Updated: Jun 11, 2018
Most experts accept that weight loss and weight gain are most influenced
by calorie balance, which is the difference between how many calories
you take in and how many you expend.
However, what is the BEST way to control calories.
Is it calorie counting? Meal plans? Something else?
Keep reading to find out!
THE PROBLEM WITH CALORIE COUNTING
Part 1: ‘Calories In’
Counting calories for weight is not exact science.
Calorie counts are imprecise;
We don’t absorb all of the calories we consume; How you prepare food changes its calorie load;
Individuals absorb calories uniquely and variably; and People aren’t great at eyeballing portion sizes...
...calorie counting may not be worth the work.
So, now what?
PART 2: ‘CALORIES OUT’
Tracking the calories you burn can be problematic.
calorie burn estimates are imprecise;
Individuals burn calories differently;
What and how much you eat influences the calories you’ll burn; and
Your weight history influences how many calories you’ll burn...
...counting ‘calories out’ may be less reliable than you think.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
Keep things simple:
Commit to a daily movement practice and ballpark food portions using a hand measurement system.
FORGET CALORIE COUNTING
Here’s the good news: counting calories is rarely necessary.
Is there a better way? Yes! Just take a look at your hand. Use your fist, palm, cupped hand, and thumb to practice calorie control – while avoiding the hassle of counting calories.
Carbon Elevation and Precision Nutrition coaching programs gauge food portions differently. No carrying around weigh-scales and measuring cups. No calculators or smart phones.
All you need is the ability to count to two. And your own hand. Here’s how it works:
Your palm determines your protein portions.
Your fist determines your veggie portions.
Your cupped hand determines your carb portions.
Your thumb determines your fat portions.
Planning your meals flexibly
Based on the guidelines above, which assume you’ll be eating about 4 times a day, you now have a simple and flexible guide for meal planning.
2 palms of protein dense foods with each meal;
2 fists of vegetables with each meal;
2 cupped hands of carb dense foods with most meals;
2 entire thumbs of fat dense foods with most meals.
1 palm of protein dense foods with each meal;
1 fist of vegetables with each meal;
1 cupped hand of carb dense foods with most meals;
1 entire thumb of fat dense foods with most meals.
Of course, just like any other form of nutrition planning — including calorie counting – this serves as a starting point.
You can’t know exactly how your body will respond in advance. So stay flexible and adjust your portions based on your hunger, fullness, and other important goals.
For example: if you’re trying to gain weight, and you’re having trouble gaining, you might add another cupped palm of carbohydrates or another thumb of fats. Likewise, if you’re trying to lose weight but seem to have stalled out, you might eliminate a cupped palm of carbohydrates or a thumb of fats at particular meals.
Remember: This is a starting point. Adjust your portions at any time using outcome-based decision making, aka “How’s that working for you?”
Want more individualization?
For those who want to go further with coaching – because they have more advanced goals or because they’re already eating well but still struggling – let’s dig a little deeper.
I have a really simple shortcut for helping people “eat right for their body type”.
I begin by classifying clients into one of three general categories (or somatotypes):
I types (ectomorphs),
V types (mesomorphs), and
O types (endomorphs).
And each type gets slightly different recommendations.
MEAL PLANS USUALLY SUCK
Here are 6 better ways to transform your diet.
Almost every client starts out asking for a meal plan. The only problem? Meal plans usually suck. Instead, check out these 6 ways to transform your diet in a sustainable way.
“Do I get a meal plan?”
This is the most common question we get from folks who are considering, or just started with Carbon Elevation.
The answer: No, I don’t do meal plans.
Most of the time, meal plans don’t work
You see, traditional meal plans are explicit prescriptions. Eat this exact thing, in this exact amount, at this exact time.
You might be thinking, “Good! I want a plan. I’m sick of trying to figure all this stuff out! Just tell me what to eat!”
Unfortunately, when we try to follow rigid prescriptions like this, lots can (and often does) go wrong.
You just don’t/can't stick to the plan
No matter how enthusiastic you are, meal plans can be tough to follow.
This is normal. Life can get in the way.
People get busy,
we’re not always prepared,
kids get sick,
bosses expect you to work late,
it’s always someone’s birthday (or a special holiday), and
sometimes you just don’t feel like having a protein bar at 10am.
Unfortunately, it means you might not get the results you hope for.
You follow the plan perfectly
In fact, you follow it too well and for too long.
Most meal plans are meant to be temporary.
They’re designed to help a person get to a specific short-term goal, like dropping a few extra pounds before a wedding, learning to manage blood sugar, or cutting weight for an athletic competition.
Our bodies can usually adapt to a rigid way of eating for a short period of time.
But if you’re too strict for too long, you could wind up with disordered eating habits and lasting health (mental, metabolic, hormonal, etc) consequences.
You follow the plan for a little while but it sucks
It isn’t sustainable. It doesn’t make you feel better. It doesn’t keep you sane. Maybe you see some short-term results (or not). But you hate living and eating this way. You never want to see another stupid piece of lettuce or 4 ounces of chicken.
Then you quit altogether. You conclude that “eating healthy” sucks. And you miss your big chance to learn how to make healthier, more enjoyable, more lasting and real changes.
Another reason meal plans fail
One of the biggest issues with meal plans is their focus on “nutrients”.
And Real people don’t eat “nutrients”. We eat food.
We eat meals, often with other people. We eat meals that match our cultural background and social interests. And we rarely measure things precisely.
Sure, sometimes a specific prescription is necessary.
But most of us don’t need that level of nutrition precision.
Bottom line: If you want to eat better, you don’t have to get weird about things. You don’t need to weigh and measure everything, or count out your almonds.
You just need to think about what you’re already eating, and how you could make it a little bit better. Making small changes and improvements to what you already normally eat and enjoy, one small step at a time.
Welcome to the meal transformation game
Experiment with variables like:
what you eat; and
how you eat it.
Meal transformation is not about reaching perfection.
Start by making "just a little bit better" choices in the foods you eat. Ask how can I make this meal just a little bit better?
Maybe that means setting aside a little extra time to enjoy your meal as opposed to "rushing and panicked". Maybe you switch out one of those cups of coffee for some green tea. Maybe that means meal prepping on a Sunday so you make a healthier lunch choice over fastfood.
How far you progress all depends on what YOU want, what YOU need, and what YOU can reasonably do, right now.
Over time, things can change.