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The truth about counting calories and how to really lose weight

Written by: Nick Jack
Category: 2014
on 08 September 2014
Hits: 6113

The long held belief for many, and what we have been told to believe is true for weight loss, is that to lose weight it is all about energy in versus energy out. I remember being taught this in my Personal Training course and even being shown how to get my clients to use software like Calorie King to help people track how many calories they have eaten. It is one of the biggest weight loss myths ever created and the source of frustration for so many people trying to lose weight, and unfortunately many so called weight loss experts, personal trainers and health practitioners still teach this ridiculous method. Which only adds to the confusion. 

What people must be educated to understand is that Calories are not created equal, the source of the calories is what is important. 

Identical calorie counts from fructose or glucose, fructose and protein, or fructose and fat, will cause entirely different metabolic effects on a person's body. The reason for the difference in metabolic effects is largely because different nutrients provoke different hormonal responses, and those hormonal responses determine how much fat your body will accumulate and hold on to. This is why the idea that you can lose weight by counting calories simply doesn't work.

There is several problems with calorie counting that you must consider.

  1. You can’t really trust that the calorie (and macronutrient) numbers you see on food packages are accurate. The way they are calculated is surprisingly imprecise and inconsistent.
  2. Plus, even if food package numbers were precise, once the food is cooked, or chopped, or blended, the amount of energy available for digestion and absorption changes.
  3. Then there’s what happens once that food enters your body.
  4. Calorie burn estimates with trackers like Fitbit are also very imprecise.
  5. Your stress levels, your history of weight gain and dieting can all dramatically influence your body's calorie expenditure.

As you can see it is not as simple as knowing how many calories you’re taking in with food or burning up with exercise as this can fluctuate significantly due to several unique factors.

After fructose, refined sugars and grains are among the most excessively consumed foods that also promote weight gain and chronic disease. And just to smash another long held belief on the head that simply isn't true, is the idea that obesity is the end result of eating too much and exercising too little; i.e. consuming more calories than you're expending. In our Metabolic Typing program the very first thing we get you to do is begin eliminating sugars and cutting back on grains.

In the book "The Fat Switch" by Dr. Richard Johnson he clearly demonstrates that calorie counting is fundamentally flawed when it comes to weight loss and places most of the blame on excessive fructose consumption. This shatters the myth that obesity is the result of eating too many calories and not exercising enough. Many things influence how much energy is coming in versus energy going out and the calculation is not as easy as reading a label. What is frequently overlooked is your body’s ability to burn fat as its primary fuel. Due to insulin and leptin resistance, most people have impaired enzymes to burn fat!

In order to actually gain a significant amount of weight, Dr. Johnson’s research shows that you have to do two things:

  1. Block your sensation of fullness, and
  2. Impair your body's ability to burn fat by down regulating the enzymes responsible for metabolizing fat.

What this means is that in order for you to become severely overweight you must first become leptin resistant. Leptin is a hormone that helps you regulate your appetite. When your leptin levels rise, it signals your body that you’re full, so you’ll stop eating. Refined sugar (in particular fructose) is exceptionally effective at causing leptin resistance in animals, and it’s also very effective at blocking the burning of fat...

Another important fact is if you’re insulin resistant and obese, it doesn’t take much fructose to activate the processes that will keep you fat.

Some of Dr. Johnson’s most recent research shows that the more high-fructose corn syrup you eat, (found in soft drinks and most processed foods) the more you absorb and the more you metabolize it. Meaning, eating fruits may be more of an issue if you are insulin resistant, whereas fruit intake is likely safer or even beneficial if you are lean and healthy. This helps explain the paradox of how some very fit people can eat a lot of fruit—which is rich in natural fructose—without gaining any weight.

I used to eat at least 5-6 pieces of fruit a day and never gained a kilo in weight. Yet when I started as a personal trainer I started to get everyone to do this and many clients put on significant amount of weight even though they were exercising more. Some people can do very well eating carbohydrates and fruits, lose a fair bit of weight and feel great, whereas others this same diet will have a disastrous effect on their health and their waistline.

Over the past 60 years or so, a confluence of dramatically altered foods combined with reduced physical exertion and increased exposure to toxic chemicals have created what amounts to a perfect storm. The extensive use of sugar—primarily in the form of high fructose corn syrup, which is added to virtually all processed foods—is at the heart of it all. But one also cannot underestimate the impact of chemistry, and the creation of truly addictive foods.

How To Get Your Body Back

If you are carrying more body fat than your ideal, what's the answer?

I believe there are three basic changes to implement right now. And if you do it right and stick to it for a period of time you will slowly begin to regain your lean body and achieve great health. This kind of diet will naturally shift your body from burning sugar to burning fat as its primary fuel, which will automatically help you shed excess weight, and counteract disease processes associated with a processed, high-sugar diet:

  1. 1. Avoid, sugar, refined fructose, grains, and processed foods
  2. Eat large amounts of vegetables and include low-to-moderate amount of high-quality protein (organic meat is best) with every meal.
  3. Eat as much high-quality healthful fat as you want (saturated and monounsaturated). For optimal health, most people need upwards of 50-85% of their daily calories in the form of fat.

