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Here’s Why Counting Calories Really Isn’t Necessary For Weight Loss

As a registered dietitian, the thought of anyone counting calories, aka the energy you get from what you eat and drink, causes me to sigh audibly. Counting calories is a time-consuming, soul-sucking practice that’s actually a lesson in futility, as far as I’m concerned.Yet people continue to do it. They pull out their calorie-tracking apps […]

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As a registered dietitian, the thought of anyone counting calories, aka the energy you get from what you eat and drink, causes me to sigh audibly. Counting calories is a time-consuming, soul-sucking practice that’s actually a lesson in futility, as far as I’m concerned.Yet people continue to do it. They pull out their calorie-tracking apps and plug in whatever foods they’ve eaten, feeling guilty when they go over their “recommended” calorie amounts, then running to the gym to try to undo it all. And I can’t blame them: The idea that monitoring all your calories is key for weight loss is a popular one.While I do think there’s value in recording the foods you’ve eaten to understand what you’re consuming and offer accountability, and while I do think it’s important to know relative calories (e.g., cake: high, broccoli: low), it’s a colossal waste of time to drill it down to every single calorie that passes your lips.Of course, calories do count, since they’re what you consume when all is said and done. But counting calories can be a real drag at best, and a dangerous practice at worst. Not only does it get you focusing on numbers instead of enjoying the food you’re eating, it can be a slippery slope from paying attention to calorie counts to obsessing over them. For anyone with a history of disordered eating, counting calories might be something to avoid. If you have or are in recovery from an eating disorder, it’s best to talk to your doctor before changing your eating habits or tracking your food. Plus, weight loss is about so much more than calories. It encompasses exercise, how you sleep, how stressed you are, and health issues that you may not be able to control, like hormonal changes. That’s why, if losing weight is your goal, it’s important to acknowledge how individual a process it is and figure out how to do it in a way that’s healthy for you. And no matter your goals, spending vast amounts of energy and time poring over calories might not get you very far. Here’s why.1. You likely have no idea how many calories you actually need.In order to accurately count calories for weight loss, you’d need to know your basal metabolic rate, or how many calories your body burns each day simply to stay alive and keep all your systems running. And unless you’ve done indirect calorimetry, which I can almost guarantee you haven’t—it involves lying with a mask on, hooked up to a very expensive piece of machinery for a prolonged period of time to measure your oxygen intake and carbon dioxide expulsion—you really are playing with arbitrary numbers. Although it’s the “gold standard” of figuring out how many calories you use per day, like anything else, indirect calorimetry can have flaws.Yes, you can approximate the number of calories you use in a day via equations and apps, but that’s all you get: an approximation. If even the “gold standard” machine can be wrong, then why let some app or equation determine how much you should be eating?2. You don’t know how many calories your body is absorbing from food.Let’s say that by some miracle, you know exactly how many calories you need to eat per day for weight loss. That’s great, but you’re not out of the woods, thanks to the question of absorption.We used to think that since 3,500 calories equal a pound, every time you eat 3,500 extra calories beyond what your body needs, you end up gaining that weight. Now we know better: Not all calories are equal like we thought.Everything from how your food is processed to how much fiber it contains determines how many calories you’re absorbing from it. Even the bacteria in your gut may play a part in how you digest food and how many calories you derive from it.For example, you’ll absorb more calories from cooked meat versus raw, and peanut butter versus whole peanuts. Due to size differences, one sweet potato varies in calories from another before you even take it off the shelf at the store. Calories absorbed is a complex business that’s light years beyond any calorie-counting app on the market.3. Calorie counts on packages aren’t necessarily accurate.But wait! Even if you know how many calories you need and how many you’re absorbing, you’re not done! In fact, the Food and Drug Administration allows up to 20 percent margin of error in the numbers on those nutrition labels you likely rely on to count many of your calories. Meaning, that 250-calorie snack you’re eating might actually have 200 calories—or 300.4. Counting calories can encourage you to ignore your hunger cues.Focusing entirely on calories, instead of the quality of the food you’re eating and how you actually feel before chowing down (hungry, bored, stressed, etc.), can wreak havoc on those precious hunger cues you’re born with. Whether you’re eating just because you “have calories left,” even though you’re not truly hungry, or you’re not eating because you’ve “gone over” your calorie allotment for the day, but you’re actually still hungry, you’re doing the same thing: ignoring what your body is trying to tell you.Trust your body, because it knows what it needs a lot more than some random number or tracker.5. Calorie counting adds to the misconception you can “work off” the food you eat.One of the things that angers me most about calorie-counting apps is the impression they give that you can exercise yourself “back into the green.” Going over your “calorie allowance” again and again because you think you can burn off the transgressions? Nope. Your body doesn’t burn off food calorie-for-calorie like that.A 2014 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine emphasized that “it is where the calories come from that is crucial” in determining whether your body is tempted to store them as fat, use them for energy, or apply them to some other mechanism, the study authors explain.Plus, if you do routinely overindulge then try to work it off in the gym, you’ll be exercising for a very long time, depending on the size of the junky meals you’ve eaten. This, in turn, may cause you to become hungrier…and eat more. Vicious cycle? Definitely.The good news is that when you only overeat from time to time, your body can handle those extra calories without making you gain weight. It’s when you overeat on a more frequent basis that you can get into weight-gain territory.Instead of counting every calorie you eat (or you THINK you’re eating…and absorbing), if you’re hoping to lose weight, try this instead.Opt mostly for fresh, whole foods when you’re grocery shopping, and think of it as eating food, not calories. Try as hard as you can to look at your diet as a whole instead of the sum of its parts. That means focusing on healthy items like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean protein, and it also means eating mindfully—slowing down, eating until you’re satisfied, and giving deprivation a pass. If you eat a balanced diet most of the time, your body will most likely respond by finding its balance—no calorie counting required.Keep in touch with me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. For diet reviews, blog posts, and recipes, check out Abby Langer Nutrition.You may also like: How To Make Healthy High-Protein Avocado Boats

