Why Calorie-Counting Doesn’t Work for Weight Loss

Happy Friday! Remember to sign up for PWN's Giveaway announced on Wednesday - you can win free stuff AND help Haiti at the same time! Go here to read more.

I used to be a calorie-counter. Not because I wanted to lose weight or because of any sort of fad diet book I was reading, but because I thought maintaining my current weight was a simple math problem: calories in – calories out = net calories for the day. So I had this number in my head of how many calories I could eat to stay the way I was, knowing that 3,500 calories is equal to 1 pound. But a few years ago I realized this was not a healthy approach to food and eating because it was causing some bad habits: tendency to eat foods that are low-fat or sugar-free; lack of variety in the diet; and even skipping meals so I could eat a bigger dinner if I had plans to go out. Plus, it just wasn’t fun!

So, I was happy to see the title of a chapter in a book I am reading for my Nutrients class: “Why Calorie Counting Fails & What to Do to Lose Weight”. I think this is an important topic because so many people have the same thinking I did, that low-calorie foods are key to weight loss, but they don’t realize that the key to weight loss is a balanced body. If we are not giving our body fresh, whole foods, it will not digest and metabolize properly, which can lead to funky things like fluctuations in energy level and mood, fat stores, blood sugar issues, and even weight gain.

In my opinion, the key to weight loss is this: eat fresh, whole foods and vary your meals often; wait at least 4 hours in between each meal; drink plenty of water; and EXERCISE every single day.

Here are some of the points from the chapter in the book we read (Fats That Heal, Fats That Kill by Udo Erasmus):

  • Many factors besides calories affect our weight. If we fail to consider other nutrient and life-style factors, calorie counting will fail.
  • When we eat proper amounts of all essential nutrients, we feel satisfied and full; if we eat empty calorie foods, our body tells us it wants more nutrients by telling us “I’m hungry!” and so we eat more.
  • Foods that lack fiber and other nutrients (processed foods) slow down our intestinal activity: they take 75 hours to pass through the intestinal tract, and our body absorbs calories that entire time; nutrient-dense whole foods take only 15 hours to pass though.
  • Food cannot be metabolized unless we have enough minerals and vitamins. SO, empty calorie foods (processed foods such as pudding cups, potato chips, sugary yogurts, frozen meals, cake mixes, and pop tarts) are immediately stored as fat, no matter how many calories we are eating.
  • Processed foods have the following items removed: minerals, vitamins, and essential fatty acids. This is why these foods cause us to feel tired, hungry and like we have no energy.
  • “There are so many factors that modify the rate at which our body burns calories that simply regulating the number of calories we consume is ineffective in the battle against the bulge.”
  • At high levels of intake, essential fatty acids increase our metabolism, increase fat burning, and lead to weight loss (examples are olive, flaxseed or coconut oils, seeds, nuts, salmon, halibut, etc.).

  • Genes, hormones, nutrition, exercise, and health all affect metabolic rate, therefore affecting rate of weight loss or gain. Essential fatty acids, B-complex vitamins, and minerals all increase efficiency of metabolism and rate of weight loss.
  • One hour of exercise increases our metabolism for 12-16 hours. Not to mention it increases mood, confidence, heart health, and so many other things! (Can you tell I’m trying to emphasis the exercise here?!).
  • Refined sugars are absorbed very quickly and our body immediately turns them into fat to prevent toxic reactions.
  • 30% of Americans are “fat and starving,” meaning they are eating enough calories but they are eating junk, and not enough nutrient-dense foods. America is the only country where you can be "poor and fat," because of our cheap processed foods.

It’s a lot of good information. The author is obviously passionate about his theory that people need fats and should not avoid them as an attempt to lose weight. I think he made some great points, but I want to add that another reason (and possibly the most important reason) why low-calorie diets can be harmful is the potential for long-term disease and poor health. If your body is not receiving the vitamins, minerals and fats it needs for extended periods of time, it will be out of balance and this leads to disease.

So, again, it all comes back to eating fresh whole foods and avoiding processed foods. As Michael Pollen says: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”



First of all, thanks to everyone who has signed up for my FIRST GIVEAWAY! If you haven't yet, please do - you have until Wednesday the 24th. I am giving away an awesome cookbook written by well-known food bloggers, and it benefits Haiti! Read more about it here.

Bagels are used in so many ways – bagels and cream cheese, breakfast bagels with egg and sausage, lunch sandwich bagels, mini bagels, bagel chips… there are even square bagels, or “squagels”. Some places have turned them into more of a dessert than anything else, creating them with chocolate chips, cinnamon and sugar, asiago cheese, or even caramel.

