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Why Calorie Counting Doesn't Work


by Dr. Nancy Rahnama

Director of Health & Nurition

When it comes to diet and weight loss, everyone has a different opinion. Some people cut calories, some just cut carbs, and some don’t change anything but the times of day they eat. So, who’s right?

If you stood outside a gym and asked everyone who came out how they ate to lose weight, you’d get hundreds of different answers, even if they’re all rooted in the same principles. Some people will have found success with one thing that another group of people say leads to disaster.

The truth is, everyone has different rules and methods they’ve found success with, but not all of these methods are sustainable or effective. Many of these weight loss misconceptions are pervasive, so today I’m going to set the record straight so you can find healthy weight loss success.

Why Calorie Counting Doesn’t Work… 

Hi I am Dr. Nancy, a clinical nutritionist and specialist in obesity medicine. Here’s why calorie counting is not the solution to long-term weight loss. 

1. If calorie counting worked, obesity would not be a growing epidemic. 

2. The idea of calorie counting assumes that each calorie is created equally, which is very untrue. Like saying a calorie of cookie is the same as a calorie of an avocado.

3. Our bodies are very sophisticated, if there is a restriction in calories, the body will simply resolve the issue by decreasing the energy that is burned — leaving people feeling tired, cold and experience hair loss among other deficiencies.

4. Continued calorie restriction leads to a decrease in metabolism, an increase in hunger hormones, and a decrease in fullness hormones. Essentially leading your body into making you want more food.

5. Hormones determine fat deposition, not calories.

 

Weight loss is not as cut and dry as some fitness professionals would lead you to believe: it’s not just calories-in versus calories-out and increasing your exercise.

If you’ve been struggling to get the number on the scale to shift, reach out to a medical professional for support so you can ensure everything is aligned so you can reach your goals.

Body positivity is a great thing, but it shouldn’t make you feel that being overweight is something you can’t ask for help with or work to change. Being overweight is a medical condition and just like other medical conditions, you may need the support of medical professionals to manage it.

As I mentioned above, things like your hormones play a huge role in weight gain and loss and if you don’t know what’s going on, you don’t know what needs to be fixed so you can reach a healthy weight. A medical professional can help assess all aspects of your health and give you the right advice and medications to support your progress.

Here are some sources below to further prove that calorie counting is not a successful way to lose weight:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3981696/#pone.0091027-Santos1 RCT study showing that calorie counting/restricting was not as effective and low carb no calorie restriction. 

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30777142/ energy in and energy out is too simplistic, "energy balance is a highly complex dynamic system involving multiple feedback signals” aka why calorie counting is not working  

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32016289/ Stats on Obesity: "By 2030, most Americans will be OB/OW and nearly 50% of adults OB, whereas ∼33% of children aged 6-11 and ∼50% of adolescents aged 12-19 will be OB/OW”  

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28657838/ In the short term a reduction in energy intake is counteracted by mechanisms that reduce metabolic rate and increase calorie intake, ensuring the regaining of lost weight. For example, even a year after dieting, hormonal mechanisms that stimulate appetite are raised

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5639963/ "Mechanisms smooth out the large day-to-day differences in energy consumption, decreasing the importance of the size of a meal. In the short term a reduction in energy intake is counteracted by mechanisms that reduce metabolic rate and increase calorie intake, ensuring the regaining of lost weight. 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7230904/ "losing weight ‘normalizes’ the daily rhythms of leptin and modifies ghrelin rhythms, but hunger/satiety sensations are barely modified. This result confirms that these patients suffer from appetite-regulating hormonal resistance, which causes physiological functions to not respond adequately to regulate appetite"

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6795075/ "age and sex hormones clearly play roles in fat distribution and location”. "data to suggest that factors such as adipokines are differentially released from different adipose tissue depots and this too is with metabolic syndrome”

 


Dr. Nancy Rahnama, MD, ABOM, ABIM, is a medical doctor board certified by both the American Board of Obesity Medicine and the American Board of Internal Medicine. Her specialty is Clinical Nutrition, that is, the use of nutrition by a medical doctor to diagnose and treat disease. Dr. Rahnama has helped thousands of people achieve their goals of weight loss, gut health, improved mood and sleep, and managing chronic disease. In addition to her private practice in Beverly Hills, she is also the co-founder and Director of Nutrition for Dr Nancy MD.

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