Updated: Mar 6, 2022
We used to think weight loss was a simple function of calories in versus calories out. I know I did and I can now admit that the concept ruled my food choices for many years. However, those choices also led to some of the least healthy years of my life.
If you’re a present or past calorie counter, you probably know all too well the feelings associated with calorie restriction. The fatigue, hunger, cravings, mood swings, energy swings, fear of fats, fear of certain foods and an almost constant preoccupation with food.
The process of restricting calories is stressful and unsustainable which is precisely why it isn’t the solution to long term fat loss and certainly not the ticket to abundant, long lasting health. The mantra I want you to repeat to yourself is this: Fat loss will result when I prioritise nutrient density over calorie restriction.
Every meal or snack is an opportunity to feed body cells with nutrients for function. Yes, for some, eating might be an opportunity to feed cravings, emotions and appetite, but really, we eat to nourish cellular function. Body cells require minerals, vitamins, phytochemicals, fatty acids, amino acids and even a little carbohydrate. In return they convert energy to usable forms, produce neurotransmitters (brain chemicals), hormones and enzymes and support growth.
A nutrient dense diet means eating to support micronutrient (vitamins and minerals) and macronutrient (fat, protein and carbohydrate) requirements. A nutrient dense plate begins with an abundance of non-starchy vegetables and one or two serves of quality fats. Top that with a serve of protein and perhaps a moderate portion of whole food carbohydrates.
Make nutrient density your goal at every meal. It’s the first and most positive step towards losing body fat for the long term and avoiding the fatigue, hunger, cravings (and everything else) associated with calorie counting.
Here’s why you can count on nutrients rather than count calories:
1. Hormone Regulation
Anything that causes fat to accumulate will lead to unwanted weight gain. Conversely, anything that causes fat to be burned leads to body fat loss. The key to regulating this process within the body is the hormone insulin. Elevated insulin leads to decreased fat utilisation whereas low insulin leads to fat burning.
The body secretes insulin primarily in response to dietary carbohydrates, so the key to regulating it and supporting fat burning is to get strategic with the amount and type of carbohydrate being consumed. Prioritise whole food carbohydrates such as fruit, potato, sweet potato and rice. Consume them in no more than half to one cup portions and always as part of a meal.
2. Appetite Control
A current lack of appetite control might have you thinking otherwise, but in actual fact, your body has many mechanisms in place to help naturally regulate the amount of food being consumed. A nutrient dense diet that’s high in fibre, anti-inflammatory fats and low in fructose naturally allows inbuilt cues of satiety to do their job. Conversely a lack of sleep, worry, anxiety, refined foods, insufficient energy intake, inactivity and poor eating behaviours will all stand in the way.
3. Managing Inflammation
Acute inflammation is a necessary component of immune function, but chronic inflammation/chronic activation of the immune system is what leads to a path of cardiovascular disease, autoimmune conditions, arthritis and overweight & obesity.
You can literally feed inflammation through the consumption of nutrient poor foods (some of which also happen to be low in calories) such as refined carbohydrates, trans fatty acids and those with preservatives and colourings. Or, you can do the exact opposite by choosing to consume vegetables, fruits, cold pressed oils and nuts & seeds. All rich in antioxidants and therefore the power to help protect against inflammation and free radical damage.
4. Managing the Influence of Stress
Most would consider stress to be either physical or emotional, but diet also plays a role. An excessive intake of sugar as well as hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) triggers the release of adrenal hormones, including cortisol. Among other things, cortisol acts to increase blood sugar levels (the liver releases stored glycogen) so when stress is present the ability to regulate insulin is difficult and it leads to poor fat burning ability as outlined above.
The solution is to remove the dietary impact on cortisol production by focusing on a nutrient dense plate. This is also why lifestyle, caffeine consumption and stress management are important considerations for any fat loss goals.
5. A Calorie is not a Calorie
Eat 100 calories of pure carbohydrate (soft drink is a great example) and the body will respond with a spike in insulin and subsequently low levels of fat burning. Eat 100 calories of pure fats (olive oil, for example) and the insulin response will be very different. This example feeds back into the importance of hormone regulation and highlights how the foods we choose completely change our ability to store or, conversely, burn fat for fuel.
You can count on nutrients because they’re spark plugs for the body. They fuel energy production, create neurotransmitters, defend against free radical damage, produce hormones and balance hormones. With nutrient density comes appetite control, hormone regulation and the management of inflammation which are all far more conducive to healthy, happy and sustainable fat loss.
Approach your fat loss goals from a place of love, abundance and sustainability and notice the myriad of health benefits that comes with it.
If you need help in fine tuning your diet and/or overcoming decades of a calorie counting mindset, I'd love to work with you. You can meet me and enquire about next steps by booking a Complimentary 15 Minute Consultation.