For those who have asked about bagels, the honest answer is that they are not the most nutrient-dense foods out there (nutrient-dense foods are high in nutrients, low in calories – think vegetables). BUT, that doesn’t mean we can’t eat them, of course! We just need to choose wisely.

Whole wheat bagels can be found fairly easily now. Wheat, in its most unrefined, natural state, provides many nutrients including manganese, fiber, tryptophan and magnesium. Whole wheat bagels provide some of these nutrients too (but they are still not the strongest food sources of them).

Manganese is needed for strong bones, proper absorption of other nutrients (they all depend on one another, which is why variety in your diet is so incredibly important), steady blood sugar levels, and protection of cells from free radical damage (which leads to diseases such as cancer). Other foods high in manganese include pineapple, brown rice, garbanzo beans, spinach, whole grain rye, whole grain oats and cloves. If you are not getting enough manganese in your diet, you may be experiencing skin rashes, high blood sugar, bone loss, or reproductive system difficulties, among other things.

Fiber supports regular bowels and helps to maintain healthy cholesterol and blood sugar levels. It is also crucial for those wanting to lose weight, because it keeps your digestive system functioning properly. Other sources of fiber include split peas, lentils, barley, all types of beans, collard greens and even raspberries! People with high blood sugar, high cholesterol or constipation may need more fiber in their diet.

Tryptophan is an important amino acid because it helps regulate appetite, improve quality of sleep and elevate our mood. Our bodies need amino acids in order to create proteins. Tryptophan is one of the essential amino acids, meaning it must be obtained from food (vs. nonessential amino acids, which are synthesized by the body). Other food sources of tryptophan include tuna, soybeans, beef and chicken, nuts, seeds, bananas and dairy products. If you are experiencing cravings for carbohydrates, depression, anxiety, unexpected weight gain or loss or impulsiveness, your tryptophan levels may be too low.

Magnesium is a natural muscle relaxer, helps keep bones healthy and improves blood circulation. Other foods containing high amounts of magnesium include spinach, swiss chard, pumpkin seeds, salmon, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, black beans and halibut. Signs of a magnesium deficiency include high blood pressure, muscle spasms, fluctuations in blood sugar and headaches.

One thing to remember is that “wheat” is not the same thing as “whole wheat”. Wheat usually has certain parts of the grain removed, and can be lacking in important nutrients. Whole wheat, however, is the complete grain and a more wholesome food. Remember what I said last week about eating the entire egg, not just the egg white, in order to get all of the health benefits? The same goes with the grain. Always choose whole wheat over plain wheat, and if you’re not sure if something is whole, don’t be afraid to ask. The Ezekiel (Food For Life) brand of bagels sold in many health food stores is great because they are made from sprouted grains, which are easier for us to digest.

Whereas whole wheat bagels can contain many important nutrients, plain white bagels are considered a simple carbohydrate and don’t do much for us other than elevate our blood sugar and lead to increased hunger and sugar cravings throughout the day. Whenever possible, try to choose whole grain bagels. If those are not available, choose one that has oats or seeds.

Topping your bagel is another topic, but here’s my two cents: stick to the nutrient-dense foods like smoked salmon, eggs, veggies, hummus, turkey, or nut butter. Try to avoid processed cheeses, cream cheese, mayo, etc.

And remember that bagels are high-calorie foods, containing 300-450 calories each (not including toppings). If you’re heading into your office cube for the day, you may not need such a high-carb, high-calorie breakfast. But if you’re heading up to Vail to ski 12 inches of fresh snow all day, it may be just what your body needs! In other words, use judgment when choosing to eat a bagel for breakfast. Sometimes I just eat half if it’s the only option, and it’s plenty to keep me full as long as I top it with some good fats and protein.


PWN’s First Giveaway!

Most blogs do giveaways, and I haven’t done one yet. Some of you have casually mentioned I should do one, but I was waiting for the right giveaway to come along. Well, I found it.

The Blog Aid: Recipes for Haiti Cookbook!

The Blog Aid cookbook was created by Julie Van Rosendaal, blogger over at Dinner With Julie. Julie and 26 other amazing food bloggers teamed up. They’ve combined some of their best recipes – everything from red quinoa salad to roasted tomato soup with sage to whole wheat pumpkin spice muffins with cinnamon cream cheese glaze. Julie coordinated the entire thing in about three weeks, as a direct response to the earthquakes in Haiti. 100% of proceeds from the Blog Aid cookbook will go directly to Haiti relief efforts, including Doctors Without Borders and Red Cross. Over 1,800 cookbooks were sold in a little over a week, and almost $50,000 was raised (including matched funds). What a success! Read more about the cookbook here.

