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The Major Flaw that Makes Calorie Counting Almost Worthless for Weight Loss Part 1 of 2

Many nutritionists and health care professionals are advocating against the general principle of counting calories unless you are counting them to make sure you eat enough protein to avoid losing muscle mass.   

Granted, you'll probably lose weight if you eat fewer cookies, and hence fewer calories, but you're not going to get healthier as long as you keep eating cookies.   And you probably will not lose as much weight as you would if you abstained from cookies altogether and replaced them with calories from a more nutritious food.   And therein lies the crux:  Calories are NOT created equal, and will not have identical effects on your weight or health.  

Some health care professionals are promoting the theory that you do not get fat because you eat too many calories and don't exercise enough.  You get fat because you eat the wrong kind of calories.  

The American DietA Recipe for Disaster 

According to last year's Report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the top 10 sources of calories in the American diet are:

1. Grain-based desserts (cakes, cookies, donuts, pies, crisps, cobblers, and granola bars) 139 calories a day  
2. Yeast breads, 129 calories a day
3. Chicken and chicken-mixed dishes, 121 calories a day
4. Soda, energy drinks, and sports drinks, 114 calories a day
5. Pizza, 98 calories a day
6. Alcoholic beverages
7. Pasta and pasta dishes
8. Mexican mixed dishes
9. Beef and beef-mixed dishes
10. Dairy desserts  

Looking at this list, it should become easier to see the dietary roots of the American weight problem. Four of the top five sources of calories are CARBSsugars (primarily fructose) and grains.

This updated NHANES survey above covers nutritional data from 2005-2006, placing grain-based foods in the top two slots.  Still, soda comes in at number four, and many still believe a lot of people, particularly teenagers, probably get a majority of their calories from fructose-rich drinks like soda.

In order to curb the current obesity epidemic, we do not need more accurate reporting of calories; we need to start focusing on eating the right kind of calories.  It is far more important to look at the source of the calories than counting them.  If it wasn't, you'd be able to exist on nothing but soda and donuts and still stay trim and healthy.  Alas, reality tells us that's simply not the case.  Many believe that the two primary keys for successful weight management are:

  • Severely restricting carbohydrates (sugars, fructose, and grains) in your diet, and  
  • Giving your body enough healthy fat consumption  

Why Counting Calories Doesn't Work 

Your consumption of carbohydrates, whether in the form of grains (including whole grains) and sugars (especially fructose), will determine whether or not you're able to manage your weight and maintain optimal health.  Cutting out or severely limiting grain carbs and sugars can be the U-turn you've been looking for if you are currently overweight and/or your health is suffering.  

This is because these types of carbs (fructose and grains) affect the hormone insulin, which is a very potent fat regulator.  Fats and proteins affect insulin to a far lesser degree. 

Dr. Robert Lustig, an expert on the metabolic fate of sugar, explains that fructose is 'isocaloric but not isometabolic."  

This means you can have the same amount of calories from fructose or glucose, fructose and protein, or fructose and fat, but the metabolic effect will be entirely different despite the identical calorie count.   This is a crucial point that must be understood.  Fructose is in fact far worse than other carbs because the vast majority of it converts directly to FAT, both in your fatty tissues, and in your liver. And this is why counting calories does not work... As long as you keep eating fructose and grains, you're programming your body to create and store fat.  

 **In Part 2 of this article we will discuss how much fructose is too much and which fruits to avoid or at least limit in your diet to promote optimal health and recovery.

 **Remember to

  • Always plan ahead for what you are going to eat
  • Obtain adequate amounts of protein
  • Work on Flexibility
  • Supplement your diet with a fish oil and multi-vitamin

Let me know if I can help.  Email me at

God Bless,

Alan Tyson
Physical Therapist, Athletic Trainer, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist