When beginning something new, some of us want to know all the in’s and outs. It helps to feel like that knowledge will help us power through it. Whether it’s a job or a new way of eating, it’s good to have information, to have a plan, and to feel prepared. But for some, diving deep into the details or over-analyzing can lead to overwhelm. It’s why I think many a diet lost its luster for me. It was either too restrictive, too detailed about the do’s and don’ts, or just too hard to remember when on the go.
I often get emails from many who are beginning the MBL journey and have lots of questions about whether this or that is allowed. The plan is by design made to be clear and uncluttered. The details are important for sure, but the plan is also meant to make it easy to begin forming new habits. Some of you may add additional black and white rules such as walking several times a week, or steering clear of all grains. And that’s fantastic. But it’s also important not to get too bogged down in minute details when you’re first starting out. For instance…I get many emails about why all vegetables are 6 oz servings whether it’s lettuce or broccoli. Or, aren’t some proteins much higher in fat and calories than others? Shouldn’t one take that into account?
The fact is, that is all true. And no, we don’t count calories, or worry about fat content. We simply choose from the different food options and eat in very specific amounts. Why? Because this isn’t about eating low calorie or low fat. Yes, you need to cut calories in order to lose weight, but I agree with Dr. Robert Lustig who believes calories are NOT created equal, nor are they treated exactly the same by the body.
We are basically one big walking chemistry lab. Our systems are a delicate balance of chemical reactions occurring every second we breathe air on this good earth. Our bodies are truly magnificent in how they operate, and in fact science still hasn’t unlocked all of the mysteries to date. And when it comes to calories, the simple understanding has always been that calories in and calories out are what causes weight gain or loss, depending on how many we burn versus consume. Eating more calories than you burn is a sure fire way to weight gain right? Well, it all depends. Take for instance, the Weight Watchers program. Instead of calories, you now count points. You can eat anything you want as long as it sticks within your points. If you decide to buy one of their desserts, you simply count it. No guilt. All within the program, right? But consider how the body will handle a chocolate brownie topped with ice cream versus an equal calorie count of steak, vegetables and a large salad of fresh greens. Take a look at them side by side. They couldn’t be more different.
In my own experience, calorie or fat gram counting never led to permanent weight loss. Why? Because in my experience, just counting those things never really provided the whole picture around how my metabolism and fat burning potential works. It doesn’t factor in how hormones play a HUGE role in how our systems work. It doesn’t factor in how brain chemistry is impacted by the foods we eat, and whether or not we’re susceptible to becoming addicted to certain foods. 100 calories of broccoli packs a much bigger nutritional punch than a processed 100 calorie food bar. You don’t have to be a chemist to look at those two foods and see how different they look, how different their density is and how radically different their nutrient value is. Even when something is “enriched” it is not used by our bodies in the same way. How do I know this? I’m my own walking experiment. Embracing whole food hasn’t just been about weight loss. It’s also changed my chemistry–in my brain, in how I feel, and yes, how I look. I don’t need to enroll in a biology class to know the truth about the differences between these foods. I can FEEL how they are different. I can SEE the results I’m getting when I’m consistently focused on unprocessed whole foods. When we overly process our food, we change how our body ingests that food.
The more you focus on eating food that remembers where it came from, the more nutrients you are packing in, the less you’re going to feel like binging or craving fast energy foods like those protein bars, or pasta or bread. We often crave those things because the body is not getting all of its nutrients, so we’re jonesing for more fuel. When you eat nutrient dense foods, that’s less of an issue. And of course, eating whole foods guarantees you won’t ignite the addictive behavior triggered by those super-refined items like sugar and flour.
Another question I often get from those who add up the caloric intake on the plan is…wow, the calories are very low from what is considered a healthy low calorie diet. Yes, if you’re eating lower calorie options on this plan, they can dip below the 1200 calories a day mark. And for some that may be too low (men, for example, need more protein on this plan). And yet, many who have gone past seven days on plan notice they actually feel super full after a meal, they are satiated and don’t crave a second helping. And if they aren’t feeling satiated, they adjust their plan accordingly by how they feel. If you’re 5’9″ and very active, then sure, you’re burning more fuel, so you may feel a bit more hungry and therefore adjust the amounts.
Calories are also a way to head down the road of eating too little of the right things as you bargain with yourself to eat sweets and carbs. Getting the focus off of calorie counting and sticking with the four rules, and eating delicious whole foods that pack a lot of punch nutritionally is not only the key to weight loss, it’s the key to healing mind and body. Tune into your body. It knows what you need.