This cookbook includes recipes from some of the most well known food bloggers out there, like Gluten-Free Girl, Savory Sweet Life, Tartelette and Tea & Cookies. It is no longer for sale and guess what… I have an extra copy!

To enter, simply leave a comment on this blog. Make sure you leave your e-mail address so I can contact you, OR check back next week to see if you're the winner! If you receive PWN blog by e-mail, you'll need to go to the actual blog to leave a comment.

If you are on Twitter, tweet this giveaway for a second entry (please include a link to the blog post and my Twitter name, @annpierce, so I can give you the second entry). Please encourage your friends to enter as well!

You’ll have until Wednesday, February 24th to enter. Thanks and good luck!


Beautiful Blogger Award, continued!

Yesterday, I accepted the Beautiful Blogger award from Sara, the lawyer/ newlywed/ runner/ fashionista/ decorator/ cook/ world traveler who blogs here. I came up with 10 things you may not know about me, but today is the fun part. I get to introduce you to some of my favorite bloggers and hope you will start following these lovely ladies’ blogs (yes, they all happen to be female)!

1. Haute Apple Pie: Katie, Stef and Anne - You’ve heard me mention them before, and I even got to guest blog at the beginning of the year! These ladies really are the hostesses with the mostess, and they work hard to teach us how to be one too! Looking for the perfect spring break getaway? I have a feeling these three have some ideas up their sleeves…

2. The Social Secretary: Katie’s new blog has already covered a lot of ground – from a Mad Men-inspired party to a baby shower to gifts for the hostess who has it all, this girl knows what to do. And, she’s taken it upon herself to show us. I mean, who doesn’t want their very own social secretary? I’ve put in my request for a St. Patrick’s Day cocktail party, and can’t wait to see what she comes up with!

3. Elimination Diet by Umami: This blog is all about clean, healthy eating. Miriam journeyed through an Elimination Diet and blogged her recipes to prove that you can still eat wonderful foods on the diet. Just reading Miriam’s recipes and seeing her beautiful photos makes you crave those fresh, colorful foods! Miriam was a classmate at my school, Nutrition Therapy Institute, and will be starting a chef program very soon. She’s an amazing cook and a wonderful person.

4. Free Fly Flown: Colleen blogs about travel. If you feel like you need a vacation, head over to FFF and let her take you away somewhere. Her recent post on Anguilla was especially tempting. But I’d have to say my favorite part of Colleen’s blog is the travel fashion. I love having someone show me the hottest bags, shades and bikinis for my getaways! Her love of travel is obvious and the girl gets around, so head over and see where she’s going next!

5. Family Feeding Dynamics: If you have kids, this is a good one to add to your list. Katja is a family doctor but focuses on helping families raise healthy kids. She emphasizes a healthy, normal relationship with food and works to reduce the number of kids, teenagers and adults with poor body images and unhealthy eating habits. The best part about her blog is the personal aspect of it – she has a toddler and shares stories about her struggles and successes with her own daughter.

6. Fed Up With School Lunch: This woman is absolutely AMAZING. I already think being a teacher is one of the most difficult jobs, and Mrs. Q is taking things one step further: she has committed to eating the school cafeteria lunch every single day in 2010. You should see some of the things these kids are fed (she takes photos)! I admire her very much and her commentary is so interesting and informative. Recently I asked her to comment on the length of time kids are allowed for eating, because I feel that eating when rushed and in a high-stress environment can be harmful to their little digestive systems. Turns out they get 20 minutes, which includes getting lunch, finding a seat, eating, throwing away, and getting back into your classroom. Crazy! This blog is truly fascinating.

I think six blogs is enough to leave you with – catching up with these ladies should last you until Friday at least J. Remember the rules, bloggers! To accept the award, you must acknowledge the person who sent it to you, list 10 things about yourself that your readers may not know, and pass it on to other bloggers you feel are deserving!

Tomorrow: Party’s over, back to nutrition.

Blog Award!

It’s Monday, and I’m going to take a couple days off of nutrition blogging. Yay!


Because Sara, from the blog Running From the Law, has passed on the Beautiful Blogger award to me. Here are the rules of the award:

1. Thank the person who nominated you and insert a link to their blog.

2. Pass on the Beautiful Blogger award to other bloggers (and let them know).

3. Say 10 things about yourself.

Sara is a newlywed who blogs about creating a home and a life, including things like vacations, cooking classes and do-it-yourself projects. I learned how to hang photos in my stairway by following her instructions here. She hung about 40 frames and I hung two, but who’s counting?

