It’s amazing how much time and effort we all spend counting calories! It’s understood that weight loss is all about basic math (weight loss = more calories burned than consumed), but how much time and effort goes into monitoring the exact number of calories you eat every single day? It can be quite hard to skip out on your favorite foods just because they’re too high in calories, and it’s mentally draining to spend your entire day counting calories. But according to a team of researchers at the University of California at San Diego, counting calories can actually be BAD for you!
How is This Possible?
The reason you count calories is to make sure that you are eating less food than you burn on a daily basis. It’s hard to know exactly what you burn, but it is possible to be strict with your eating habits. For this reason, most people count calories consumed rather than trying to track calories burned.
But the team of researchers at UCSD found that counting calories may actually be bad for you! Why is this? Simple: it makes you more likely to cheat on your diet. Let me explain…
The researchers at UCSD measured the cognitive abilities of dieters (both oblivious eaters and calorie-counters). They were given simple problem-solving tests, tests on concentration, and creative thinking tests. During the test, however, the researchers placed one of two objects in the room: a full water jug or an empty box of donuts.
The results were shocking: those who counted calories had a harder time focusing on what they were doing when the empty bakery box was in the room. How is this possible? According to the researchers, just seeing the bakery box reminded the participants of the foods they weren’t allowed to eat, and it triggered stressful thoughts on how to fit a sweet treat into their daily meal plan without overdoing it on the calories. The empty box distracted them from their tests, overloading their brains and making it harder for them to concentrate on what they were doing.
So what does this mean for you? Simply put, it means that counting calories is going to be mentally taxing. There are food reminders EVERYWHERE: billboards, TV, books, your car, your office, and the list goes on. You can’t turn a corner in our country without being reminded of some food, drink, snack, or treat. If you are the type of person to count calories, these reminders are just going to stress you out and make it harder to focus on what you’re doing.
If you want to make things simpler, try the “hand” method. You can use your hands to measure the amount of food you should be eating at every meal. For protein, you need about one handful (which will be between 20 and 30 grams). For carbs, a serving of whole grains the size of your palm is more than enough. For veggies and fruits, go for two handfuls.
You don’t NEED to count calories, and, according to the research, it can actually make your life harder. You may not only become more susceptible to distraction, but those food cues could actually drive you to cheat on your diet. Instead of counting calories, try to balance your meals and limit the sizes of your portions according to the size of your hand. It will take the guesswork out of your eating habits, and will make it much easier for you to focus on the other things in your life that demand your focus and concentration!