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Dieting Versus Calorie Counting… What works?

I’ve gotten many many emails asking for nutrition and diet advice.  With the holidays here and temptation staring us in the face, I thought it would be timely to talk about diets…

When I first started seeing clients I thought January would be my busiest with all the New Year’s resolutions… I was wrong.  November and December were always my busiest.  I found it strange at first, but then I quickly realized people were trying to avoid the holiday weight gain and were looking for the next“diet” to follow.  My main message to them what “It’s not about the diet.”

The truth is we all want to be at a healthy weight… we want to know how to reach it and how to maintain it.  The confusing part is finding the best way to do this!  For those of you who’ve read my bio, you know that there was a phase in my life where dieting was the only option.  I was constantly thinking a diet would solve my problems.  A common thought I would often have would be, “Once I reach my goal weight, my life will begin”… “I can finally have fun”.  It got to a point where no diet was working for me, I became a slave to the scale, and worst of all, it affected every other aspect of my life.  No matter how hard I tried, or how much I exercise… nothing worked.

At what point in our life do we think we need to “go on a diet?”

It all comes down to unhappiness.  It may be that we are unhappy with our appearance, unhappy with the way our pants fit, unhappy with the person we see in the mirror, unhappy because we realize we are truly overweight, or, just unhappy with life in general.  All the while we still think the next diet will solve our problems, make us happy, and finally enjoy life.

Does a Diet Really Work?

The answer is yes… and no.  People want to see results!  When we make the decision to lose weight, we want the weight gone yesterday!  Diets promise quick results.  Some diets often going to extreme measures such as unsupervised detoxes, cleanses, and eliminating entire food groups.  Can we see results doing this?  Absolutely!  Why do we see results? Because we are cutting back on calories and the foods we love… resulting in a nice gift we call weight gain in return!

It all comes down to basic math.  If you want to lose weight, you have to eat fewer calories than what your body needs.   There’s no miracle diet or solution.  If you’ve had success on a past diet, it’s because you were eating less calories than what your body needed, not because we ate our protein 20 minutes before we ate our starch.   Programs such as Nutri-System and Jennie Craig will definitely produce weight loss because they are reducing your calories.  Everything comes pre-portioned or frozen.  They do all the work for you.  You don’t have to count calories or measure anything out.  All you have to do is heat and eat.  This does produce great short-term results, but what we really have to ask ourselves is “how realistic is it to follow this for life?”  That’s the question you want to ask yourself every time you are tempted with a diet.  “Can I commit to this for the rest of my life?”

A Calorie is a Calorie 

No matter what ratio of carbohydrates, protein, and fat our meal comes in, a calorie is a calorie.  If we eat more than our body needs, we will gain weight, whether our meal is vegetarian, vegan, low carb, or fast food.  I’ll say it again… IF WE CONSISTANTLY EAT MORE THAN WHAT OUR BODY NEEDS, WE WILL GAIN WEIGHT.

Now don’t get me wrong here.  I would be doing my role as a Dietitian an injustice if I said the health of a meal didn’t matter.  It certainly does.  A well-rounded healthy diet is important for heart health and disease prevention.  The point I’m trying to make is that we don’t have to follow a crazy diet.  It’s all about balance and moderation.

Eating healthy is very important, but how much we eat is even more important.  We have to find that place of balance and moderation.  For example, lets say you’ve been craving a cheeseburger and French fries all week long.  Make a plan to eat it, and enjoy it.  Here’s how you do that… You know the average cheeseburger and French fry combo has at least 1000 calories if not more.  Let’s say you’re a 5’5” active female and require around 1800 calories per day.  Eating that entire cheeseburger meal will blow your calorie budget.  The goal here is to be mindful of what you eat during the day surrounding that cheeseburger.  This doesn’t mean to starve yourself all day so you can “splurge”.  The idea is to make sure you surround that meal with other healthy meals.  Make sure to be active that day.  Eat a healthy portioned controlled breakfast.  If you know your going out for cheeseburgers at dinner, don’t eat steak & eggs or a stack of pancakes for breakfast.  Opt for a healthy cereal or an egg white breakfast taco.  The same idea goes for lunch.   Choose something healthy and portion controlled.  Make sure your comfortably hungry prior to each meal.  When the time comes to enjoy the cheeseburger meal, take your time and try to only eat half.  Think to yourself “Does my body really need to ingest 1300 calories at one meal?”  The answer is most likely “NO!”

