You can chow down on those Cheetos as long as you log an extra 30 minutes on the treadmill, right? Um, no. Sorry to burst your caloric-counting bubble, but it’s not so simple.
“Calories in versus calories out” has become a sort of one-size-fits-all mantra for those wanting to fit into that one-size-too-small dress. This widespread theory has bred a generation of calorie-counting devotees that can rationalize eating anything as long as they keep below their daily calorie limit—or put in extra time at the gym.
Out of the calorie-obsessed culture sprouted the uplifting idea of "everything in moderation," which may have started as a way to help people feel less obsessed with food, but has spiraled into a free pass to "treat yourself" to a supersized ice cream sundae every week.
What’s the Deal?
“Caloric theory is woefully inadequate and dramatically incomplete,” says Marc David, an expert in nutritional psychology and founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating in Boulder, Colo. “In the way nutritional science understands calorie burning as it relates to weight, it’s very primitive.”
Though David admits there are useful aspects to the theory, he believes that it oversimplifies the understanding of weight. “The mass media wants to make it ‘Here’s what everybody should do and here is the simple answer,” says David. “But weight is much more complex and involves many other factors.”
One problem with counting calories is that you are (wrongly) assuming that all calories are created equal. Eating fewer calories won't do your health any favors if all those calories come from reduced-fat potato chips and Tasti D-Lite.
A study conducted at Harvard School of Public Health focused on which diet and lifestyle factors prevent weight gain in the first place. “We found that the conventional wisdom to focus only on total calories, or even on total fat or sugars, will be less effective than focusing on the quality of the overall diet,” says lead author of the study Darius Mozaffarian, M.D., a cardiologist and epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School in Boston.
The results showed that, when it comes to losing weight, it’s actually more about quality than quantity when it comes to what you put in your mouth. “Eating more of several specific foods was actually associated with relative weight loss,” says Dr. Mozaffarian. “This indicates that the path to eating fewer calories is not to simply count calories, but to focus on consuming a more healthy diet in general.”
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