day.
We chatted about what was important to her and what changes made sense. MM shifted to more protein, less carbohydrates–especially in the mornings. In one month, she lost 4.25 pounds. She measures about 2.5 inches less at her waist and 1.5 inches less at her hips. She is shopping in her closet and wearing pants that she had given up on.
MM reports that food finally makes sense to her. She understands why she feels bloated after eating more carbohydrate than she can handle. She is currently navigating her cultural holidays without gaining weight. She anticipates refocusing her efforts once the festivities are over next month.
THERE IS MORE TO WEIGHT LOSS THAN COUNTING CALORIES
When someone’s diet is abysmal, eating more whole foods and fewer calories will always make a positive impact. These changes are important, but they are the easy call. What happened to MM is not unusual. There are many people who do “everything right” and still gain weight or can’t lose weight that they want to lose. Often people slip up because they feel hungry or at least not content. It is too hard to be constantly fighting the sense, “I need something.”
I focus on hunger and satiety. Calorie counting rarely does. My more insulin resistant clients often find that an adequate intake of protein and fat with moderated carbohydrate intake enhances satiety–that sense that you are satisfied after eating– and minimizes overeating at night. They crave less sugar and/or other refined carbohydrates. These are core reasons they are able to eat less and lose fat weight. I like to think they are learning to work with their body.
Many calorie counting proponents forget or maybe just don’t pay enough attention to many other factors that influence energy metabolism. Calories count, they just aren’t the only thing that counts. I recently heard scientists report that the global obesity epidemic can no longer be explained by energy intake. Endocrine disruptors, sleep debt, use of psychoactive agents and other factors influence how our body uses energy.
Despite all the diet chatter, it is important to remember that there is not one single right way to eat. The critical goal for each of us is to figure out the approach to food that works.