Episode 22. How to Move Away from Counting Calories and Towards Portion Control and Biofeedback
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The disadvantages of calorie counting as a strategy is something we’ve discussed in past episodes, so in this one we discussed alternatives. To begin, we summarized a few of our previous arguments against calorie counting (see episode 15 on IIFYM in particular), but from there we moved to discussing what portion control and listening to your body looks like: Do you have to eyeball everything? When are calories useful (since, of course, they are) as starting points? How much variability should your diet have? What should you focus on, and what doesn’t matter?
Disadvantages of Calorie Counting
- Scott says that calorie counting is based on the fitness industry’s love of complicating what’s simple, and simplifying what’s complicated.
- Calorie counting, for Scott, offers the illusion of control, not actual control. (E.g., food labels can’t be accurate, your body won’t burn the same number of calories each day.)
- Calorie counting is most popular in North America. North America is also the most overweight continent. Correlation is not causation, etc., blah blah. But that’s not pure coincidence. Scott calls it the North American Diet Mentality.
- Scott: “Calories don’t measure metabolism.” (They’re a unit of heat energy. Metabolism is more than just “energy”; it is the sum total of the biochemical processes in your body.)
- Scott: listen to your own biofeedback.
- (Mike’s post-show translation: the problem with calories is they can lead you down a path of thinking, “Argh, but this should work!” when you should have been focusing on what was actually happening right in front of you from the first.)
- Counting can also, over time, induce a sense of guilt and shame and other self-judgments, partly because of our evolved psychologies connection to food and eating. When you use an outside-in approach, you force yourself to ignore these things (whereas biofeedback has you listening to them).
- Mike: of course, the difficulty with “listening to your body” is that you need to be real, and you need to be honest.
Portion Control and Listening to Your Body
- Can calories be used as “starting points”? Yes! of course. You just have to realize they are an exchange value, not a perfect indicator of metabolism.
- Scott includes calories as starting points in several of his books, basically, to make sure they don’t get into giant deficit because they go “too far.”
- One of the “roadblocks” Scott’s clients often encounter, when first trying to learn to listen to their body, is trying to play it “safe.” So they always want to be hungry to ensure they’re in a deficit, but this puts them in too much of a deficit. To combat this, Scott will tell them it’s okay to start “too high.” If you get to a point where you’re thinking, Oh no, I’m not hungry enough, that’s actually a sign of progress, because you’re getting back in touch with hunger and learning about the value and use of tolerable hunger.
- Different foods can require different tools to measure. Examples: Apples and oranges come pre-portioned. Have three or four (or whatever). Pineapple can usually be eye-balled. Many of Scott’s diets include a meal that, alongside the protein source, just says “As much fresh fruit as you want” for the carb source. (This is a way of getting them in touch with hunger, so they’re asking things like “How much do I want? Do I feel like 3 pieces or 4?)
- Oatmeal and cream of wheat (etc.) is easy to under-estimate. A scale is a useful tool for this.
- (Mike: A food scale is also sweet for ensuring it’s never too watery.)
- In Beyond Metabolism Scott talks about tolerable hunger. This is super important. Mike has called this the “sweet spot” of hunger.
- Mike thinks a good rule for new dieters, to prevent going down that dark path of trying to be “perfect,” is including one meal per week from a fast food joint, and actually, this meal should be ~about~ the same~ number of calories as your diet meals. The idea is to force you to realize that you can be “on diet” even if you’re not eating ~the perfect plan~. That is, yes, the fast food is probably full of crap… But in small doses it won’t kill you or ruin your diet!
- Being “on” or “off” the wagon is a good way to yo yo.
- Scott mentioned competitive eaters and how they certainly don’t count calories. He also mentioned the video in which Matt Stonie eats an entire tub of mass gainer in 5 minutes.