I had a conversation with a client the other day that simply can't leave my mind. As he was clearly out of energy after our workout, I asked what he had eaten before our hour-long session. After some heavy panting and wiping of his brow, he told me that he had only eaten "a few pita chips" before coming to the gym.
After telling my client he needed to put some "gas in the tank before the car is used," he told me that he didn't want to eat much more than those chips, since, as he said, he was watching his calories.
Wait....what the what?????
Yes, that happened. Now, what's the problem with counting calories? While it may work for some, it's time-consuming, difficult, and terribly inaccurate. (Warning: epic rant below.)
Yes, you read all of that correctly.
In order to show just how tough counting calories can be, it's important to show that food labels aren't really all that accurate. When a package says it has X amount of calories, don't necessarily think that number is correct. Research has shown that the calories listed on a package can be off as much as 25% due to laboratory measurement error, incorrect labeling, food quality, and much more.
Then, there's the whole aspect of how food behaves once it's inside your body, which is different than simple math would suggest. Simply put, if you have a bowl of fruit and vegetables and contrast that with a calorie equivalent of table sugar, the two would behave completely different inside your body. As fruit has dietary fiber, the sugars in fruit are going to be digested much more slowly than table sugar. Plus, all the calories in fruits and vegetables are not going to be absorbed by your body since they cannot be digested. The calories you take in are not going to equal what you're actually getting out of it.
As if all this whole guessing game weren't enough, you then have to decide where you fall on the calorie spectrum and how many calories you should be taking in. There are three very popular ways of deciding how many calories you need (Mifflin, Harris-Benedict, Owen equation), but these are riddled with errors. Some of these equations can be off by yet another 25%, making everything simply a guessing game.
With all of that said, there IS a way to lose weight and keep your sanity in doing so. Ready?
Vow to stop counting calories on the path to a negative energy balance. Instead, eat more of the kinds of things that do NOT have calorie labels. You know, those things like fruits, vegetables, and plenty of proteins. If it can go bad on a shelf, then you probably shouldn't be eating it, and eating whole foods will allow your body to naturally gauge how much food it needs (your hunger) than if you were to be eating processed, food-like substances.
Instead of getting caught up in how many calories you should be eating, think of how many different natural foods you should be eating. Doing the latter is a much more productive, healthier way to ensure that your diet will not only lead to fat loss, but will also lead to a happier time doing it.