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Sedentary Lifestyle Can Abruptly Damage Your Health

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Having a sedentary lifestyle can quickly damage your health as it can lead to serious issues like diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.

Massive and prolonged lockdown protocols in the US have forced many to adopt a sedentary lifestyle. The need to limit COVID-19 transmission led a lot of citizens to spend more time sitting at home and forego daily commutes. According to experts, most Americans are now spending a daily average of six (6) hours sitting as compared to the daily average of four (4) hours prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Most citizens, even the typically active ones, are now adhering to a more sedentary lifestyle with physical activity dropping to almost one-third of pre-pandemic times. Those who used to be sedentary became even more sedentary, as well, asserts a recent research published in the Psychiatry journal.

These alarming trends stipulate, then, that the average American has a more sedentary lifestyle at present as compared to any other period in history. “We have definitely seen instances of increased sedentary behavior, especially with more people at home during lockdowns, and more unemployment,” mentions Dr Richard Yoon, orthopedics chief at Jersey City Medical Center. “Not only the physical effects but also the mental challenges posed by the pandemic have taken their toll. And I have seen that some of my patients are less active and visiting the fridge more often because of the loss of their old routines,” Yoon adds.

An increased sedentary lifestyle leads to several health issues including heart disease, weight gain, diabetes, and even death. The prevalent trends of work-from-home (WFH) arrangements and distance learning schemes further exacerbate the problem.

“It definitely takes less time for an unhealthy lifestyle to take hold than an active, healthy one. Once you get into a routine of not doing much, you can start feeling the effects right away,” Yoon points out. “Muscle breakdown can start in as little as 24 hours, and aches and pains start to creep in,” he stresses.

Furthermore, sitting all day can even lead to an increased experience of back pain which, then, encourages people to perpetuate a more sedentary lifestyle. People who do not feel well tend to decrease their physical activities and the tempting idea of staying immobile takes hold.

“Sedentary behavior and lifestyle have a very strong link to the development of back pain,” asserts Dr Medhat Mikhael, a pain management specialist at the Spine Center of the MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center. “Weight gain that puts a load on the spine and weakened abdominal and back muscles together with weakened ligaments would lead to further load on the spine,” he continues. “All of these effects and changes would create a vicious circle of back pain and further physiological and mechanical deterioration of the spine.”

The vicious cycle that results from adopting a sedentary lifestyle gets further supported by the gradual appearance of different health issues as more and more Americans follow the lockdown protocols mandated to stop the spread of COVID-19. However, there is a need to exert some effort, even when remaining at home, so that this sedentary lifestyle does not take hold—and encourage the onset of several physical and mental issues.

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Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle During the Holidays

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It is essential to maintain a healthy lifestyle. This becomes particularly difficult during the Christmas holidays when food becomes overflowing and simultaneous celebrations sway you toward overindulging your palate.

Experts stress that it is important to focus on having a healthy lifestyle during the upcoming holiday season. Harvard’s Medical School fellow, Dr Beth Frates, provides us with several tips on how to maintain a healthy lifestyle during the year-end celebrations.

