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I was watching The Today Show the other day and happened to catch one of their regular segments Eat This Not That with David Zinczenko. During the segment, David takes us through examples of foods we eat and calorie saving substitutions we can make. The premise is that smarter choices equals weight loss. This is true. We often eat things without thought, taking in many more calories than we would have, had we just given it a little thought. What is disappointing is that David, along with many other nutritionists and doctors, reduces the human body to a simple math equation.

Most believe that calories in equals calories out. According to this theory, if we save 100 calories per day, in 35 days we will lose one pound of body fat. This is because one pound of fat contains 3500 calories. Seems simple, right? The problem with this theory is that it is based on simple math. The human body is a complex living machine that is far from simple.

When you fill your car up with gasoline, do you always get the same number of miles per tank? Of course not! There are many variables to consider: tire pressure, quality of fuel, condition of engine components, air temperature, humidity, weight of vehicle and most importantly, the driver. I think we all agree that the human body is infinitely more complicated than an automobile. So if simple math doesn’t work for your car, then why would it work for your body?

The first problem is the assumption that one pound of non-living body fat (fat that is disconnected from a living body), which contains 3500 calories, behaves the same as that which is alive. Adipose tissue, or body fat, has it’s own metabolism which is controlled by a complex array of hormones and chemicals. There is also no distinction made between brown and white adipose tissue. Brown adipose cells contain many more mitochondria than their white counterparts and actually generate heat by burning calories.

Secondly, when talking about carbohydrates, their is often no distinction made between the different types of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates with a high glycemic index raise insulin levels faster and thus promote weight gain. On a recent broadcast of the Today Show, Joy Bauer, another contributor, stated that a banana was the best snack to eat. With a glycemic index of 54, it is hardly the best fruit to eat.

There are numerous hormones that can affect weight loss. Imbalances in insulin, cortisol, leptin, adiponectin, growth hormone and/or thyroid hormones can sabotage anyone’s weight loss. Additionally testosterone and estrogens can also come into play.
Overall health must also be considered. An epidemic of thyroid disease, diabetes and insulin resistance plagues millions who are trying to lose weight. Toxic load, viruses, neurotransmitters, hidden food intolerances and allergies are often completely ignored. And let’s not forget about exercise!

Calorie counting for a month or two can prove to be a valuable learning experience. It will bring awareness to one’s diet as you’ll be forced to read labels! If you’re seriously exceeding your daily calorie requirements, this method will help you lose weight. Otherwise, it’s futile as a long term strategy for weight loss in moderate to difficult cases. If you’re eating right, exercising and still not losing, then investigating some of the things I’ve mentioned can help.

If you feel that you need to count something to keep yourself on track, do yourself a favor and count your carbohydrate grams. It’s easier and you’ll have a greater degree of success. Don’t ignore glycemic index either, as not all carbohydrates are created equal!

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