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Diet Fallacy #6: "Count Your Calorie Intake to Control Your Weight"

July 1, 2005 07:34 AM

Are You At Risk? You May Be Compromising Your Health
? If You Count Your Calories These Popular Ways

The Top Ten Diet Fallacies ?
Separating the Facts from the Fantasy
By Ori Hofmekler, author of The Warrior Diet

Calorie counting has been widely regarded as a reliable method for weight management.

But is it really?

Some of the most established diets today ? including Weight Watchers and the calorie-redistricting diet (CR) ? use calorie counting as a principal way of controlling energy intake. Researchers and vets have also used it as a standard measurement for feeding.

Yet, in spite of its reputation and wide appeal, calorie counting fails to provide the long-term benefit of staying lean and healthy.

The reason:

Real life involves dynamic changes that aren't included in the typical calculation of calorie counting. One cannot overlook the profound effects of life changes on our body.

The human body (like other animals), carries survival mechanisms which regulate utilization of fuel and generation of energy, in response to changes in environmental conditions. Our basal (basic) metabolic rate (BMR) fluctuates according to changes in physical activity, food availability and overall calorie intake.

For instance, low calorie intake generally promotes a BMR decline whereas high calorie intake generally promotes an overall increase in BMR. Since calorie counting is based on a fixed BMR (many health clubs provide machines that check BMR), it often fails to provide a real life measurement of energy balance (surplus or deficit of calories).

Athletes and bodybuilders who use calorie counting to improve body composition should be aware of the downside of this method.

All calories are not created equal:

The calories you stockpile from sugar cause more fat gain than the calories you absorb from grains or nuts.

The human body has adapted to utilize calories derived from certain food combinations better than calories derived from others.

Same calories that cause fat gain in one food combination can induce fat loss in another (see fallacy # 4).

Timing is another factor which is often overlooked by the avid calorie counter:

Same carb calories that could be very beneficial when consumed right after exercise, (increasing protein synthesis in the muscle) may be harmful if consumed before exercise (increasing cortisol levels ? see fallacy #2).
Are You Dieting at the Expense of Your Sex Drive?

One of the most controversial diets today is the calorie restriction diet (CR). CR is based on the assumption that chronic calorie restriction increases life span. Many anti-aging advocates endorse this dietary approach because they are adamantly convinced that CR reduces the overall metabolic stress and thereby increases life span.

There are, however, a few concerns regarding CR:

1. CR can often lower the body temperature, which may be a sign of lower thyroid activity and a total metabolic decline.
2. CR can cause a substantial loss of libido. CR is often associated with declining sex hormone levels and an impaired ability to maintain vigor, potency or fertility.
3. CR compromises one's ability to endure intense exercise and for that matter, build muscles.

Recent studies on intermittent fasting (one day fasting followed by one day overeating twice as many calories) at the Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, found that feeding cycles based on periodic fasting and overeating, provided superior benefits than CR.

According to Dr. Mark Mattson, professor of neuroscience and head of the research team at Johns Hopkins University, intermittent fasting increases mice resistance to degenerative diseases (Diabetes, Parkinson, Alzheimer and Strokes) while improving body composition (lean mass/fat) and increasing life span more than the calorie restricted mice. Note that the above studies were done on mice and rats. More studies are required to fully understand the effects of similar feeding cycles on humans.
The Hidden Costs of Calorie Restriction

Saying all that, calorie counting can still be used as an accurate way to evaluate food energy intake. If used correctly, calorie counting can help measure the effect of calorie intake on nutrient utilization.

Indeed, studies by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have established that overall calorie intake positively affects protein utilization. High calorie intake (about 20% surplus) maximizes protein utilization and vice versa, low calorie intake decreases protein utilization. Active individuals should take advantage of this knowledge by incorporating specially designed high calorie meals, preferably at night (see fallacy # 1).

In conclusion:
Calorie counting can be used as a standard measurement of food energy intake. However, it should not be applied as a principle dietary approach to avoid consequent adverse metabolic set backs and impaired performance.
Ori Hofmekler is the author of The Warrior Diet and Maximum Muscle, Minimum Fat, published by Dragon Door Publication. For more information on the Warrior Diet Fat Loss Program and Controlled Fatigue Training (CFT), workshops and certification seminars log onto or call 818-992-1994 (866)WAR-DIET. For personal and group training in L.A. call 818-992-1962.