Why you shouldn't take on a calorie-counting diet for your New Year's resolution

The New Year is here and with it comes an onslaught of pro diet culture messaging.

From ads for detox teas to cultural pressure to hit the gym, there’s a whole load of weight loss chat thrown our way in January.

The majority of this focuses on one concept: counting and cutting calories.

But experts say that a calorie-counting New Year’s resolution isn’t just doomed to fail, it’s also destined to make you miserable.

A survey by Second Nature and One Poll found that 35% of those who calorie-count feel grumpy, 30% feel more anxious, and 30% feel more tired.

Now, the NHS-backed healthy eating plan is calling for us all to ditch calorie-counting in the new year.

‘Calorie-counting is a result of the myth that weight loss is as simple “eat less and move more”,’ says Tamara Willner, senior nutritionist at Second Nature.

‘There are other ways to reach your weight and health goals that don’t involve obsessive counting or harsh deprivation.’

Tamara notes that the science of calorie-counting as a means of bettering your health just doesn’t add up.

‘Not all calories are equal, for example, 100 calories of avocado vs 100 calories of biscuits, and the number of calories we actually absorb from foods varies greatly between individuals – it’s rarely the number we see on the packets,’ she explains.

‘If calorie-counting worked in the long term, we’d only need to try it once or twice and then we’d see our results and be able to sustain it.

‘However, our survey showed that 41% of us try calorie-counting up to five times each year and 27% up to 10 times a year.

‘If you imagine how many attempts that is over a lifetime, it’s clear that it’s not a long-term solution.

‘This is further evidenced by the fact 41% of us return to calorie counting as we’ve regained the lost weight and 34% actually regain the lost weight and more.

‘A strict diet that focuses on calorie counting might work for some of us, but for the majority of us, it’s a short-term solution and will fail at some point, leaving us where we started.’

So, why doesn’t calorie-counting work for us?

The bottom line is it’s essentially just not eating enough, which leaves us hungry, grouchy, and foggy-headed.

That’s simply not sustainable long-term, so when we calorie-count, we shuttle back and forth between restricting and over-indulging.

‘Calorie-counting results in a vicious cycle,’ says Tamara. ‘We want to lose weight, so we cut our calories, which leads to some short-term results, but then we can’t keep up this behaviour because we feel hungry and grumpy so we stop it, resulting in us regaining the weight and then some.

‘Once we’re in this cycle of yo-yo dieting it can be very hard to break, and it can sometimes have a negative impact on our metabolism in the long term, leading to us storing fat more easily.

‘One of the main reasons we might struggle to keep up this behaviour is hunger.

‘In order to eat or drink the things we love, many of us cut down on our meals to “balance” the calories, with 52% cutting down our meals to eat chocolate, 45% for alcohol, and 40% biscuits.

‘As we’re then reducing the number of whole foods with protein and healthy fats we’re consuming, we’re likely to feel hungry more often. Sadly, while calorie counting 33% of us say we go to bed feeling hungry three to four times a week.’

Let’s say we do want to lose weight or get healthier in the New Year – what should we do, then, if not calorie-counting?

Second Nature recommends focusing on eating whole foods, meals that are naturally high in protein and healthy fats, and reducing sugar-packed refined carbohydrates that can leave your blood sugar crashing.

Enjoy things you adore in moderation, don’t ban any foods, and if you’re hungry, eat – restriction is not a path to better health.

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