Dr Frates mentions the necessity of maintaining your workout routine. She points out that people tend to forget their exercise routines during stressful situations. To halt such drastic decisions, however, she recommends integrating a new activity. People get easily stimulated when they are presented with new activities. She adds that it is also helpful to request for exercise-related gifts or even opt for holiday celebrations that allow you active participation.  Playing a simple game with the family, for example, can provide you with the opportunity to physically exert yourself.

It helps to maintain your habits, as well. Dr Frates stresses the need to track your routine. A healthy lifestyle cannot be easily attainable without the conscious effort to control what you do. Hence, recording what you eat and drink during every meal is beneficial. Keeping a record of your daily exercise routine is essential, as well. She says that your logbook permits you to measure your efforts and also allows you to approximate the level of indulgence you can appropriate for yourself during the holidays.

Dr Frates also shares that it is crucial to have a proper mindset. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle cannot be done without changing your point of view. A positive outlook in life is essential. Thus, it is best to throw away all the negative thoughts and pursue only the good vibes that typically accompany the holiday celebrations. Spending time with your family and loved ones can provide you with this, as well.

Food, she says, is an integral part of the upcoming celebrations. However, we should not forget that Christmas and New Year are both centered on new beginnings, as well. Hence, focusing on beneficial modifications and resolutions should be looked into. Banishing undesirable habits, addictions, and even people can greatly help shape—and maintain—a healthy lifestyle. Infusing yourself with good thoughts and plans can further contribute, as well. Allow yourself to discover new things, as well. Find loved ones to do outdoor activities with.

Finally, Dr Frates points out that overindulging yourself during this holiday season can still be a possibility. However, you shouldn’t limit yourself to your maintenance of a healthy lifestyle. Allow yourself to enjoy. The Christmas season is a time of celebration which specifically allows you to relax and be with your loved ones. It is the moment when you get to let your hair down and simply be yourself. She stresses that slipping up on your exercise routine, for instance, shouldn’t be a cause for worry. You can always start again, she adds.

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Beauty

Rapid Weight Loss and Healthy Living to Prevent Diabetes

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A new international study asserts that the best way to prevent diabetes is through maintaining healthy eating, doing regular physical activity, and promoting fast weight loss. Stopping the deadly and prevalent occurrence of diabetes is a major issue all across the world. While numerous lifestyle transitions proclaim a successful prevention of type 2 diabetes, new research stresses the significance of maintaining an overall healthy lifestyle.

To highlight the importance of observing World Diabetes Day, the PREVIEW (PREVention of diabetes through lifestyle Intervention and population studies in Europe and around the World) project points out its recent findings. The study did a comparison between a high-protein-and-low-sugar diet and a moderate-protein-and-moderate-sugar diet in relation to the maintenance of weight and the prevention of diabetes. Combining these two diets with either high-intensity and moderate-intensity exercise was also looked into.

Jennie Brand-Miller, Co-author and Professor of Human Nutrition at the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre, explains that the study provided significant results in connection to the lifestyle modifications that can possibly help people who have the predisposition to develop type 2 diabetes. She points out that there is, indeed, a better way to prevent diabetes.

“Overwhelmingly, participants who lost eight percent or more of their body weight in eight weeks and went on to complete the trial, did not develop diabetes within three years despite regaining some weight,” Brand-Miller stresses.

To prevent diabetes, the research was conducted in a span of three years in several countries simultaneously: Australia, Denmark, Spain, Finland, the Netherlands, Bulgaria, the UK, and New Zealand. The participants went through an eight-week weight reduction stage followed by a three-year weight preservation stage.

To achieve the required eight percent weight loss, the 2,326 participants, who were aged 25-70, had to follow several meal replacements. At the end of the said study, about 97% of the participants were able to maintain satisfactory weight loss. They were also able to prevent diabetes development.

“The most important finding in PREVIEW was the low incidence of diabetes in all groups at the end of the study,” Brand-Miller points out as she reiterates the necessity of maintaining a healthy lifestyle to prevent diabetes especially among those who are predisposed with the condition.

She highlights that there was no significant difference observed between the two diet categories or even between the two exercise intensity categories. Brand-Miller, however, notes that fewer participants who belonged in the high-protein diet category had normal sugar levels. In addition, she mentions that further research may provide better insight into the role of weight loss in the prevention of type 2 diabetes.

Nevertheless, the PREVIEW study provides crucial findings to help prevent diabetes occurrence as the prevalence of this disease is proving to be extensively worrisome. “We believe this approach has been more successful in reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes than any previous diabetes prevention study and represents a significant clinical advance in the treatment of pre-diabetes,” she adds.

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