James Hamblin has an article in The Atlantic, published last year, advocating that dieters should focus on eating healthy foods, and not worry about counting calories.
The proposed new FDA nutrition labels make the calorie number larger. That seems like a mistake. Focusing on calories puts the emphasis in the wrong place. The biochemistry is complex, but the way to think about it is not. Don’t focus on calories; focus on food choices. Eat real food, no added sugar, and you can really forget the numbers.
There’s a lot of good information in this article on the relationship between simple refined carbs and blood sugar levels. It’s absolutely right that a dieter needs to be aware of these things.
But I hate it when these types of article then pat people on the head and tell them not to worry about calories. I’m sorry, but if you want to control your weight, you have to mindful of them. You just do. It’s simple physics.
A calorie is just a unit of energy. If you take in too much energy, your body will store the excess as fat. If you want to reduce that fat, you have to create a negative calorie balance. You can do that by lowering your caloric intake, or by increasing your caloric output through activity, or through some combination. But it’s what you have to do.
Now it’s also true that, to be successful, you need to think about more than just calories. A diet composed of nothing but Cokes or small Oreo portions, even if the overall calorie intake is low, is almost certainly not going to work, for all the reasons Hamblin discusses. A meal needs to be rich in healthy fats, proteins, and complex carbohydrates if it’s going to satisfy your appetite for more than an hour or so.
But I guarantee that you can gain weight on a diet of healthy food. I know. I’ve done it. Including fat and protein in your meal helps with controlling your appetite, but it doesn’t mean that you can pig out on whole grains, chicken, fish, and vegetables and escape the caloric equation.
The problem of course, is that restricting calories is no fun. People don’t want to hear that they need to do it to control their weight. Eating strategically and healthily can help with willpower, make it much easier to live with the calorie restrictions, but it can’t make that basic requirement go away.
So, if you’re concerned about your weight, eat healthy, but don’t ignore the calories you’re taking in. It’s still the ultimate factor in what will happen.