Some people will do very well using the Keto Diet in combination with intermittent fasting.

The goal of following the Keto diet is to get your body into Ketosis. The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, adequate-protein, low-carbohydrate diet. The diet forces the body to burn fats rather than carbohydrates. Normally, the carbohydrates contained in food are converted into glucose. The keto diet makes your body more fat dependant and less carbohydrate dependant. The 16/8 Intermittent fasting involves fasting every day for 14–16 hours and restricting your daily eating window to 8–10 hours.

Both of these dietary methods work well together in forcing the body to use fat for its preferred fuel source and is now looked as a great way to combat Type 2 Diabetes and Obesity.

You will find a great deal of information about these two methods in the links below.

Now if you still don't believe that calorie counting is not the way to go then maybe you will believe Weight Watchers!

David Kirchoff, president of Weight Watchers, the world's largest diet company, recently said on their website:

"Calorie counting has become unhelpful. When we have a 100-calorie apple in one hand and a 100-calorie pack of cookies in the other, and we view them as being 'the same' because the calories are the same, it says everything that needs to be said about the limitations of just using calories in guiding food choices."

Kirchoff and Weight Watchers have eliminated the company's popular "Points" system, which encouraged dieters to lose weight by eating any foods as long as they kept the portions small. The new system tries to encourage dieters to consume more natural, less processed food.

According to Time Magazine: "The radical overhaul, which is the first major alteration to the Points program, comes at a time when Weight Watchers is trying to revive its recession-battered business."

Skinny Does Not Automatically Mean Healthy

The last point I would like to make about this is that even if you did lose weight from counting calories you could still be unhealthy! Simply losing weight does not guarantee great health. Many people can easily lose weight by adopting very unhealthy and even dangerous eating and exercise methods, so this is not a good way to measure your health. We must aspire to become healthy first and with time allow our body to reduce fat and overall body weight.

For many years I have not paid much attention to regularly weighing people on the scales, or doing skin fold measurements like so many other trainers and dieticians. I have seen many people become obsessed with what the scales would say and use extreme measures to make the number lower, even if it was at the at the expense of their health. 

Instead of focusing on what the scales say or, what your skin-fold measurements are, I prefer to measure my client’s progress by how well they execute the PROCESS to lose weight. What exactly do I mean by the process?

This is where I will look at things like

  • Their exercise log
  • The quality of their workouts
  • Measure strength and fitness via specific tests
  • How much sleep they get each night
  • The quality of food they eat
  • How often they eat
  • How they cope with or react to stress

All of these things are processes required to obtain great health, and consequently lose weight and improve fitness. If each one of these factors improves to a level better than it was before then they will achieve their ultimate goal of losing weight. It is impossible to change all of these things without the body making some positive changes. I do not want them to adopt an unrealistic or strict exercise and eating regime that compromises their sleep and stresses them out. For even if they do manage to lose weight they will certainly acquire a health problem later on.

Read the article - Why the scales are a poor measurement of health to see more on this


We could keep going and going with this information but I think you get the point. The best thing you can do if you want to lose weight is to avoid processed foods as much as you can, exercise regularly, and keep an eye on your stress levels. As a community we must take responsibility for our own bodies and acknowledge the various factors concerned with health. Exercise alone is not enough, and neither is dieting. A combination of the two combined strategies to reduce stress and increase our time moving is vital if we want to avoid the crippling diseases associated with weight gain.

Additional Resources to Help You with Exercise & Nutrition

I know there is a ton of information I have not included in this article with regards to how to lose weight. If you follow the links throughout the article they will take you to detailed articles relating to these questions. I also suggest to get a copy of our detailed report below that features everything you need to know about improving the immune system, heart health, and lung capacity. I created this report in September 2020 to include ALL of the relevant information relating to exercise and nutrition for improving our health. This is not about fitness but about improving your overall health vitality. Click here to download your instant PDF copy.

For more ideas and information on specific topics I may not have covered in detail be sure to check out our INDEX PAGE on the website that has over 200 of our best articles. These are all sorted into categories for quick reference so you can find what you are after more easily.

If you do need specific help with setting up an exercise and nutrition program please feel free to reach out to me for help by clicking the image below and we can set you up a free consultation to discuss how to get you started.



About The Author

Nick Jack is owner of No Regrets Personal Training and has over 15 years’ experience as a qualified Personal Trainer, Level 2 Rehabilitation trainer, CHEK practitioner, and Level 2 Sports conditioning Coach. Based in Melbourne Australia he specializes in providing solutions to injury and health problems for people of all ages using the latest methods of assessing movement and corrective exercise.

Additional References:

  • Obesity Paradox - By Carl J. Lavie M.D.
  • Movement - By Gray Cook
  • How To Eat, Move & Be Healthy by Paul Chek
  • Heart foundation
  • Precision Nutrition 
  • Nutrition & Physical Degeneration - By Weston A Price
  • Big Fat Lies - By David Gillespie