Counting calories to lose weight is just about the biggest nonsense we’ve come to believe in recent years. If there’s one myth I’d love to get rid of, it’s this one. It is the cause of an incredible amount of pain, sadness, frustration, lack of self-confidence and loss of confidence in our own bodies. A soft-boiled egg and an egg biscuit have the same amount of calories, but what matters is what those calories DO in your body. An egg does something completely different in your body than an egg cake and that’s what it’s about.
The calories you eat make a world of difference. If your body can do something useful with it, does it contain nutrients, then it is food and it will contribute to your health and therefore a healthy weight. If your body cannot do anything with it because it contains little or no nutrients, then it is filling. With filling, it is impossible to gain and maintain a healthy weight for a long time.
Most diets mean going to war with your body
Research shows that when people go on a diet, 98% have already regained their old weight or even gained weight after a year. Any industry with such dramatic numbers would have gone bankrupt long ago. You get on the plane to Rome but you end up in Helsinki. You might try that one more time, but then you’re looking for another way to get to Rome, aren’t you? Why do so many women always get on that plane full of hope in the spring? When does that light come on that another means of transport is probably more suitable for getting to Rome?
There are dozens of different diets out there, and most of them are downright unhealthy. They usually amount to going to war against your body instead of cooperating with it and that is a battle you will always lose. Most diets compete against your body’s powerful survival mechanism, and you never win that battle.
25% of all your energy goes to your brain
When dieting and counting calories, it usually comes down to eating less or avoiding foods that are high in calories. Many fats are deleted while they are your main energy suppliers! That’s one important reason why losing weight in the long term doesn’t work: your body needs healthy fats so much. But when we start dieting, we switch to light products, lean products and try to survive for a while on low-calorie ingredients. But you probably want your heart to keep beating, your blood pressure to stay up and your brain to function. Did you know that 25% of all your energy goes to your brain? In short: your body still needs energy and your survival mechanism will ensure that it comes. No matter what.
Your survival mechanism goes into low-power mode
If you can’t get enough energy from your diet, your survival mechanism will first get that energy from your glycogen stores: the surplus of glucose stored in the cells of your muscles and liver. Your body has stored 4 grams of fluid for every gram of glycogen. That is why you lose the most weight in the first week: those first kilos are 80% fluid and 20% glycogen. If your body is still not getting enough nutrition, the proteins in your muscles are first addressed and finally your fat storage.
Meanwhile, your survival mechanism has signaled that there is apparently a famine, so your body has switched to low-power mode. Your body can handle scarcity just fine; your genes have centuries of experience with that. Your body is becoming more economical and efficient with all the bits of energy (read food) it gets. This means less weight loss while still dieting. And if at some point your brain and the rest of your body crave energy from food, there’s no stopping it: then you go down on your knees. Unfortunately, that’s never for a pound of broccoli, but for the family bag of M&Ms Linda dreamed of.
10 reasons why you don’t lose weight permanently despite eating less
I know some women who are heavier than me and eat significantly less. In any case, fewer calories because I eat plenty of healthy fats, so many calories. Do you also know such a woman in your area? There was a time when I was jealous of slim girlfriends who seemed to be able to eat anything. Now I understand how it works and I can do it myself, although I am now over 50.
How does that work? Your weight is largely determined by other things than how much you eat and exercise. In my book The Energetic Women’s Nutrition Compass , I describe ten reasons why you may not lose weight despite eating less and exercising more. I will briefly mention them here:
- The most important: your intestinal flora is not working as it should; bad bacteria have gained the upper hand and cause stubborn overweight.
- Your thyroid decides to slow down because your adrenal glands are overloaded from stress. This makes losing weight very difficult.
- If you have a lot of stress that disrupts your hormone balance; your adrenal glands make too much cortisol because of stress.
- Your body is constantly making too much insulin because your cells have become insensitive to insulin. With insulin in your blood it is impossible to burn fat.
- Your liver has trouble detoxifying and removing hormone-disrupting substances and because these can cause damage, your body decides to store them in a safe place: in your fat cells. This is fat that your body is holding onto.
- The fewer muscles, the slower your metabolism, the more difficult it becomes to lose weight. You have to keep using muscles for the rest of your life, otherwise you will lose them.
- Your metabolism is in survival mode as a result of years of (crash) diets. Your body then handles every crumb of food very efficiently and a little surplus is immediately stored as fat.
- If your body lacks some important nutrients such as magnesium , zinc or the B vitamins to burn fat.
- You are taking medications that have the side effect of making it difficult to lose weight. Note: the pill is also a medicine.
- Your metabolism slows down as you age. Your body needs less food than it has always been used to.
Losing weight is about food, not about dieting
I really wish I could get this across the minds of all women: focus on getting healthy, and a healthy weight will almost always follow naturally. The great thing is that you don’t need willpower to do this, because you don’t fight against the survival mechanism of your body. You do not send out signals that there is famine because you EAT: losing weight is about food, not about dieting!
The biggest obstacle to success, and don’t underestimate this, is that you will have to learn what really healthy food is and what isn’t. And note: 80% of what is in the supermarket is not. All processed food, say almost everything that is wrapped around it, usually puts a strain on your body, because it contains far too few nutrients and often taxing substances that make it difficult for your body. It’s filling, not nutrition. For optimal health and a lot of energy, your body needs a lot of different nutrients and they are only in unprocessed food. My motto: if you want to count anything, count the different nutrients you get, not the calories.
Finally add a sauce of humor
My advice for all women who want to get healthy and lose weight is the following: eat as much unprocessed food as possible in a wide variety, eat mainly plant-based, learn what healthy fats are and eat them, and drastically reduce everything that contains sugars, contain dairy or gluten. In addition: don’t be too perfectionistic, learn to listen to what your body needs, have a large dose of patience and top everything with a sauce of humor. Above all, keep laughing at all your struggles with life, that’s what keeps it light.
By the way: for me a healthy weight is size 38 but for you it may be different. Get rid of the scales, buy a mirror and smile at yourself more often, no matter what you look like. Smiling at yourself does wonders for your health. I promise you!