Old rule: A calorie is a calorie.
New rule: All calories are not created equal.
It is true that if you take in more calories than you burn, you will gain weight. But it’s also true that the nutritional quality of those calories plays a big role in how many calories your body burns. So if you’re simply counting calories without looking at the nutritional value of what you’re eating, you’re asking for trouble.
Why? Because our bodies require a consistent balance of healthy macronutrients (complex carbs, high-quality proteins and healthy fats), as well as micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals), plus adequate enzymes, fiber, water, and so on in order to function optimally. When we don’t get these things, our energy levels drop, our hormones and neurotransmitters get imbalanced, and our metabolism stops working efficiently. We simply aren’t as healthy as we should be, and our bodies don’t regulate much of anything (including our weight and body composition) as well as they are designed to.
The health of our metabolism – the machinery that dictates how we burn fat and produce muscle — requires whole, “real” foods and the complex, synergistic blend of nutrients they contain in order to function properly.
A healthy whole-foods diet (one that includes a balance of unprocessed carbs, fats and proteins) will also naturally tend to offer a relatively low glycemic load (GL) and a high phytonutrient index (PI) - including vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, seeds, olive oil, whole grains, teas, herbs and spices. Say no to diet plans that put concerns with caloric intake above concerns for whole-body health and vitality.
A low-GL meal slows the rate at which carbs turn to sugar in the bloodstream. And this “slow burn” allows your body to digest sugars, says Hyman, “without triggering the metabolic signals that promote hunger and weight gain.” Phytonutrients, meanwhile, act as powerful healing agents and metabolic regulators in the body.
Old rule: To lose weight, go on a diet.
New rule: To lose weight, choose to eat healthy.
Many weight-loss diets call for a dramatic reduction in daily caloric intake, which tends to deprive the body of the very nutrients it needs to effectively release and process unwanted fat. But eating too little or skipping meals has another extreme downside: It puts the body in a starvation-like “fat-conservation” mode.
When you take in fewer calories than are necessary to fuel your resting metabolic rate (the base amount of caloric energy your body requires while at rest), your body simply compensates by reducing your metabolic rate. Goodbye, caloric burn.
“Your body thinks it’s starving to death,” explains Hyman. As a result, it not only cuts back on the energy you need to exercise and move about, it also “sets off chemical processes inside you that force you to eat more.” Net result: weight gain.
You can get a very rough estimate of your resting metabolic rate, says Hyman, by multiplying your weight in pounds by 10 (if you weigh 150 pounds, for example, your resting metabolic rate would be approximately 1,500 calories per day). “If you eat less than that amount, your body will instantly perceive danger and turn on the alarm system that protects you from starvation and slows your metabolism,” says Hyman.
A better approach: Decide to eat healthy for life. Enjoy delicious, high-quality foods in ways that nurture your body and your senses for the long haul.
Next: Eat More Fat to Lose Fat?