Why I Don’t Count Calories Anymore

 

Photo credit: Grant Cochrane (freedigitalphotos.net)

Photo credit: Grant Cochrane (freedigitalphotos.net)

One of the most liberating things about following a ketogenic eating style is the simplicity of keeping track of your intake.  No longer do I have to count points, calories or grams of fat at every meal.  I can put away the tracking sheets, tracking apps and calculators.  I know the foods that are good for me to consume (proteins, fats and leafy green vegetables) and I can eat them in any amount I feel I need to be satisfied.  I know the foods I should not consume (anything with flour, sugar, rice, grains or starchy vegetables) and I avoid them.  I can look at almost any plate of food or buffet table and know instantly what should be OK to eat and what should be shunned – without a single calculation needed.

How can this be?

I had to embrace a concept that seemed completely contradictory to what I had held as an “absolute truth” about diet and weight.  Calories-in vs. calories-out doesn’t matter. We don’t get fat because we take in more energy (calories) than we expend and we don’t lose weight by expending more calories than we consume.  We gain weight because of the way our body partitions the energy that we do eat. This means that while the amount of calories we eat may not matter, the type of calorie and how our body reacts to it, does.

Did I just rock your world?  The concept certainly rocked mine.

Energy partitioning is the process whereby your body decides what energy should be stored as fat in your fat cells and what energy should be sent to your muscles to be burned.  It is widely recognized that insulin is the primary, if not singular, regulator of this decision making process.  Insulin is released whenever blood sugar (glucose) is present.  When your body releases too much insulin over too long a period of time, your cells can become resistant to the “message” insulin sends regarding the partitioning of energy.  Muscle cells are usually the first to become resistant to insulin and they no longer heed the call to burn energy, preferring to send that energy to the liver for storage.  While fat cells tend to be more susceptible to the insulin message and become overly willing to store energy as fat and not to release it to be burned by muscle cells.  Even just the slightest imbalance can result in significant weight gain over a short period.  Therefore, it’s logical to conclude that for people who are insulin-resistant, keeping insulin levels low will help maintain body weight.

So remember calories don’t count – you can eat thousands of them and not gain weight.  Whether your body stores those calories as fat (and you gain weight) has everything to do with how much insulin you secrete in response to what you’re eating.  The more simple and easier to digest the carbohydrate calories you eat, the more insulin is produced.  The higher your insulin levels, the more fat you retain in your fat cells.  It’s that simple.

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