It’s way more complicated than “counting calories”…

…especially if you’re still eating crap food.

I get so irritated when I hear people discussing the number of calories in their breakfast sandwich, on an english muffin…Then they go on to say, “well, if we added a hash brown that’s only 300 more calories, but it’s all from fat”…wtf!?!? Let’s stop glossing over things here. There’s definitely a lot more going on physiologically than meets the eye.

First off, if you’re trying to lose fat mass, you definitely should be eating less. But you can’t simply go on the interblogz, hypernetz, world-wide-net-whatever, and use some magical calculator to decide for you how many calories you need. Your body does not utilize calories in the same manner as someone else identical to your age, weight and body composition. That traditional approach is way over simplified.

You have to account for your current condition. Do you have insulin resistance or other hormone resistance? Do you have chronic stress? What’s your activity level? Do you have thyroid issues, or systemmic inflammation? If so, what’s the level of inflammation at the hypothalamus? (Well, it’s impossible to tell unless we take it outta your brain, but you’ll then be dead, and that’s the most permanent weight loss of all…). Trouble is, it’s difficult or impossible to measure all of these things and come to a conclusion about how it affects the calories you eat.

The hypothalamus is very important. It controls everything about regulating fat mass. It manages your hormones for hunger and satiety, insulin, ghrelin, leptin, you name it. It also controls how your body responds to calories, and how much energy you actually absorb from the food you eat. It even controls the speed of your metabolism. Now, throw off the hypothalamus with some systemmic inflammation, and whammo, we have the perfect recipe for fat-ass syndrome!

So what’s the easiest way to eat less? That’s easy: eat only nutrient dense, high quality whole foods that are unprocessed and unadulterated. That means plenty of healthy fats from whole food sources like coconut, olives, avocados, 100% grass fed beef, 100% grass fed dairy, game animals, or whole eggs from free range fed hens. Along with that you’ll be sure to get all the fat soluble minerals you need to stay full for longer periods of time. You’ll also be getting just the right amount of protein to help keep you sated. Along with that, get lots and lots of high quality vegetables, of all colors shapes and sizes, for their wonderful antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals too!

The brialliant thing about avoiding all the industialized processed crap, and nutrient-void “foods” like grains and sugar, is that it allows your body to auto-correct. It eliminates all the exogenous dietary sources of chronic inflammation that throw off your body’s regulating mechanisms.

Veggie oils – Cause inflammation via oxidation. They break down (oxidize) super easy because these fats are highly polyunsaturated. Polyunsaturated fat contains two or more pairs of double bonds without hydrogen atoms occupying the open space, and it’s the carbon that lies between the double bonds that is wide open to oxidation. All it takes is a little heat or a little time, and poof, oxidized lipid! If you eat out a lot, or cook with canola oil etc, I guarantee you are getting a giant surplus of oxidized lipids floating around wreaking havoc on your body.

Grains – Contain little to no beneficial nutrients, and cause systemmic inflammation via gluten, lecins, phytates, and a host of other anti-nutrients that pass through the gut into general circulation. Not only do you take in a bunch of empty calories, but once your body realizes there’s nothing of value in there, you get hungry soon after.

Sugar – Same deal as grains. Added sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, dehydrated-whatever solids, bleh. Empty calories, insulin surge, stresses they body’s natural regulating mechanisms, systemmic inflammation, unhappy hypothalamus, fat-fat-fattie.

…There’s a lot of other “foods” I haven’t discussed, but these are the main ones to look out for.

Now, assuming all that inflammation has been corrected, and you’re on your way to a healthier, happier you, it’s time to talk about those calories again.

It does matter how much you eat, because bottom line is, if you eat too much, your thrifty hunter-gatherer genes will tend to store the extra energy as fat for later use. Still, trying to actually count is pretty useless, because even when all your systems are back to normal and you’ve minimized systemmic inflammation, your individual calorie needs will still differ from everyone else’s. It’s literally impossible to tell exactly how much energy you individually absorb from any given meal, and it changes all the time based on your state of metabolism and activity level, nutrient needs, etc. Again, the hypothalamus regualtes all this stuff. In a healthy human it speeds up or slows down metabolism, and changes how much you absorb from food consantly depending on how much you eat, need, move, etc.

So how can you lose fat mass, not count calories, and not eat too much? For the most part, listening to your body is the best way. When you are truly hungry, and not just bored or stressed out, eat a nutrient dense, complete meal of whole natural foods complete with plenty of fat, protein, vitamins and minerals.

Think about this: have you ever tried to eat more than 4 whole eggs in one sitting? It’s not that easy, not many calories, it fills you up super quick, and it keeps you full for a long long time. It’s even more filling when it’s cooked with lots of grass fed butter and a couple strips of pasture raised bacon! I can tell you, anecdotally, any day of the week I eat a meal like this, I am full for the entire day. This includes the weekeneds when I am most active in the garage or walking around downtown. No joke. But it makes a ton of sense, right?

Had I combined that same meal with some english muffins, I would easily get hungry a few hours later. It most likely has to do with the phytic acid in the grains binding up many of the nutrients in my gut, making them just get pooped out later on. Im sure the glucose-rush doesn’t help either, flooding my body with insulin. The subsequent drop in blood glucose after the insulin surge stimulates hunger, as it acts in concert with your other hunger regulating hormones. If I did this every day, I might develop leaky-gut due to gluten and lectins. Lectins would be passing through the gut into circulation, binding to other organs causing dysregulation and systemmic inflammation, eventually reaching my hypothalamus, where the long term fat-gain really starts getting revved up. What a vicious cycle!

So yah, calories matter, but it has nothing to do with the government guidelines, which are likely way too high anyway, since they are probably based on the “needs” of a metabolically disregulated McAmerican population.

I’d say don’t bother counting too carefully. There are a lot of other factors that play into this that I won’t get into here. You can read this fantastic article over at Mark’s Daily Apple, about listening to your body, and when it might not always work.

~ Dan

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