One woman over in our Facebook Group asked me, "Katheryn, when you lost 40 pounds, did you really not have to count calories?"
I'm going to make two assumptions about her question:
- She thinks that counting calories is the only definitive way of losing weight
- She's not sure how to get involved with something that doesn't require tracking/measuring.
Does this sound familiar to you? I think that the concept of doing an "intuitive diet" where you just listen to your body can sound appealing, but no one wants to do it since there's no understanding of how to measure your progress.
And when you think that your weight is something you have to monitor, then not keeping track of anything can sound really nerve-racking and risky.
And the short answer is, nope! I really didn't count any calories when I lost 40 pounds. Let me explain.
Here's the biggest misconception
Most people think that weight issues are....well, a weight issue. But the thing is, most of the time, weight imbalance is a symptom of something else. Some other kind of imbalance that is affecting your weight.
If your body chemistry is in balance, then you probably won't have weight issues. And if you don't have weight issues but you still want to lose a bit of weight or are trying to train in the gym, then calorie counting can help. But it won't really help if there is an imbalance in your body chemistry, so you need to identify what that could be, first.
Here are the three things weight imbalance can be a symptom of:
1) Digestive issue
If your body is not processing foods properly, then you might not be absorbing the nutrients that you need to maintain a balanced weight. For example, let's say that you're lactose intolerant, but you're not 100% sure enough to completely cut out dairy.
So, you eat a salad, and then you have a yogurt. And you pat yourself on the back because you ate "healthy". But then, you start feeling something weird in the pit of your stomach, and run to the bathroom and have IBS (irritable bowel syndrome - aka diarrhoea).
The next day, you wake up and you notice that the scale hasn't budged. And you're frustrated because you're like "I just went through the effort of forcing myself to only have a salad and a yogurt despite really wanting to have the pizza and ice cream, and I didn't lose any weight?!"
Well, here's the thing: when your body had a negative reaction with the dairy from the yogurt, your body purged all of the food you had eaten. That means your body didn't get a chance to really absorb the nutrients from the healthy salad you had just eaten.
In other words, you're becoming malnourished simply by eating something that disagrees with you, even though you were eating healthy nutrition foods, before that.
There's two things you can do to help you digestion: Remove, and Add.
Remove: You want to make sure you're not eating anything that is irritating your body. If you stop eating foods that irritate you, then by default, you'll have a much easier time with digestion. The best thing you can do is get food intolerance test taken (IgG) to find out what foods these could be.
Add: The second thing is to add in foods that will help with digestion, and these are probiotics. Probiotics are healthy bacteria that help your body break down foods, and you can find them in cultured vegetables, miso, kimchee, kombucha, etc.
Another note about bacteria
If you have an imbalance of gut bacteria in your body, then it's very likely that you have intense sugar cravings. The bad bacteria love sugar! So instead of trying to cut desserts out of your diet and feeling miserable, start adding in those probiotics because it'll help reduce the craving for the dessert in the first place.
2) Hormonal Issue
It's really challenging to lose weight if you have a hormone imbalance. Most people who have hormone imbalances tend to gain weight on their midsection, compared to other areas on their bodies. And the biggest cause of this hormone imbalance is stress.
2 Kinds of Stress
Stress just means that your body is either handling too much, or it has to handle something quicker than it usually does. Let me explain.
The first kind of stress is one you're probably familiar with - emotional stress. This could be anything from having too much pressure at work, to being in a rough spot in a relationship, to feeling really unhappy in general in your environment.
The second kind of stress is physical stress, and we can break that down into two parts:
The first is doing too much physical activity, like going to the gym and working out in a way that leaves you feeling exhausted. Don't just go to the gym and flail around and hyperventilate as you move through different exercises - you could be sending your body the wrong signal that leads to it triggering stress hormones, which means your body is using quick sugars (ie the most recent food you had) for fuel, instead of targeting your stored body fat for fuel.
Food: If you're eating foods that are too close to the yin/yang sides of the food energetics chart, then you're eating foods that either digest super quickly in your body - too fast for it to process - or you're eating foods that digest way too slowly.
Most people I meet who are exhausted and have low energy love coffee and sweets to give them a pick me up. And it would make sense that you'd crave that because it gives you an instant boost in energy - a quick reward. But since it's digests too quickly, it actually puts stress on your body, which can negatively impact your hormones. Which means, yes, negatively impact your weight.
3) Circadian Rhythms
Circadian rhythms is just a fancy way of saying sleep cycles.
When the sun rises, our body chemistry changes from melatonin to serotonin. And when the sun sets, vice versa - our chemistry changes from serotonin to melatonin.
Serotonin helps you with three things: it keeps you awake during the day, makes you feel happy (it's our natural happy drug) and tells you when your body is full.
Yeah! It's that signal your body sends to you to tell you that you're full and can stop eating! What happens if that signal is not working? You won't understand when you're full or not. It's super hard to eat intuitively and understand how much your body needs if the chemical that is supposed to tell you that you're full is out of balance.
One really important (and easy!) thing you can do is to get good quality sleep. I think this is the hardest for many of us because we prioritize other responsibilities - like finishing up something for work or finishing up last minute chores at home - instead. You don't even have to run 20 miles to lose weight if quality sleep is what you need to work on - Do what's easy, first!
Back to the question at hand
Okay, I really went it to much more detail than I thought I would to answer this question, but hopefully by now you can recognize that weight isn't just about energy in vs energy out. It's about balance in our body chemistry. When you focus on healing these cycles and balance, your body weight will balance out. And that means eating better quality foods - not necessarily eating less foods.
Let me give you one last example:
Here's a girl named Amy. Amy does the following:
-Eats 1200 calories a day
-Works out at the gym for 90 minutes, daily, doing a mix of cardio and weights
-Has low energy and is obsessed with coffee
-Doesn't have good quality bowel movements on a daily basis
Do you think Amy will be able to lose weight how she wants to, just because of her caloric intake and the amount of effort she's been putting in at the gym?
Based on what we've covered in this article, shifting her focus to sleep, low stress, and better digestion is where the answer lies in body balance.
What about you?
Have you mainly been focusing on calories thus far? What do you think you should focus on, moving forward? Leave a comment :)