What’s the point of all this?

The main point I’m trying to get across is that you can enjoy the foods you love every single day, it’s all about making a plan, balancing it all out, and enjoying in moderation.  If you eat a stack of pancakes for breakfast, a plate of pasta for lunch, and 4 slices of pizza for dinner, that’s unbalanced.   Make it a plan to keep your intake 80% healthy, and 20% junk!  If you went the whole day without eating any veggies, make it a point to get some in the next day.  What’s most frustrating to me is the “diet world” puts out so much conflicting information.  This confuses the heck out of people!  Including myself!  What I hope you get from reading this article is “go back to the basics”.  It all comes down to how much we eat.  Remember… EATING HEALTHY IS VERY IMPORTANT, BUT HOW MUCH WE EAT IS EVEN MORE IMPORTANT!

What are your thoughts?  Are you stuck in diet world?

It’s all about the portions!

11 Responses

  1. Jessica said on December 1, 2009 at 12:26 pm

    Thank you SO MUCH for saying a calorie is a calorie! It is driving me MAD on blogworld that people say ‘a calorie is not a calorie.’ Guess what? IT IS! Oh Estela, I love you even more now. 🙂

  2. Estela - Weekly Bite said on December 1, 2009 at 12:46 pm

    Thanks Jessica 🙂

  3. Kristen @ Simply Savor said on December 1, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    Great post! it’s so true that conflicting information about “diets” can confuse people. moderation is the key!

  4. Anna @ Newlywed, Newly Veg said on December 1, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    Thanks for posting this. There’s so much focus on protein, good carbs, bad carbs, good fats, bad fats…yeesh! It’s good to be reminded that a calorie is a calorie is a calorie.

    No wonder so many people are confused about how to lose weight!

  5. Sarah @ The Foodie Diaries said on December 1, 2009 at 3:50 pm

    This was such a great post, and I completely agree with everything you said. I’m definitely not stuck in diet world. In fact, I think I’ve been out of the diet state-of-mind since I failed miserably on Atkins and South Beach when I was 16. I learned quite quickly that my body–and my mouth, mind and mood–NEEDS carbs… and needs the foods I love.

  6. Emily (A Nutritionist Eats) said on December 1, 2009 at 4:31 pm

    Great info – I love the 80/20% – I think it helps people realize that it is doable to lose weight and they don’t have to give up everything and be “perfect”.

  7. katie said on December 1, 2009 at 8:08 pm

    great info!! i LOVED this.. i agree with you completely

  8. sophia said on December 1, 2009 at 11:52 pm

    Very practical and down-to-earth insight into the dieting world. I can’t say much, since I went down the obsessive path of diets. But I have to agree: moderation is the key! You can eat all the healthy food you want, but overdo it and that’s not healthy! But “unhealthy” foods can be enjoyed too, in moderation. Everything ought to be balanced!

  9. Katie said on December 2, 2009 at 6:27 pm

    SO TRUE.

    I can eat healthy but gain weight if I OVEREAT calories.

    Moderation is hard but it’s the way to live!

    Check out my blog – new giveaway and SONGDOWNLOADS.

  10. Lara (Thinspired) said on December 2, 2009 at 6:49 pm

    Great post. Love the vintage posters, too 🙂 I have to admit, I do calorie count when I feel like I want to get back on track. But I don’t consider that a “diet” in the restrictive, negative sense. I just try to eat cleaner and get more bang for my caloric buck (read: veggies).