There are many faulty nutrition beliefs sabotaging our health, but strict calorie-focused thinking, which equates 100 calories of Oreo cookies with 100 calories of salmon, is easily one the most harmful. Salmon is high in protein, which the body processes much differently from a food like Oreos, which are high in sugar and carbohydrates.
In fact, the body burns twice as many calories processing a food like salmon that is high in protein compared to one that is predominantly carbs. In addition, the omega-3 fat in salmon actually stimulates calorie expenditure by raising body temperature.
On the other hand, the high sugar content of an Oreo cookie activates a pathway in the brain that is linked to increased hunger and cravings. It also lowers energy use and promotes sleep, reducing the amount of calories you burn.
Instead of wasting your time focusing on calories, here are ten things to try instead:
#1: Choose High-Quality Foods: Fish, Meat, Plants, Nuts & Dairy
Focus on nutrient-rich, whole foods instead of a rigid calorie focused view that only accounts for the energy while disregarding how your body responds to those calories.
#2: Eat Protein At Every Meal
Plan EVERY meal (including breakfast) around high-quality protein (fish, eggs, meat, beans) for better satiety, reduced hunger, and steadier blood sugar and insulin levels.
#3: Avoid Refined Grains
Use the thermic effect of food to your advantage. Avoid refined carbs and ultra processed foods in favor of vegetables, fruit, beans, and boiled grains.
#4: Steer Clear of Caloric Beverages
Avoid sugar-sweetened beverages and alcohol in favor of water, coffee, and tea.
#5: Train For Performance Not To Burn Calories
Stop exercising to burn calories and start training for performance. Do exercise modes that promote lean mass, such as weight training and intervals.
#6: Enjoy Dietary Fat
Don’t be afraid of healthy fat. Nuts, avocados, olive oil, seeds, and omega-3 fat from fish can promote better weight management.
#7: Ignore Food Marketing
Food marketers love the idea that “a calorie is a calorie” because it puts soda, chips, and ice cream on the same playing field as broccoli and apples. Protect yourself with education from scientifically reputable sources.
#8: Don’t Be Sedentary
Make a conscious effort to be as active as possible in daily life. We know—you’re sick of hearing that you’re sitting too much, but studies consistently show that the more active people are, the leaner they are. Get a pedometer, take frequent walks, take the stairs, but whatever you do, you’ve got to get yourself moving throughout the day.
#9: Cope With Your Stress
Stress raises levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Too much cortisol triggers hunger and cravings for processed foods, making it harder to stick with high-quality whole foods that give you the biggest bang for your calorie buck.
#10: Limit Your Eating
Try time-restricted eating in which you eat only within a 10- or 12-hour period daily. New technology shows many people are eating 14, 16 or even 18 hours a day, which makes it SO much harder to achieve an energy deficit.
Lucan, S., DiNicolantino, J. How calorie-focused thinking about obesity and related diseases may mislead and harm public health. An alternative. Public Health Nutrition. 2015. 18(4), 571-581.
Monteiro, C., Cannon, G. The Calories Don’t Add Up. Public Health Nutrition. 2015. 18(4), 569–570.