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When you look at the nutritional facts on a food package do you skim through and zoom in on the calories of the product? You may think that is whats important because conventionally we are taught that dieting means calorie-counting. But if you are only concerned with counting calories, you are not learning much about the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients in your diet.

Let me give you an example: A bar of chocolate or 5-6 almonds both have around 250 calories, but they will certainly not have the same effect on your body.

The chocolate bar is pretty much all carbs in the form of refined sugar. Whereas, the nuts contain healthy fats and protein, as well as vitamins and fibre. It’s obvious which is the better option.

Calorie counting tells you absolutely nothing about how your body will react to a certain food.

If you think that a calorie is a calorie—and it doesn’t matter if it comes from chocolate or nuts, then it’s time to rethink what you think you know about calories.

Contrary to what your trainer or doctor led you to believe, all calories are NOT created equal, and thinking you’ll lose weight simply by counting them or cutting them will likely leave you hungry, irritable, malnourished and not much lighter than you were when you started.

So instead of slashing and burning the caloric field, let’s level it with the following food for thought:

1. All calories are not created equal

A calorie is a unit of food energy. Basically, the energy that fuels the body, much like gasoline fuels a car. Therefore calories represent units of energy, but thinking that they are all alike is like saying a diamond and a rhinestone are the same because they both glitter. With calories, as with diamonds, its the quality that matters most and enhances their value. So if you want to lose weight, consider looking at the nutritional value of the food versus the calorie.

2. Whole foods versus processed/refined foods

Calories from nutrient-rich foods versus nutritionally-bankrupt ones from processed or refined carbs will have different effects on the body.

Nutrient-rich foods will keep hunger at bay, help maintain stable blood sugar levels, minimize cravings, and enable your brain to signal your belly that it’s full. Nutrient-poor foods will have the opposite effect, wreaking hormonal havoc, spiking insulin, setting off cravings, dulling satiety signals and encouraging overeating.

In other words: nutrient rich foods help keep weight in check naturally, no calculator required. This gives us an indication as to why weight loss is not so simple, and suggests why so many struggle with losing weight long-term.

Hint: Low fat/ fat free/ sugar free products are all poor foods that eventually will malnourish the body.

3. Tracking calories

Tracking every scrap that goes in your mouth may give you a feeling of control over your food but it doesn’t mean you’re getting enough of the nutrients your body needs. Take for example those who eat processed, portion-controlled, “diet” microwaveable meals (you know who you are!).

Aside from being loaded with chemicals, GMOs, allergenic and inflammatory ingredients, these crappy excuses for food don’t deliver enough protein, fibre, good fats or even volume to make you feel full, much less healthy and vibrant. The result is that you’re hungry, mentally foggy, and malnourished, possibly setting the stage for a host of health problems down the line—but you do know how many calories you ate getting there, for what that’s worth.

4. But we all lose weight on the Carnival diet!

Call it what you will, but most of us go on a classic caloric restriction, and yes, while it does work for a short time, it’s not recommended. It’s hard to sustain in the long-term, and it won’t make you feel energetic or vibrant in the short-term, because you’re not supporting your body with enough essential nutrients. Worse, these crash diets actually slow metabolism, an adjustment your body makes to conserve energy and prevent starvation. How many of us came down with the after-carnival flu? Hmm.

Why Counting Calories Doesn’t Work

While calories do matter to a degree, they are far from the whole story. Macro nutrients act differently within the body and are more nourishing, so rather than being overly concerned with meeting a certain calorie requirement each day, focus on making sure your diet is as nutrient rich as possible.

Here are a few basic pointers to help simplify things:

  • Start your day with protein-rich foods, rather than starchy foods. Good choices are eggs, lean meats, fish, nuts, seeds, quinoa, nut butters, or a protein shake, and really try to skip the bread, bagels, muffins and donuts.
  • Have a source of protein with every meal, and avoid “carb only” eating.
  • Make sure you are getting healthy fats into your diet each day.
  • Skip sugar most of the time, especially in the form of liquid calories, such as sodas, fruit juice, and alcohol. And, avoid high fructose corn syrup at all costs.