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Calories Don't Count - or Do They?
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Why Dr. Atkins Thought Calories Don't Count

Dr. Atkins, author of numerous books heavily promoted the idea that calories didn't count. You could eat as much of the allowed foods as you wanted, and that idea was very appealing. So appealing in fact that millions of people have tried his diet strategy since 1972 when Atkins wrote his first book, Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution."

Since that time the proliferation of books about the low carb diet has been staggering. It leaves one to wonder, just how many different ways can you fix meat?. The answer may lie in the over 841 books featuring low carb recipes.

Meanwhile, back to the original question: How many calories can I eat and still lose weight? Do calories count? Was Dr. Atkins right, or wrong? Who knows the truth and will they please tell me?

The word calorie is simply a way of measuring the amount of available energy a given food would provide. The mathematics have been simplified so we can easily think in terms of how many calories we need versus how many we are eating, and any deficit should equate into weight loss. Only sometimes that simple equation doesn't hold true and therein lies the rub. You'll get arguments and fist fights over whether calories count. Suffice it to say, I think they do. You can think what you like.

Don't Ignore Calories

It doesn't make much sense whether your tracking calories, fat grams or carb grams to simply ignore the total calories a given food contains. If it did, then we would have all gotten slimmer eating the low fat foods. We didn't because they never were low calorie, in fact, sometimes the low fat version contained more calories than the original, and yet, since it was low fat, people would eat more. Not smart, but that's what happened.

Now we're seeing the same thing with reduced or low carb products. I recently made a low carb - sugar free cheesecake for a friend's birthday. She's been on Atkins for over a year and it's worked pretty well for her, so I wanted to make a special treat just for her. It turned out very well, but what got me was the overall calorie count and the fat count was outrageous, mainly because I made a crust from almond flour (ground almonds). So is the ground almond better than say a graham cracker crust? I don't know, but calorie-for-calorie I think it makes sense to just eat what tastes the best to you, and forget all this counting for one day.

Calories do count because you cannot feed a normal human being over 5,000 calories a day and expect that person to lose weight because they are not eating carbs. It's just not that simple. One reason people eating low carb think they are always hungry when they eat low fat is that it's true! At least it seems true. When I was eating a very clean diet (low fat, no processed foods, no fried foods, etc.) I was hungry - about every three hours I'd have a piece of fruit, or a bagel, or yogurt, or whatever, and to some people that is intolerable. Being hungry multiple times a day? Who needs that?

The fat content in foods creates a feeling of satiety (makes you feel more full) and if you ate high protein or high fat it takes longer to digest as well, meaning it will be a little longer before you are hungry again. That is how the diet is designed to work. You'll not feel hungry as often, and hence will likely eat less, even though you are eating as much as you want (or at least you think you are).

The Mixed Nuts Diet

The best way to test the theory (I must warn you that no one has ever been brave enough to do this test) go on a mixed nuts only diet. If calories don't count then you could eat a couple pounds of shelled peanuts every day, and you'd stay slim. That's the theory. Let's test it. Who's willing to eat 10,000 calories worth of peanuts, almonds, cashews or any combination thereof? Any takers? I doubt it.

Atkins may have given people more credit that he should have. People want fast and they want easy and eliminating bread seems easy enough. After all, many folks don't like vegetables anyway so skipping them is pretty easy, and what about grains? Also easy to miss rice and beans and grains when you weren't eating them anyway. The only thing difficult to give up is the white flour and white sugar products simply because they are everywhere, and we've grown so accustom to eating out of a box or bag.

If you buy food at the grocery store that comes ready-made, then you are likely eating white flour and white sugar -- and if you're eating "low carb" then you're eating non-nutritive sweeteners (fake sweeteners).

Sensible Approach to Low Carb Dieting

What's the sensible approach to low carb dieting? Easy. It only takes three steps:

1. Wean yourself away from fast food - don't even go in the front door - why tempt yourself? You may be able to order something else from the menu today, but how long can that last while everyone around you is eating what you really want? It's far easier to get in the habit of eating something else. Why do you think non-drinkers rarely frequent bars?

2. Stop eating cookies, crackers, any snack foods, unless you make them yourself. Why is it okay if they are homemade? Think about it. If you are going to have to make them yourself a few things need to be in place. You need the time, you need the ingredients, and you need the will to make them in the first place. If and when those are in place, you go ahead and cook up a batch and enjoy it. What generally happens is you might think about making some cookies and then you remember everything else you wanted to do and the idea of baking cookies gets pushed back. Easy way to eat less, isn't it? If I just trotted off to the store for a box of cookies, then I'd eat them all quicker than you can say, "Who ate the last cookie?"

3. Wean yourself off sugary drinks. Soft drinks, fruit juices, and all those cute new drinks being sold today in expensive fancy bottles, they are death to your dieting efforts. Imagine the money you'd save if you just stopped buying them? My favorite is orange juice mixed with champagne with a sprinkle of Amareto (I think it's a Mimosa or close to it). I love those but the calories? Sky high, so I don't make a habit of drinking them.

Why Am I So Sure Calories Do Count?

Because my body tells me so. When I make a change in my usual eating habits, such as not drinking a daily glass of wine, I always lose about three pounds after about six weeks. That tells me something. Just that one difference, a couple hundred calories a day, over time and pounds are lost. When I go back to drinking the wine my weight slowly creeps back up by about two or three pounds. Not much, but enough. That tiny difference in weight can mean the difference between my pants being comfortable or slightly snug.

If you eat a handful of nuts every time you walk by the candy dish, those calories add up. Drop that one habit. Just say no. If you eat a nightly dish of ice cream, try skipping it just once a week. Tiny changes. It's similar to the concept of saving money. Once you get used to the idea of tucking that $5 away every week, slowly the money pot begins to grow and you no longer feel the pinch of not having that $5. Tiny changes, slowly add up to big results, and the one skipped Starbucks can easily mean $4 a week savings. Imagine the possibilities.

If you have issues with food and eating, learn to remove those obstacles to weight loss success in the privacy of your own home.

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Kathryn Martyn Smith, M.NLP EFT Weight Loss Coach
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