See Sara’s stairwell here.

My stairwell:

Sara and my sister Alice are friends and both live in St. Louis. So, another reason I love Sara’s blog is because I can get caught up on what Alice is doing! They do things like take cooking classes together and run races together.

And I cannot forget to mention the absolutely gorgeous wedding Sara and her husband Ryan had in Jackson Hole. I mean, the groom rode in on a horse! Check out the photos here. Thanks, Sara, for passing on this award to me! I am glad to have a break from nutrition blogging!

10 Things About Myself

You guys know I love nutrition and every once in a while I mention a few other things about my personal life, but here are some of the things you may NOT know about me:

1. I hunt. My dad taught my sisters, brother and me how to hunt when we were young and we all make it back to Minnesota almost every year to shoot some ducks and pheasants. He grew up hunting with his family and has continued the tradition with us. Hunting with my family is one of my favorite childhood memories and I hope the tradition stays in our family for a long time. Plus, it’s stunningly beautiful, a very intense workout, extremely satisfying and exciting to shoot a pheasant or duck, and there is nothing better than eating fresh, wild pheasant! So healthy for you (that’s a blog post for another day… wild pheasant or duck vs. farmed!). Below: Ed and me hunting, and my sis Madeline and me with our dog Mayme!


2. I am learning to flyfish. My husband Ed loves it and has started to teach me. I have my own waders and boots and rod, and we’ve fished in Colorado many times; in Montana with my mom and dad (my mom loves to flyfish too); and in Wyoming. We have some flyfishing excursions planned for 2010 as well. It’s really fun and, like hunting, just so beautiful to be outside on the river. It’s a little less intense than hunting (think fly rod vs. gun) and I hope it’s something Ed and I can do together for a long time.

Now I feel like I need to redeem myself a bit and reclaim my femininity…

3. I love reality tv. It’s my escape from the stresses of life. The Bachelor and 16 & Pregnant/Teen Mom are my two favorites right now. Biggest Loser is up there too. I cannot stand Jersey Shore. I think it’s boring and dumb. But I seriously look forward to Mondays so I can sit and watch The Bachelor.

4. My sibs are my best friends. It wasn’t always that way though – Alice was mean to me; I was mean to Madeline; and we were all tough on Teddy. But luckily that’s all changed and now it’s just funny to remember those times. Teddy lives in Denver too, so Ed and I are lucky to be able to spend time with him and his girlfriend Allison (who we love). We are so thankful to have family in Denver. Alice and her husband Ryan live in St. Louis, and Madeline lives in Cincinnati.


5. Ed and I love to walk to restaurants. Once we walked to our favorite restaurant, Duo, from our house. It was 6 ½ miles each way. The food tasted amazing by the time we got there. And by the time we got home, we’d done a half marathon of walking (13 miles total!) so our food was digested and we slept really well.

6. I have taken the Myers-Briggs test three times for various reasons (school, work, etc.). Each time, it said I was an extrovert. But I’ve always thought I was more of an introvert, so maybe I’m half of each.

7. I love winter. I used to prefer summer or spring or even fall, but that changed. Snow is beautiful and winter sports are so much fun – skiing, snowshoeing, running or walking in the snow… I don’t think I could ever live somewhere that didn’t have winter weather. Ed and I even chose to get married in Minnesota in January, and it was -11 degrees on our wedding day.

8. I have a speech impediment. I’ve had it since I could talk and had to take speech therapy classes throughout grade school and high school, and even in college I took a few to help me prepare for job interviews. I have trouble saying my “ch” and “sh”. This is a source of endless entertainment for my friends and siblings. My little sister Madeline and I shared a bedroom when she grew out of her crib, so as she was learning to talk, she picked up the same speech impediment. Sorry, Madsie!

9. I invited every girl in my grade to my 9th birthday party, without telling my parents. Only 1 couldn’t make it. There were 40 girls at my party, and I got 6 koosh balls, 3 skip- its, and 2 skip sticks. After that, my parents made us write “no gifts please” on all birthday invitations. My siblings still resent me for it.

10. I’m working on my decorating skills. It takes a lot of trial and error. My sister Alice is really good – minimalist and modern, but still very warm and personal. Ed’s mom is an amazing decorator, and she’s helped us out a lot in our home. Our most recent project was our bedroom. I think we did a pretty good job – definitely an improvement from its original state! And yes, Ed and I did do it all ourselves. Below: our bedroom Before & After!

Tomorrow I’m going to pass the Beautiful Blogger award on to some of my favorite bloggers! I can’t wait to share them with you.