Am I crazy? Isn’t weight loss all about calories? Don’t you have to burn more calories than you eat to lose weight? Sometimes, mostly, and yes. If weight loss is mostly about calories, then why am I telling you to stop counting them? Let me explain:
Putting the Cart Before the Horse
Before you ever start calculating protein, carbohydrate, and fat ratios, and before you ever start setting calorie intakes, you need to focus on the quality of the food that’s going into your mouth. Until your diet is 80-90 percent whole foods, you’re wasting your time counting calories.
If you’re going to restrict your calorie intake, while simultaneously not eating a predominantly whole food diet, you are going to be severely lacking in nutrients. And guest what – a nutrient dense diet is going to make the weight loss process 10 times easier. That means a diet that’s void of essential nutrients is going to make the weight loss process 10 times harder. Don’t restrict an already bad diet.
Step 1: Add in Whole Foods
So what’s the first thing you should do when you’re trying to lose weight? Eat less? That’s what most people think. I say no. Instead, before you ever start taking food out of your diet, you start adding healthy food into it. Should you be counting calories yet? No, not yet, and maybe not ever.
Make your first and only goal to start eating more fruits and veggies. Maybe that means you have a protein smoothie, or maybe that means you have a chicken salad loaded up with veggies. Whatever the case, don’t change any other eating habits until you’re consistently eating more fruits and veggies over a 2 week period. Once you’ve done that, move on to step 2.
Step 2: Remove Processed Foods
As you add in more and more healthy foods, the ability to eat the processed foods that made up the majority of your past diet starts to get pushed out. Your body stops sending you signals that it needs more vitamins and nutrients. It stops telling you to eat, eat, and eat more food to get those nutrients in. Frankly, you’re too full to eat the bad food, as the fiber and water content of whole foods fills you up.
The cravings start to subside, and before you know it, your diet has slowly made the shift from predominantly processed foods, to majority whole foods. Congratulations, making it this far will net you 70% of your weight loss results. Not to mention, you are going to be 100 times healthier than you were.
Step 3: Add in Exercise
OK, so your diet is 80-90% whole foods. Do you start counting calories now? Nope. Now it’s time to start adding in exercise. Exercise is going to create the perfect metabolic environment for fat loss. It’s going to put your hormones in the right position to mobilize fatty acids.
Why am I telling you to wait to start exercising? It’s because I want you to focus on the most important aspect of health and weight loss – nutrition. If your nutrition is off, no amount of exercise will be able to counteract the effects.
Nail down your diet first. Once you have that and it’s become habit, adding in exercise is easy and fun, and you will actually get to see the fruits of your labor. I will note that highly motivated and skilled individuals will be able to work on creating exercise and nutrition habits at the same time. If this is you, then have at it!
Step 4: Start Counting Calories – If Necessary
Which takes us to step number 4. Believe it or not, not everyone has to count calories to lose weight. In fact, for some OCD people or people with eating disorders, it could be counterproductive.
However, there may come a time when you want to lower your body fat from an already low percentage to an even lower one, and to do that, you might have to get a little more meticulous with your diet.
Still, it is not always necessary. Many people have gotten down to single digit body fat without ever counting a single calorie. They practiced portion control, and they ate less and less whole foods as their progress stalled out.
Does that mean counting calories is a bad thing? I don’t think so. Counting calories teaches you a lot about your food. After practicing calorie counting for a while, you get the unique ability to look at a food and know its nutritional breakdown, and that can be very beneficial when it comes to practicing portion control.
However, as I said before, don’t get ahead of yourself. It can be overwhelming trying to change too many habits at once. Focus on improving the quality of your diet before you change the quantity of it. I think you’ll be much happier with the results.