Colette's Blog

February 29, 2012

The Scoop on Calories

One of the biggest misconceptions among low-carbers is the following notion: I can eat whatever I want as long as it's low carb. Person after person has come to me, telling me "I've tried that Atkins thing and it didn't work." "Really?" I ask. "What were you doing?" They then proceed to list a day's worth of high-protein, high-fat food (which rarely includes vegetables and which typically totals to about 4,000 calories a day).

No wonder it didn't work.

Because Dr. Atkins—and other responsible low-carb writers—told us there is no need to count calories on Atkins in the beginning, many of us came away with the mistaken idea that calories didn't count. I've seen many a person devour astronomical amounts of food and when I asked them what they thought the calorie count might be, they simply shrugged and said "it doesn't matter; it's low carb."

Actually, folks, it does matter.

The reason for the original advice about not counting calories had to do with the fact that the low-carb approach concentrates on managing blood sugar and insulin. It concentrates on choosing foods natural to the human diet -- i.e. protein, fat and fiber from vegetables—that naturally satiate the appetite and send hormonal signals to the brain that you're full. That's why it's easier to stay on a natural foods lower-carb diet than a processed foods high-carb one, which stimulates hunger and cravings.

And that's why we tell you, in the beginning, don't worry about calories. Just worry about eating the right kinds of foods and your appetite will, hopefully, take care of itself.

But because calories are not the whole picture—the way they have been in "conventional" weight-loss programs—does not mean they're out of the show. They've just been moved from a starring role to that of a supporting—but important—player.

The point is: Calories aren't the whole story—but they do matter. If you're stuck at a plateau and have stopped losing weight on your low-carb plan, maybe it's time to do a little digging and see just how much food you're actually consuming.

It might surprise you. If you over-consume any food you are likely to slow or stall weight loss.

Your best shot is to follow the advice in the The New Atkins for a New You:

  • Make fat your friend but don’t make it a calorie bomb by using 4 tablespoons of dressings on one salad.
  • Eat enough protein to keep you satisfied, but don’t assume protein is unlimited. Four to 6 ounces should be enough at each meal to satisfy you unless you are a large man, who can tolerate more
  • Consume adequate fiber from vegetables for the sensation of fullness and be sure to consume all the recommended Foundation Vegetables
  • Try not to eat lightly during the day; only to feel ravenous by dinner or before bedtime.
  • Try not to skip meals, and then overdo it at your next meal simply because you’re so hungry
  • Try not to consume all your carbs for the day in one meal, and then a couple of hours later lose control of what you’re putting in your mouth.
  • If you have hit a plateau, do a reality check, keep a food diary and make sure carbs are where they are supposed to be and calories are around the 1,500- to 1,800-calorie mark. (The optimal number is highly individual. This is just a sample range for the minimum intake because too few calories can be an issue as well.)

If you can identify with any of these points, you’re no stranger to overeating. If it makes you feel any better, you’re in good company—overeating is incredibly common; not surprisingly, it’s especially problematic among people who are trying to lose weight. It’s not an inherent sign of weakness, nor simply a matter of poor self-control. Usually it has to do with not being aware of what or how much you’re eating or snacking just because food is there. Many of us have lost touch with our hunger cues because we’ve been over consuming for many years.

The good news is that you can begin to tune in to the fullness factor and put an end to overeating by being mindful about what and when you eat. If you consume regular meals (not going more than four to six hours without solid food), you’ll begin to stabilize your blood sugar, which will help you control your appetite.

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