Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Case against Calorie Counting

Before you bust a button, hear me out. Labels and machines both
have their appropriate uses (the former for the simple knowledge
of the vitamins, minerals, and ingredients in your food, the latter
for getting people off their duffs and exercising). My beef with
labels and machines is not what they do per se but the myth
they perpetuate. Through their function, they feed into a way of
thinking about weight loss that actually makes it harder to control
weight. They’ve turned us into a community of heavies who worship
at the altar of one seemingly omnipotent number: the calorie.
With every food you eat and with every workout you finish,
you look at how many calories come in and how many calories go
out. It’s the turnstile theory of weight loss: If you exercise away
more than you take in, then you’ll lose weight. Experts tell us that
a pound of fat contains roughly 3,500 calories, so if you simply
delete 500 calories from your daily meals, increase your daily exercise
by 500 calories, or some combination thereof, you’ll lose a
pound of fat a week. That sounds great in theory, but in real life,
the whole concept of calorie management is more likely to make
40 T H E A B S D I E T
you lose heart than lose weight. You hump it on the stairclimber
for 30 minutes and sweat like a guest on The O’Reilly Factor.
When you see the final readout—“Workout Completed; 300 Calories
Burned!”—you feel like you’ve just chipped away at your belly
and gotten closer to your goal. That is, until you reach for a midnight
snack and see that a serving and a half of Raisin Bran also
equals 300 calories. What took 30 minutes to burn takes 30 seconds
to dust off during Leno. It’s a psychological diet killer.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with using nutritional labels
to track what you eat or as a deterrent to stay away from highcalorie
foods in the first place. And it can be helpful to use machine
readouts to gauge the intensity of your exercise. But you
will derail your weight loss efforts if you keep focusing on the
number of calories you take in during meals and the number of
calories you burn off during exercise. You need to focus, rather, on
what is happening inside your body during the rest of your day—
when you’re working, sleeping, making love, or just sitting still
right now reading this book. Right this very instant, your body is
either gaining fat or losing fat. The Abs Diet will train your body
to lose fat while you’re sitting still, because the Abs Diet focuses
on something other diet plans miss: your metabolism.

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